A Battle between Love and Despair: “Tonight I Can Write” by Pablo Neruda
Love and despair do not look alike at first, someone could think that when you are in love you do not feel despair and when you feel desperation is because you may have lost the one you loved. Although for Pablo Neruda, love and despair go together, love can drive someone madness and despair can strengthen the love you felt. Neruda’s most famous work Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924), collides two huge feelings that all lovers have felt once throughout time. This verse collection is composed of twenty love poems and one song of despair that unites all common themes of the previous poems. Throughout the twenty poems, it can be seen a changed in theme as it began describing the sensuality and passion towards one of the author’s lovers and towards the last poems it changes to a melancholy tone, feeling regret and loneliness, and to close “A Song of Despair”, is bitter and hopeless as the poetic voice has a constant reminder of the loss of his lover.
Poem XX, “Tonight I Can Write”, joins love and despair as the poetic voice goes through an internal battle about his current feelings towards his lover while he realizes she is gone. “Tonight I Can Write”, brings out all the past romantic feelings from the previous poems, realizing that the poetic voice is alone with only memories of what his lover once was. The scenario of the poem is a cold and clear night, where the sky is full of stars and nothing can listen but the poetic voice laments, “Tonight I can write the saddest lines. / Write, for example, ‘The night is shattered / and the blue stars shiver in the distance.’”(1-3), the first three lines introduces the readers to a melancholy mood, as the poetic voice begins saying “Tonight I can write the saddest lines” (1), stating that he is no longer with his lover, and that even the night is broken because she has left and the small hope left is starting to dispel as the blue stars in the distance, with this two lines the reader can have a vivid image of the place the speaker is in, realizing everything is arrange for the speaker to have a constant reminder of the love he has lost, as the blue stars bring coldness and sadness to the line and the fact he sees the stars shivering in the distance he may be hallucinating due to the pain he feels (Saunders). There is a repetition of the first line (“Tonight I can write the saddest lines” (5)), keeping the sorrow the speaker feels as he realizes how lonely his life has become with the absence of his lover. In line 6 after the repetition, the speaker declares how much he loved the unnamed woman but he still feels heartbroken as he would never know if she loved him back as much as he did. The night described by the poetic voice is later going to be compared by the time the speaker was with his lover, “Through nights like this one I held her in my arms / I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.” (7-8), now the sky seems as infinity where time does not fly only because he is with his lover, but once she left, the night is a constant reminder of his loneliness and emptiness (lines 2-3). From line 1-10, the speaker makes the first comparison between having his lover with him and not being with her, “How could one not have loved her great still eyes.” (10), exposing how lonely and bleak he feels without her, and only having his memories to survive. Along these lines, Neruda expose the constant relation of love and despair, as he still loves his beloved which made him be in constant madness knowing she is not coming back.
According to Saunders, Neruda finds his way to express in the most sincere and direct way how his heart cries for his beloved, using unadorned simplicity of expressions, in contrast to the poems before, Poem XX is meant to be direct and implicit, sending a direct message to the reader of the broken soul of the poetic voice.“ Tonight I can write the saddest lines./ To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.” (11-12), again in line 11, there is a repetition of the opening line, which turns into a plaintive refrain, stating afterward his despair of not being with her, seeing the night immense and the loneliness even more. Line 14 has a simile “And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.” (14), comparing the nature to his pain, the speaker enhances his pain and does not let go the departure of his beloved, the speaker uses the verses to express all the love he feels and how each time it increases as he realizes she is not coming back. Along the verses Neruda is going through the process of understanding and accepting slowly that he would never be with his lover again, for this he compares repetitively himself to nature, as “The night is [shattered] starry and she is not with me.” (16), bringing darkness and sorrow and later introducing the emptiness of his soul. Throughout this poem the speaker finds himself tied to his lover as he permanently states he cannot believe she is not there, “My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.” (18), driving himself insane which only intensifies his melancholy and love towards her. Neruda uses nature to compare his pain or passion in his poems, in Poem XX nature is a constant reminder of darkness and loneliness, as he describes a cold clear night sky where his only companions are the stars that even start to fade off.
The poetic voice is going through a process of acceptance of his loneliness, as he still looks for her without any success, from line 19-21 Neruda add the speaker sense and the reader can start feeling the desperation once again as it says “My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer. / My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.” (20-21), the poetic voice goes in circles trying to catch her when he knows she is not there, he is slowly surrendering to the fact he lost her but before he would try to bring her back with all he remembers about her. He tries to keep normality as he compares his memories to the night, seeing everything keeps the same but his soul. Slowly he is letting her go, freeing himself of the pain and letting the pain go, “I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.” (24). So close of letting go the speaker contradicts himself again as saying he still loves her but it would take a lot to forget her. Every time a similar scenario as the lonely night comes by (“Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms / my sould is not satisfied that it has lost her.” (31-32)), he would remember her and he would go through all the pain and love again just to find out she will not come back. The speaker would go through a cycle of love, pain, and contradiction to survive the loneliness he lives in. After he has admitted he misses her and nature has heard his sorrows, the only person he cares about and needs to hear him is her beloved that would never know how much he misses her (Saunders), “My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.” (25), that is his only request and need, that her lover hears him. The last two lines conclude all the pain Neruda has expressed from the first to the last line, he states he would let her go only to free himself of the pain only to know that he would continue suffering every lonely night.
Neruda goes through passion and sensuality from the first poems to feeling sorrow and pain for the same lover leaving him behind. This last poem before the song of despair joins all the feeling towards her lover to say goodbye to her, but before letting her go he feels every kind of pain as he compares his nowadays life to what he lived with her. Poem XX is the goodbye to sadness an attachment as Neruda last wrote: “Though this is the last pain that she makes me suffer / and these the last verses that I write for her.” (33-34), he would leave behind his melancholy to free himself of a broken heart. his will was that his lover heard his verses to feel his sadness but instead every reader felt how his loud love drove him insane and how moments of despair remembered him how much he loved her. “Tonight I Can Write” is a constant contradiction of letting go but fearing to forget the true love he once had.
Neruda, Pablo. Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair. Penguin, 1924. Saunders, Cliff. “Critical Essay on ‘Tonight I Can Write’.” Poetry for Students, edited by Elizabeth Thomason, vol. 11, Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center, https://wvu.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?p=LitRC&u=morg77564&id=GALE|H1420035975&v=2.1&it=r&sid=LitRC =7aee52e3. Accessed 11 Nov. 2018.
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