Pablo Neruda's Sonnet 73
The speaker in Pablo Neruda's "Sonnet 73" from Cien Sonetas de Amor (100 Love Sonnets) dramatizes the theme of lust preceding love. The sonnet form employed by Neruda is the American, or innovative, sonnet.
One of Neruda's more interesting and consistent efforts, sonnet 73 has not gained as much attention as his sonnet 17, but sonnet 73 offers a fresh look at the subject of love from a new angle.
Note: Neruda's sonnet features no rime scheme or regular rhythmic pattern in the Spanish; therefore, I did not impose them in my English translation of it.
Pablo Neruda's Sonnet 73
(translation by Linda Sue Grimes from the Spanish Soneto LXXIII)
You will perhaps recall that pointed man
who slipped out of the darkness sharp as a knife
and before we could suspect, he understood:
he detected smoke and knew that fire must come.
The pale woman with black hair
surfaced like a fish from the deep,
and between them they erected against love
a machine armed and fanged.
The man and woman hacked through mountains and gardens,
they forded the rivers, climbed the walls,
they scaled the mountains of their savage weaponry.
At last, love recognized itself as love.
And when I opened my eyes to your name,
your heart suddenly opened my way.
First Quatrain: "You will perhaps recall that pointed man"
Looking back in time, the speaker is addressing his lover, reminding her that in the early stages of their relationship they tried to guard their hearts against falling in love. He suggests to her that she might remember how suddenly his lust was aroused; calling his male member "that pointed man," he reminds her how it "slipped out of the darkness" ready for penetration.
The speaker then credits that organ with knowledge that the two lovers did not yet understand: that they would actually fall in love; that the sex act was not just for sex alone. Unlike the two lovers, however, the man's sexual organ "detected smoke" and knew that lust would motivate the two to come together.
Second Quatrain: "The pale woman with black hair"
The speaker then turns his attention to the woman, actually the woman's female counterpart, which "surfaced like a fish from the deep." Their initial satisfaction of lust caused them to "erect against love / a machine armed and fanged." Even though they were unable to rein in their sexual desires, they were unwilling to commit to a love relationship.
They, therefore, built an elaborate system of shields against the possibility of falling in love. The speaker calls their system a machine that resembles a weapon with teeth.
Those tender feelings that begin with falling in love are to be chewed up and spit out, so that the two remain unaffected by the grasp of true love. The speaker implies that their affection should remain a romantic adventure but not progress to the status of love.
First Tercet: "The man and woman hacked through mountains and gardens"
In the first tercet, the speaker takes his lover back to all the traipsing around that they did while they were trying to keep love out of their relationship: they visited mountains, gardens, rivers, and walls, but between them, they kept the defensive "weaponry" against love.
Second Tercet: "At last, love recognized itself as love"
But finally, love won. They had to call love by its proper name, "love." The speaker reminds his lover that finally when he saw her name, he had to admit that he could see that her heart was beating for him and that after he knew that she truly loved him, he finally had admit that he loved her.
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© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes