Pablo Neruda's Sonnet 73 - Owlcation - Education
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Pablo Neruda's Sonnet 73

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Pablo Neruda

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 73

Pablo Neruda remains one of the most overhyped poets ever. Most of his works betray the man as a consummate hack. American poetasters such as Erica Jong, Robert Bly, and a host of others sing Neruda's praises perennially. Stephen Schwartz has correctly stated:

Pablo Neruda was a bad writer and a bad man. His main public is located not in the Spanish-speaking nations but in the Anglo-European countries, and his reputation derives almost entirely from the iconic place he once occupied in politics—which is to say, he's "the greatest poet of the twentieth century" because he was a Stalinist at exactly the right moment, and not because of his poetry, which is doggerel.

However, Neruda's "Sonnet 73" remains one of his best efforts, defying his nerve-grating clatter of political effusions. In stead of his usual claptrap, his speaker in "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. The sonnet features no rime scheme and no traditional rhythm movement.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

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.

(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.)

Commentary

Sexually charged innuendo dramatizes the process of lust transforming into genuine love.

First Quatrain: Falling in Love

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.

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: Initial Satisfaction

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 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: Guarding Against Falling

The man and woman hacked through mountains and gardens,
they forded the rivers, climbed the walls,
they scaled the mountains of their savage weaponry.

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: Its Proper Name

At last, love recognized itself as love.
And when I opened my eyes to your name,
your heart suddenly opened my way.

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.

The Spanish Original

Soneto LXXXIII

Recordarás tal vez aquel hombre afilado
que de la oscuridad salió como un cuchillo
y antes de que supiéramos, sabía:
vio el humo y decidió que venía del fuego.

La pálida mujer de cabellera negra
surgió como un pescado del abismo
y entre los dos alzaron en contra del amor
una máquina armada de dientes numerosos.

Hombre y mujer talaron montañas y jardines,
bajaron a los ríos, treparon por los muros,
subieron por los montes su atroz artillería.

El amor supo entonces que se llamaba amor.
Y cuando levanté mis ojos a tu nombre
tu corazón de pronto dispuso mi camino.

Pablo Neruda Documentary (Part 1 of 6)

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes