Though I have long thought that Neruda’s poems about nature and politics surpass his love poems, this is a poem that will always mean more to me than I can say. It is a poem about a love all-consuming. This poem is from one of Pablo Neruda’s most famous books, at least in the US, called 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair. The translation was done by WS Merwin, former poet laureate of the US. I am not sure who did this particular translation, since I do not have Merwin’s book in front of me to check against this version, but there are only a few lines that vary from translation to translation.
Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda
I don’t love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don’t know any other way of loving
but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.
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