4 Pablo Neruda Poems for Your Beloved on Valentine’s Day
Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet who was considered by critics and acclaimed writers to be “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.” His most well-known work, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924), made him a literary celebrity at the mere age of 20. During his long life, Neruda worked as a journalist, diplomat, political activist, and humanitarian. In 1971, after a lifetime of being internationally renowned for his poetry, Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
It’s almost half a century since his passing, but his love poems still resonate with modern readers and grace bestseller lists. This Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to revisit his gifted verses. Read on to discover three poems that capture the romantic mood of falling in love. These poems will inspire you to remember the beauty and pleasure of romance and share that feeling with your beloved.
As a romantic Piscean, I fell in love with Neruda’s collection, Love Poems. I found it on Valentine’s Day in a historical bookstore that houses a skylight, garden, and fountain. My life partner and I were on vacation when I saw the book, so he gave it to me as a romantic gesture, and it’s become one of my favorite collections. The book is pink and small—only slightly bigger than a cellphone, so it’s very portable. It contains Neruda’s poems in English and Spanish, paired next to each other. It’s a perfect collection for readers unfamiliar with his poetry or for readers who want to explore his Spanish verses with English translations.
The entire collection is inspired by his beloved wife Matilde Urrutia and the island paradise of Capri. One of my favorite poems in the book is “Night on the Island” or “La Noche en la Isla.” In this poem, Neruda encapsulates the romance of being deeply entwined with his lover during sleep. The sensuality, passion, and beauty of the sea mirror the feelings Matilde and Neruda share: Their bond is “like branches moved by a common wind” or like “red roots that touch.” In this oasis of love, Neruda tells Matilde their intimacy is so deep that they meet in dreams. Nothing can separate them, not even death:
“I have slept with you
all night long while
the dark earth spins
with the living and the dead,
and on waking suddenly
in the midst of the shadow
my arm encircled your waist.
Neither night nor sleep
could separate us.”
During their lives, Neruda and Matilde shared twenty-two years of marriage. “Night on the Island” is a testament to the passion they experienced on Capri surrounded by the romance of the sea.
While Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair—a book of poems that speaks to loss after love—is Neruda’s most well-known love collection, if you’re celebrating the beauty of love then Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets is the collection to read on Valentine’s Day. “Sonnet XVII” is the most well-known of this collection with memorable lines that have often been recited by lovers worldwide and even by Robin Williams in the 1998 film Patch Adams:
“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.”
While “Sonnet XVII” is beautiful, “Love Sonnet XI” from 100 Love Sonnets is equally as memorable for its passion. Neruda perfectly captures desire as erotic hunger. His beloved’s body is described sensuously, and while in English the eroticism might sound aggressive, in Spanish, the desperation the speaker has is imbued with loneliness. The speaker is overwhelmed by the power his beloved Matilde has over him, and the animal references capture the longing that comes with having so much desire for a beloved that it might make you feel vulnerable. There are captivating lines in the poem such as “I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,” but the most memorable lyric line in the English translation is: “I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.” Neruda’s creativity shines in this poem, and he doesn’t shy away from what made him famous at twenty years of age: his ability to translate the emotions of lovers through the power of poetry.
While Valentine’s Day is revered as a special day to celebrate romance, it may also bring up pain for people who are recovering from a breakup. “If You Forget Me” is for those who are still remembering lost loves. Healing is a long process, and it’s not linear. Maybe today you’re over them, but a year from now, something reminds you of the pain. While this poem was written for Neruda’s wife Matilde, it shows the vulnerability Neruda could feel if Matilde were to abandon him. Thankfully for Neruda, she never did forget him—she even wrote a memoir to remember him—but anyone who has been in love knows that in order to experience the depth of intimacy, you need to become vulnerable in a relationship. “If You Forget Me” reveals that necessary truth about love.
Neruda has captured the hearts and feelings of readers across the globe. His romantic verses are remembered by artists such as Robin Williams, Tom Hiddleston, and Glenn Close. His poetry transcends the boundaries of countries and cultures, and even though he wrote in Spanish, his words are not lost in translation. Neruda has touched the souls of poets worldwide and continues to be an inspiration for lovers seeking romance on Valentine’s Day.