PUEDO escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.

From Neruda’s famed collection from the 1920s, “20 love poems and a song of despair”, this is the 20th and final love poem in the collection. Perhaps because it is the last love poem and the immediate precursor of the song of despair, it is a poem about looking back at a former love, with a mixture of sadness, denial and acceptance, the mixed emotions of knowing that one who you loved has now begun a new life on her own or perhaps with someone else. Does love survive or it will it naturally be forgotten? This poem explores the emotional and psychological journey of the poet trying to come to terms with a love affair that has ended.

Some versions of this poem that I have seen run all the lines together as if it were one long stanza. However I think it makes more sense to show the poem on the page as a series of short one or two line stanzas, as it is in the edition on my bookshelf. The spacing between these min-stanzas does indeed add to the meaning, giving pause between each expression of emotion or confusion, giving rhythmic presence to the poet’s inner journey.

 
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PUEDO escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.

Escribir, por ejemplo: “La noche está estrellada,
y tiritan, azules, los astros, a lo lejos”.

El viento de la noche gira en el cielo y canta.

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Yo la quise, y a veces ella también me quiso.

En las noches como ésta la tuve entre mis brazos.
La besé tantas veces bajo el cielo infinito.

Ella me quiso, a veces yo también la quería.
Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos.

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Pensar que no la tengo. Sentir que la he perdido.

Oir la noche inmensa, más inmensa sin ella.
Y el verso cae al alma como al pasto el rocío.

Qué importa que mi amor no pudiera guardarla.
La noche está estrellada y ella no está conmigo.

Eso es todo. A lo lejos alguien canta. A lo lejos.
Mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido.

Como para acercarla mi mirada la busca.
Mi corazón la busca, y ella no está conmigo.

La misma noche que hace blanquear los mismos
árboles.
Nosotros, los de entonces, ya no somos los mismos.

Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero cuánto la quise.
Mi voz buscaba el viento para tocar su oído.

De otro. Será de otro. Como antes de mis besos.
Su voz, su cuerpo claro. Sus ojos infinitos.

Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero tal vez la quiero.
Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.

Porque en noches como ésta la tuve entre mis
brazos,
mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido.

Aunque éste sea el último dolor que ella me causa,
y éstos sean los últimos versos que yo le escribo.

From <http://www.neruda.uchile.cl/obra/obra20poemas5.html&gt;

The opening line announces that the poet’s mood is to write a sad poem, implying, but not guaranteeing that this poem will be sad, but also leaving open the possibility that it might not be. The next three lines represent almost a false start to the poem, as Neruda seems to try out an image of sadness based on a starry night, with the wind blowing. But then it as if Neruda starts again for real in the stanza beginning on the 5th line. Here he repeats the first line, but expands it by going straight to the reason for his sadness, “I loved her, and sometimes she also loved me”, all in the past tense, and the word sometimes indicating her love was not as strong as his.

The two line stanzas that follow to the end of the poem are full of regret, of memories of loving moments, of the pain of the poet losing his lover, of his doubts about whether she loved him as much as he loved her, about whether she now loves another. In two places he acknowledges he no longer loves her, the affair is over, but the second time, on line 27, he is not even sure of this, “I don’t love her any more, for sure, but perhaps I love her”, and the next line would be familiar to anyone getting over a love affair, “Being in love is so short, forgetting it is so long”.

As so often with a Neruda, there is a physical side to the love affair which comes to the fore when he remembers holding her in his arms on a night like this night when he writes the poem. Writing it is part of the process of recovery and healing, as hinted at by the last line of the piece, announcing this might be the past poem he writes for his lover.

Usually there is a distance between an emotion and the poem that it inspires, in this case that distance seems very close, rendering the emotional force that much stronger.

The Poetry Dude

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