Study Guide

A Song of Despair

By Pablo Neruda

A Song of Despair Introduction

If you've ever felt a little emo about lost love, then this is the poem for you! Pablo Neruda became rock-star famous (which is pretty hard for a poet) when, in 1924, he published his book Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. And if that sounds familiar, that's because this is the "A Song of Despair."

The poem itself—and the other ones in this book—was famous because it stirred up controversy with its erotic images. It's basically a guy (at least, we're assuming that the speaker is a guy) talking about how sad he is for having lost his woman, and comparing her to the sea. Our sad speaker stands on the shore, feeling lonely because all the ships have set sail, and remembers his long-lost love. He also describes how hot and heavy their relationship was and compares her to the sea because everything sank into her.

The poem is, as you can see by the title, tacked on to the end of Neruda's love collection, and it's a real downer of a finale. A true bummer. But! It is one of the most beautiful despair poems ever written, even if it could be counted as a love poem itself.

The author was only 19 at the time, so you can imagine the scandal these racy poems must have caused. The book was published into several languages, which didn't hurt Neruda's newfound fame. Almost 50 years later, he'd win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and it all started with some cheesy love poems—plus one super-sad one.

What is A Song of Despair About and Why Should I Care?

Ever been dumped? We hate to break it to you, Shmoopers, but even if you said no to that question, someday your answer will be a big, sad yes. It's something that everyone goes through at some point, and it's an experience that nobody enjoys. But have no fear! "A Song of Despair" is here! Really, it explores the experience of heartbreak in a way that will either comfort you, inspire you, or both.

Now, complaining about losing a lover is nothing new… try any country radio station, or Dido, or James Blunt, or Adele, or… well, you get the picture. The list goes on and on. So, even if you ignore the really masterful rhyme and meter that Pablo Neruda uses to get his point across, you will still find solace in its artistic exploration of a regrettable fact of human experience: abandonment. Maybe that's why it's one of the most-read poems ever written in the Spanish language. Even in translation, you'll see what all the fuss is about.

A Song of Despair Resources

Websites

They Really Love Me!
Find out all about his major award, which is much cooler than a leg-shaped lamp.

Neruda @ Emory
This site has a brief bio, with lots n' lots o' links!

Video

All Together Now!
The original Spanish version set to music—let's have a sing-along!

A Heartfelt Interpretation
Check out this emotional reading of Neruda's poem.

The Voice of the Master
Neruda recites some of the other poems from this collection in his signature, hypnotic style.

All About Pablo
Part one of six of a cool documentary on the poet's life and work.

Audio

A Life Story
Listen to this radio program on Neruda's super-exciting life.

En Español
Here's a reading of the poem by another famous Latin American poet, Jaime Sabines.

Books

The Languages of Love
The book of poems in Spanish and English, in case your love interest lives south of the border.

Spanish, Please.
The original, unadulterated poems, in all their glory.

Memories…
Neruda on Neruda: his life story.

Images

There He Is
Here's a photograph of the poet himself. Pretty as a picture, wouldn't you say?

Read it and Weep…
The cover of the English-language of Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, which you might want to use to woo your next Valentine.

Articles and Interviews

A Historical Poet
This article explains Neruda's importance in Chile's literature and history. Yeah, he's kind of a big deal.

Tell it Like it Is
An interview with Pablo Neruda from 1969, where he lets us into his amazing mind.

Radio Star
A very rare transcript of a Canadian radio interview with the poet, from 1971.

Movies

Il Postino
One of the characters in this Italian movie is Neruda, who teaches the clumsy town postman how to woo his beloved.