"A Song of Despair" is all about the speaker feeling abandoned, desolate, deserted… uh, anyone have a spare thesaurus? He is reflecting on his long-lost love, and it makes him feel as lonely as the wharves after all the ships have gone. He even calls himself "Oh abandoned one" for goodness sake. Seriously. Who does that? It's not clear if the woman abandoned him, or if he just feels lonely after their breakup, but abandonment in this poem is the name of the game.
The wharves are used as a symbol of abandonment in the poem, but we know that the ships will come back. What we don't know is if the girl will come back to the speaker. (Especially after he calls her a "pit of debris"!)
Not so fast there. The speaker calls himself the "abandoned one" in the last line of the poem, but there is evidence in the poem that suggests that he's more the abandoner than the abandonee.
Well, if the title "A Song of Despair" doesn't clue you in, then you're in for a surprise when you see just how weepy this poem is. It's sad, sorrowful, and lamenting. The speaker has lost his love and he is grieving for it. You might want to turn on some blues while you read if you like your poetry soundtracks to be thematic.
Here is a video about another poem that Pablo Neruda wrote about sadness and despair.
The speaker seems to be sad that he lost his lover, but the way he describes their relationship makes it sound like they were sad when they were together back then, too. Lose-lose.
The woman is the source of all sadness in this poem. A-ha!
In "A Song of Despair," the woman, who the speaker used to love, is compared to the treacherous sea, which swallows up pirates, sailors and sunglasses alike. The man who was foolish enough to fall in love with her is kind of like those sailors who used to sail over the horizon before they knew the world was round. In other words: a big, old silly-britches.
The poem sets up woman as the sea and man as the seafarer, and his foolish attempt to navigate her is his folly. Way to go, man.
The poem makes the argument that all romantic relationships are doomed, and are therefore all follies. Yeah, good luck with that.
We're not sure how long ago this love affair took place in "A Song of Despair," but it's definitely over. The whole poem starts with a memory, and the speaker can't shake it. Almost all of the verbs are in the past tense, and the woman the poem is about is definitely no longer in the speaker's present. His sad, sad memories are all that's left. Still, he clings to them in such a way as to suggest that he's unable to let go of sad days gone by. In a way, we think that makes this poem somehow even sadder. Who knew that was even possible?!
The speaker is trapped in the past, which is the real shipwreck in this poem. Live in the now, man!
The past is almost like a place in the poem, a place the speaker longs to return to, but—sadly—has been banned from.