Study Guide

Love Sonnet 17 Analysis

  • Sound Check

    We can't really base the sound of this poem off the English translation (sound is very particular to each language). So we suggest you listen to the poem in its original language to get a sense of how it sounds. Still, there are some pretty obvious sounds that are carried over into the translation. For example the "o" sound that repeats throughout (in both the Spanish and the translation) is a very soothing sound (think "ommm"); this adds to the sense of comfort and intimacy that the poem conveys.

    Another important aspect to the sound of this poem is the pauses. You'll notice that there are a lot of commas (which usually indicate a pause) even in the middle of lines. If you read the poem out loud, you'll find yourself pausing as you would in normal conversation – that is, often, and without regularity. Once again, this increases the sense of intimacy: it's as if we're listening in on a private conversation (or one side of it, at least) between two lovers.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Neruda’s poem is often referred to simply as "Love Sonnet 17," which means that it’s the seventeenth sonnet in a larger group (in this case, 100). Sometimes, however, it is referred to by its first line, "I do not love you as though you were the salt-rose, topaz." Let’s take this as the unofficial title for now. As it turns out, this first sentence explains a lot about the poem. "Love Sonnet 17" is largely the poet’s attempt to define his love for his paramour, and so he starts off by describing what it is not. His love is not a love that is focused on things like color, shape, and other external features. It is a love that is based on a deep, "hidden" beauty that not everybody can see. This hidden beauty is much more important, in the long run, and excites feelings and passions that defy description.

  • Setting

    "Love Sonnet 17" is an incredibly intimate poem, so we imagine an incredibly intimate setting. Perhaps the speaker is actually intertwined with his lover in the way he describes at the end of his poem:

    so close that your hand on my chest is mine,
    so close that your eyes close on my dreams.
    (13-14)

    In any case, the setting is probably quite quiet and even isolated. This love that the speaker describes is hidden and secret, and so the couple is almost surely not walking down the street together or shouting from the rooftops. More likely, they are in bed together, alone, and becoming one.

  • Speaker

    It's pretty obvious that our speaker is in love. But since he spends all his time talking about this love (and in particular, the woman he loves), we don't hear much about the man himself. Still, through his words we're able to get a sense of what kind of guy we're dealing with.

    We're pretty sure this is an adult – maybe even an old man – because his love is incredibly mature. He doesn't love this woman because of the way she looks, but because of what's on the inside. His maturity also shines through when he conveys that this woman's love for him is just as important as his love for her ("thanks to your love" [7]). It's not all about him, it's about the relationship.

    Don't worry, "Love Sonnet 17" is not all about boring adult love. The speaker is also a pretty passionate guy. He likes to have secrets (that makes love a little steamier, probably) and he imagines his love growing inside him in a truly physical sense. This is a man who has thought a lot about love, both emotionally and physically.

    One last thought: could it be that the speaker of this poem represents both sides of a relationship? Because there is no distinguishing the individual (they are one, remember?) either person in the relationship could be speaking this poem. Gives it another layer, right?

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (2) Sea Level

    Love poetry is nothing new, sure, but Neruda does love poetry in his own, unique way that can make him seem more difficult than he really is. The poem’s language itself is pretty straightforward, with the exception of a few odd words like "quickening." The trickiest parts of Neruda’s poem are the metaphors, which sometimes leave you scratching your head. In this poem, for example, Neruda compares the feelings he has to an "aroma that rose from the soil." Huh? Usually, though, Neruda is on to something; just think of the way a smell can be so infectious, and you’ll start to see why "aroma" makes sense. So, in short, give Neruda a chance and we guarantee you'll figure him out (with a little help from Shmoop).

  • Calling Card

    Mysterious and Erotic Love Poetry

    Neruda is one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century, and his love poetry has earned him a pretty good reputation. While he's always incredibly passionate, a lot of what he says, both in "Love Sonnet 17" and elsewhere in the 100 Love Sonnets, is a bit mysterious, even mystical. In "Love Sonnet 17," for example, he likens his feelings to an "aroma that rose darkly from the soil," which suggests that love is like some infectious odor-plant that takes over one’s whole being. That’s pretty mysterious, but also deeply erotic, not to mention strangely beautiful. This fusion of mystery and eroticism is a hallmark of Neruda’s love poetry and, arguably, the reason for its extraordinary popularity.

  • Form and Meter

    Sonnet, Free Verse

    It is nearly impossible to retain the meter of the original language when translating poetry. On occasion translators attempt to do so, but the gap is nearly unbridgeable. Because of that, we won't talk about the meter of the translation and we'll jump right into the original.

    Just an Old-Fashioned Love Sonnet

    Neruda’s poem is a sonnet, a distinguished and popular poetic form with fourteen lines. There are many different types of sonnets, but the two most common are the Petrarchan and Shakespearean or English sonnet. You might be familiar with the man who gave his name to the Shakespearean sonnet, but there's also a man behind the Petrarchan form. Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) wrote many sonnets about a mysterious woman named Laura, and he's often credited with popularizing the sonnet form.

    The Petrarchan sonnet is divided into two parts. The first eight lines are called the octave and usually pose a problem of some kind. The last six are called the sextet, and they generally offer some kind of resolution to the problem posed in the octave. Problem-focused coping, here we come. This shift in gears between the octave and the sextet is often called the volta, or turn. Can you find it in "Love Sonnet 17"?

    Neruda's poem follows this form pretty well: it is divided into two quatrains (a group of four lines), and then two tercets (a group of three lines). This is basically an octave and a sextet, right? The first eight lines are filled with metaphors, as the speaker tries to explain his love (the problem). The last six lines show us that the speaker is resigned to the fact that it's just not possible (resolution). This certainly isn't your normal problem-resolution, but hey, nothing about Neruda's sonnets is normal.

    … But Without the Rhyme

    In a normal Petrarchan sonnet, the octave's rhyme scheme is usually ABBA ABBA, and the sextet can have a variety of rhymes schemes (two common ones are CDE CDE and CDC CDC). Well, Neruda didn't like these options. In fact, he didn't seem to like any option: his poem just doesn't rhyme. It does include a couple rhymes (think "tierra" [8] and "manera" [11]), but it's not sustained throughout the piece. Why do you think Neruda chose not to rhyme this poem?

  • Flowers and Plants

    People always like to mention flowers when they talk about love ("my love is like a red, red rose," anyone?), and this poem is no exception. Here, the speaker says he doesn’t love his paramour the way he loves beautiful flowers. Instead, he actually compares his lover to a plant that doesn’t flower (in Spanish, florecer), but keeps its beauty "hidden" away. It seems like he's saying that he loves her for her inner beauty.

    • Lines 1-2: The speaker says he doesn’t love this woman as if she were the salt-rose (a particularly resilient species of rose) or a carnation, two beautiful flowers. "Arrow" is a metaphor used to describe the way in which the beauty of the flower shoots out from within.
    • Lines 5-6: Instead, the speaker loves his paramour as if she were a plant that doesn't bloom, but rather keeps its beauty hidden away. The word "as" in line 3 tells us that this is a simile, a comparison that uses the word "like" or "as."
    • Lines 7-8: Something strange is growing inside the speaker. It is an "aroma" that originally came from the soil (from a non-blooming plant, perhaps?). This aroma is a metaphor for the powerful emotion the speaker feels as a result of his lover, that strengthens quickly as it grows.
  • Darkness

    For a poem about love, there is plenty of darkness floating around. The speaker says that he loves his paramour the way "certain dark things" are loved. He also describes how a "quickening aroma" lives "darkly" inside of him. This is all very strange, and it makes us think that there is something dangerous or mysterious about the speaker’s love. Pretty edgy.

    • Line 3-4: The speaker loves his paramour the way that "certain dark things" are loved; we get the feeling that this means he loves her secretly (he does say "in secret" after all), in a way that might not be acceptable to everyone else. The word "as" (como) tells us that this is a simile that compares two disparate things.
    • Lines 5-6: The plant’s light is "hidden within itself," which is a clever way of saying it cannot be seen (it's in the dark, if you will). The "plant that does not flourish" symbolizes something or someone whose true beauty is not visible on the surface, but is hidden away on the inside.
    • Lines 7-8: The speaker says an aroma "lives darkly" inside him. This means that the aroma is hidden inside of him and can't be seen by others. (Again, aroma is a metaphor for the speaker’s feelings as a result of his paramour’s love; love is like an infectious smell that he carries around with him.)
  • Closeness and Intimacy

    "Love Sonnet 17" is a poem about love, so it's not surprising that it talks a lot about closeness, intimacy, and that sort of mushy stuff. In the last stanza of the poem, the speaker even imagines that his own hand is actually his lover’s hand, and that her eyes close on his dreams. It doesn’t get much closer than that folks! This intimacy also seems to lead to a loss of individuality for each of the lovers. Is it worth it?

    • Line 13: The speaker imagines that he and his lover are so close that his own hand is actually her hand. This image symbolizes the lovers’ intimacy or closeness, a kind of love in which the speaker and his lover become one.
    • Line 14: Talk about closeness. The speaker and his lover are so intertwined that she can see his dreams.
    • Steaminess Rating

      PG-13

      There’s nothing overtly sexual about "Love Sonnet 17," especially when you compare it to, say, "I want to eat your skin like a whole almond" (from Neruda's "Love Sonnet 11"). But this poem is definitely sexually suggestive (isn't that the best kind?) The love Neruda describes is powerful, deep, and intimate; it is so intimate, in fact, that it makes us think of people lying next to each other in some erotic moment. Lines 13 and 14 both begin with the phrase "so close" (tan cerca in Spanish), and immediately we think of two people in bed. We’ll give this a PG-13, parental discretion advised.