The poem is called "Love Sonnet 17," and it comes from a book called 100 Love Sonnets, so naturally love is one of its major themes. The speaker contrasts his love for this woman with the love one feels for precious gems and beautiful flowers. Then he tries to define this love more concretely: it's like the love one has for "dark things;" it’s like an aroma; it involves some strange destruction of one’s individuality... hmmm, nothing seems like a perfect fit. Bottom line, love defies explanation. The speaker attempts to define love, but just like every attempt before him, he just can't do it.
True love defies explanation. Neruda knew this from the start; he wasn't trying to define love, he was trying to show that it can't be defined at all.
Neruda's love poem isn't very original. So we can't define love – what's the big deal? We want to see someone who can define it.
"Love Sonnet 17" thinks about identity in a unique way. In the poem, the love between the speaker and his paramour is so intense that they cease to be themselves; they lose their sense of individuality and become one with one another. In the final stanza, for example, the speaker says his hand is his lover’s hand, and hers is his. They even dream the same dreams. Neruda celebrates this oneness, but we have to think: should two people have to become one in order to be in love? Does Neruda think that people cannot maintain individual identities if they are in a relationship?
True love often causes us to lose our individuality and merge with another person. This self-annihilation is an incredibly powerful experience.
Starting the poem with the words "I do not love you" separates the "I" and the "you" too much; the two lovers can never become one with that kind of distinction.
Neruda sure loved him some nature. In the first two lines of "Love Sonnet 17," the speaker contrasts the love he has for his paramour with the kind of love one has for flowers and precious gems. In the second stanza of the poem, he elaborates on the flower theme, suggesting that truly powerful love is not based on external beauty. The speaker is torn. He says his love is not like one’s love for natural objects, and yet he compares his feelings to an "aroma" that "rose from the soil." He relies on nature to explain love, but at the same time he realizes it doesn’t really work as an explanation. Confounding man and nature is a common practice in literature, and Neruda uses this technique wisely.
Love is like an "aroma that rose from the soil." It is like a plant, and must be nurtured, cared for, and cultivated.
Neruda is confused: in the first stanza the speaker says that he can’t describe his love in natural terms, but in the second stanza he compares it to an "aroma" that resembles a flower.