Study Guide

Love Sonnet 17 Man and the Natural World

By Pablo Neruda

Man and the Natural World

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.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. What do topaz, salt-rose, and carnations symbolize in this poem?
  2. Can you think of other love poems that feature flowers? How is this poem any different?     
  3. Is Neruda being hypocritical by saying that his love is not like his love for a flower, but then using a plant as a metaphor for his love? What gives?          
  4. What's the deal with the speaker’s reference to an "aroma"? Why choose the smell of a natural object to convey this feeling of love?

Chew on This

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.