My favourite poem is, some might say, a strange one. Pablo Neruda’s ‘Tonight I can write’ is an indulgence in heartbreak and an analysis into lost love.
What I find most beautiful about this poem is the relatable quality I found upon reading it, and the catharsis I later shared with the poet by the final verse, in which the poet decides that ‘this be the last pain that she makes me suffer / and these the last verses that I write for her’. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that the poet has moved on completely by this point, but the determination to cast them from mind and poem is strong and admirable.
“In the poet’s loss there is potential for gain”
Through the structure of the poem’s two-line stanzas, Neruda creates distance and separation just as he feels this ‘distance’ himself from the girl he once loved. This distance may be physical or it may reflect the loss of the emotional closeness one feels when one is in a relationship; to lose love is often to feel that they are a world away even when they’re perhaps living close or still part of one’s life.
There is also a distance of communication between the two lovers which can be felt through the pauses between stanzas and emphasised by the caesura within the lines, causing a fragmentation and brokenness, represented by his conclusion that ‘the night is shattered’ just as the physical verses of the poem are, and so to is his heart and mind now that he is no longer with his love.
Inspired by the distance is the uncertainty which the poet feels about the love which once was; I know I have certainly felt these doubts after a break-up. Neruda expresses that ‘She loved me sometimes, and I loved her too’ which details the question of how someone who supposedly loved him could leave him, or whether, now that love is lost, there was ever love to begin with. This is echoed in his later sentiment that ‘I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her’, a plea to move on before he is ready. There is often an urgency to recover from heartbreak, a desperation to feel nothing and to have forgotten the feelings of love which were once consuming. As the poet realises, however, ‘Love is so short, forgetting is so long’ and cannot be so easily achieved.
In a way, this poem feels less intended for the girl he is no longer with, nor for its readers, but rather for himself. As we may write in journals or diaries, Neruda is writing this poem as a way of working through his feelings and coming to terms with the loss he feels. His questioning and indecision reveal the trouble he is having in accepting his own struggles to move on and the conflict between idealising ‘Her voice. Her bright body. Her in- finite eyes’ and knowing regretfully that ‘Another’s. She will be another’s. Like my kisses before’ are common reactions to a break-up.
What I love most about the poem is that it almost doesn’t matter much whether the poet manages to move on because I think the beauty is its ability to make tangible what is felt. Through the creative process of writing poetry, the brokenness expressed and experienced by the poet is productive in crafting ‘the saddest lines’ and becoming the substance of a rich and powerful poem.
In the poet’s loss there is the potential for gain and as is often the case for writers, the disabling, debilitating experience of heartache itself becomes enabling. The poem’s progression suggests there to be a cathartic release involved in writing down one’s sorrows in order to work them through.
A creative response to Pablo Neruda’s ‘Tonight I can write’ from the perspective of the subject of the original poem
Tonight I too write the saddest lines.
Write, for example, ‘My days are silent
And I see your face in every shadow.’
The nights are bleak, darkness engulfs the stars.
There were times when you and I would share an embrace
and would kiss under the pale reflection of the moon.
Now those memories are tainted. Now all they bring is sadness.
To think that I do not have you. To feel that I have lost you.
Tonight I write the saddest lines
That I loved you, but you didn’t trust me to.
What does it matter that my love could not keep you?
You lost me because my words were not enough.
I no longer want to love you, but I do.
Can I ever be another’s, as I once was yours?
.Image: Free-Photos via Pixabay