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Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
This is my favorite poem of all time. I can't remember where I found it or when, but I knew I loved the words, the images and the seamless flow from stanza to stanza. Ironically, it took me years to truly understand exactly what the poem means. At first glance, it reads as a sweet and passionate love poem. The final stanza has the reader thinking "awwww." But when carefully examined, you see there is more to this poem that meets the eye. Yes, it is a love poem. But it details a special, sacred kind of love. This is not puppy love or a crush or infatuation or lust. This is 100% genuine love. 
Neruda begins by telling his beloved he does not love her as if she were a beautiful gem or crystal rock. He loves her as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret between body and soul. Between body and soul? That is a deep rooted place. This love isn't hailed from the treetops or embellished with material declarations. It is a private and secret love. 
Neruda loves what he can't see but knows exists. The plant that never blooms but carries within itself the light of hidden flowers. Mystery. The scent of these hidden flowers lives within him. He and his love are integrated, combined, together, within each other. 
True love is unselfish. ("Love does not boast...etc"). If you are really, truly in love with someone, you tell them you love them for the sole reason of letting them hear the words fall from your lips. You do not tell them to hear the words back. You do not say it for a reaction. You state the fact and are content with that. This third stanza encapsulates what true love feels like. When you love someone without knowing how or when or from where. You know it comes from deep inside you but you love them with ALL of you so it is hard to pinpoint a place. You know it is love but you don't know why. There is not ONE reason. You just DO. You love without complexities and pride. This is the only way you know how to love. 
The final stanza brings the message home. That two people are so in love they become one. The cliche is "Two become one" and we hear it in poems and songs and stories and in movies. But Neruda puts this cliche into the most elegant words. "Than this: where I does not exist, nor you. So close that your hand on my chest is my hand. So close that your eyes close as I fall asleep." I feel this is the type of phenomenon that occurs with elderly couples who have been together for decades. This could happen with new love too, but like a petulant child, love begins immature and grows wise over time. 
Such a beautiful poem. It takes careful thought and analysis to truly appreciate how hard Pablo Neruda can hit home when it comes to true and unselfish love. 
Until next time... 


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