I have really enjoyed reading Neruda’s poetry. I had read some of his poems before, both English translations and in the original Spanish, but I had never read any of Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desperada. Upon reading the first poem, the thing that struck me was its sensual nature, and I found that that tone of eroticism is strong throughout the poems. It sort of has the air of young love (or lust) with its focus on physical love, so it makes sense that it was written by such a young poet. Still, though, it’s very impressive (and sort of intimidating) that this book was published before the time that Neruda was 20!
After reading the poems included in the course package and a few of the others from Veinte poemas it sort of seems like the poems form a sort of cycle that moves from lusty, young love and physical attraction (in the first poem), towards a more contemplative mood (as in the somber tenth poem with lines like “Por qué se me vendrá todo el amor de golpe / cuando me siento triste, y te siento lejana?”), to a happy portrait of a more romantic love (poem #15: “Una palabra entonces, una sonrisa bastan./ Y estoy alegre”), towards, finally, the end of a relationship in the twentieth poem. The twentieth poem is a sad and beautiful lament to lost love, with lines like “Ella me quiso, a veces yo también la quería./ Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos. / Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche. / Pensar que no la tengo. Sentir que la he perdido.” This is followed by the “Canción desperada,” where the poet despairs after the end of the relationship, remembering “la alegre hora
del asalto y el beso,” and repeating the exclamation “Todo en ti fue naufragio!”
I don’t know if Neruda conceptualized the book this way, but it seems to me like a sort of story, if not of a particular love or relationship, then at least a story of how relationships begin, evolve, change, and eventually end. Since most people can identify with these feelings and experiences, maybe this is why these are some of Neruda’s most read and beloved poems worldwide, perhaps broader in their appeal than poems about politics and Augusto Sandino and Jesús Menéndez, for example.