100 Love Sonnets: The Only Book You Need for Valentine’s Day
My love for my husband isn’t about flowers and candy on a particular day of the year. It’s about the surging ache I feel when we’re apart and I think of him. It’s about a random image, the shine of his hair, his voice, how he walks. It’s an act of affection toward our kids, an act of forgiveness for me, an act of generosity toward those lesser known. And it’s about him and me, together for 18 years. What happened during those years is sometimes a blur, but the gratitude I still feel is starkly clear.
Pablo Neruda’s 100 Sonnets
There’s only one writer I’ve found who’s truly articulated the feelings of love I have for my husband: Pablo Neruda. He was famously in love with a woman named Matilde Urrutia and wrote many poems about their relationship. Most are collected in 100 Love Sonnets, a book only known in the literary community for decades until the 1990s when it skyrocketed into the mainstream consciousness.
Poems of Love and Sensuality
The poems bubble with sensuality and intimacy. It’s the kind of book you enjoy while in bed with your lover. A book that lends itself to being read aloud or being sent via secret notes.
Sonnet Number XVII is one we have framed and hung in our home. It’s the one where Neruda says “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved.” One of my favorite stanzas is:
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.
Instead of his love being like a blooming flower, the obvious choice, his love is something darker and more personal. It’s in the secret nature of a flower still folded up, its “solid fragrance,” almost tactile, living not in the garden but inside the body. Connotations of sex and smells abound. The idea of love being between two people, shared in a confidential way, makes the poem creep along with a private, almost conspiratorial, tone. A tone with a touch of danger and mystery.
It continues on:
I love you without knowing how, or when, of 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,
Here the narrator shifts to a plain honest place. He’s suddenly tongue-tied on the mystery of why he feels the way he does. There is simply “no other way” other than we are one entity. That always gets me a little choked up.
A Sweet Embrace
The poem ends with “…so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, / so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.” These lines evoke a more profound idea that love is two people creating one being, a being that exists on a subconscious plane: sleep. It’s as if sleep mirrors death and hence, eternal love. You can almost picture the man and woman, in an intimate embrace, dying together.
Just about all of the poems contain vivid images and layered meanings. It’s a brilliant, beautiful masterwork. Though I have an old edition of the book shown in the photo, there’s a more attractive newer edition that’s appropriate for gift-giving. Give it to someone special for Valentine’s Day or any day that you want to show your gratitude at being in love.