The Only Book You Need for Valentine’s Day

100 Love SonnetsMy 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 every now and then 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 eighteen years ago, and together, today. What’s in between is a blur, but the gratitude I still feel at having him, starkly clear.

There’s only one writer I’ve found who’s truly articulated the feelings of love I have for him: 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 before in the 1990s, it seemed to skyrocket into the mainstream consciousness.

The poems are brimming with sensuality and intimacy. It’s the kind of book you enjoy while in bed with your lover. A book that lends itself to reading aloud or sending in secret notes around the house or in a pocket.

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.

That it ends with “…so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, / so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep,” sends the poem into the more profound sphere of love being two people creating one being, a being that then 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 a loving embrace, dying together.

Just about all of the poems contain these 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 — for the upcoming Valentine’s Day, or any day that’s spent in love.

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