“If You Forget Me” by Pablo Neruda has been translated from Spanish. It was originally titled as ‘Si Tu Me Olvidas’ and belongs to the “Captain Verses” collection. This poem is often mistaken as a love poem dedicated to his wife Matilde. However, the poems contained in “Cien Sonetos de Amor” (100 Love Sonnets) were written for Matilde. “If You Forget Me” is about Neruda’s exile from his native country, Chile.
‘I want to you to know one thing”
The poem begins with this sharp line indicating that whatever the poet wants to be known holds importance. It also initiates an interest in the reader to proceed with the poem.
The following lines explain his feelings towards his native country, Chile. ‘You know how it is’ is a stark statement by the poet explaining the situation of his life. Phrases like ‘crystal moon’, ‘red branch’ and ‘slow autumn’ bring a sense of peace and unity to the minds of the readers, while ‘impalpable ash’ and ‘fire’ induces passion in the heart. In this stanza, the poet is trying to explain that whether he lives in peace or danger abroad, his mind settles to one thing that is his homeland. During the time of the civil war in Spain, Neruda adopted an active participation in the war and suffered as a result. He was sent to exile from his native country.
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.’
The words ‘little’ mean that he can no longer bear such hostility towards him by his native land. Due to his active participation in the civil war, a warrant was put out for his arrest and the following stanza emphasizes about it.
‘If suddenly you forget me
do not look for me
for I shall already have forgotten you.”
The rhyming tone of these lines suddenly changes. He is probably asking his native land to withdraw his arrest warrant. The poet writes that if his native land forgets him, he would no longer seek for his country. He asks not to look for him because by that time, he would already have forgotten his native land.
“If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day at that hour
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.”
This stanza explains that the poet has nothing else than to leave his cherished homeland. His country has become so dangerous that all love for his country is lost and the hostility towards the poet has turned so great that he can no longer remain there. Moreover, he says that although his roots were planted in Chile, the current situations have destroyed everything and the poet has no option left other than uprooting and starting afresh elsewhere.
Later, Pablo Neruda returned to Chile. The final lines are emphasized on these reasons. The poet feels that he is destined to be in his native land; nothing in him is ‘extinguished or forgotten.’
Pablo Neruda’s “If You Forget Me” is an exemplar in the world of literature not just because of the beautiful use of language but also the variety of literary devices used.
The most prominent literary device used in “If You Forget Me” is the Metaphor. A metaphor is that figure of speech where comparison of two different things are implied but not clearly stated.
“If I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you”
The above lines imply a metaphor to point out that whether the poet lives in peace or in danger, he would still be available if his homeland needed him.
In the fifth stanza, the words ‘land’ and ‘roots’ are examples of metaphor. “To leave me at the shore of the heart where I have roots” implies that the poet is rooted at the shore.
Another poetic device is used is Imagery.
“Silver moon”, “red branch”, “slow autumn”, “impalpable ash”, “wrinkle log” are images that bring peace and calmness to the mind. “Little boats that sail towards those isles” are examples of the poet’s feeling towards his native land.
About the Author:
Pablo Neruda was the pen and later, legal name of the Chilean poet, Neftali Ricardo Reyes Boasalto. He became a known poet when he was a teenager. He is considered as the greatest poet of the twentieth century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He died of a heart failure in 1973.