Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines: Summary and Analysis

Pablo Neruda is the pen name of Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, a Chilean diplomat and poet. He was born in the year 1904 in Parral, Chile. He first composed his poems in 1914. In 1917, he published his first work in a local newspaper. He moved to Santiago in 1921, from where he published his first volume of verse in the year 1923. Later after returning to Chile, he was offered a diplomatic post, and the events in this post changed him as a man and poet. He was involved in many political activities, and he even found himself in exile in the later stages of his life. He was the winner of many notable awards, including the International Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature.

One of the notable works of Pablo Neruda is the ‘Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada’ (Twenty Love Poems and A Desperate Song). This volume of verse contains the poem in question, ‘Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines.’ It was published in the year 1924. It is the recipient of much critical acclaim and much censorship primarily due to its eroticism, which shocked the then general public, especially considering the author’s young age. Now it remains the best-selling Spanish poetry book, even after its 100 years of publication.

Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines Summary

The speaker of the poem says- that night, he could write the saddest lines. He loved a girl, and the girl loved him back too, but only at some times. That night was like the nights in which he held her and kissed her. He loved her great still eyes. But now, he does not have her, and he lost her. He knew the nights were immense, but without her, they seemed more immense than ever. The verse of his poems fell to his soul like dew to the pasture. His love could not hold her back. He could hear someone singing somewhere, but no song could satisfy him now. His eyes and heart seek her, but she is nowhere to be seen. The nights they lived through remained the same, though, but they themselves changed. He says he no longer loved her, but he used to love her and how; he tried to find the wind to hear her voice. And soon, she will be another’s. He no longer loves but thinking again. Maybe he still does. Their love existed for a short time, but the forgetting part is taking so long. Because nights like that night reminded him of all the time he spent with her, he ends the poem by saying that this will be the last verse she writes for her, and he will no longer be subjected to suffering due to her.

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Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines Analysis

The speaker of the poem recently lost the love of his life. We can tell, though, that some time has passed since the separation from the first sentence. He says, ‘tonight I can write,’ implying that till that day, he couldn’t. Maybe the emotions and pain he felt were still too raw to put down to words. In that case, this line implies that he is slowly healing from the separation.

Poets generally describe a broken heart using metaphors and imagery. Pablo Neruda’s style is simple and concise. But the speaker says he can write flowery language too in the second paragraph. That is how heartbroken he is.

The speaker says that he loved her, and she sometimes loved him back too. This puts us in a state of thinking that the one who was primarily responsible for the separation was the woman. The night he was sitting under was like the nights he used to hold her and kissed her. He describes the sky as endless. Maybe he felt his love would be like the sky too, but sadly, it had ended. He says, ‘kissed her again and again. This type of eroticism was shocking to the general public at the time, especially when the poet was only 18 years old. Sentences like this earned the poem collection censorship.

The speaker continues by emphasizing his loss and sadness. He uses repetition and some imagery to pull at the heartstring of the reader. One feels sympathy for the speaker as he repeats that she loved him sometimes. The night which was described as endless before, felt much more so after the separation. And this makes him feel verse of poetry flow as naturally into his soul as the dew falls onto the pasture. This makes the reader feel that it was indeed true that the most beautiful poetry flows from a broken heart.

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‘The same night whitening the same trees.’ He repeats ‘same’ twice to show that while they both changed, the world remained the same. Now he says that he no longer loved her as he used to.

He thinks that soon she will be another’s. ‘Like my kisses before.’ This line can have either of the two following meanings. The speaker of the poem is now together with another girl, and he kissed her recently. In this case, he says that like how his kisses belonged to another now, hers will be too. Or he says that she will be kissed by another man like how he used to kiss her. The meaning is closer to the latter one when the whole poem is considered.

The speaker now contradicts himself, saying that he no longer loves her for sure, and immediately says that maybe he loves her. This shows the conflict within the speaker. He loved her so deep that he finds it hard not to. This conflict is spoken of throughout the poem, albeit in allusions.

He says love is so short, but forgetting is so long. This is one of the best-remembered quotes from the poem. And the nights aren’t helping his forgetting process. Nights like the one that day particularly remind him of the time when he held her. And when these thoughts crossed his mind, his soul becomes dissatisfied with the fact that he lost her. The conflict is shown deeply in these two lines.

The speaker ends the poem by saying that that particular night would be the last he suffers pain because of her, and this poem will be the last one he will write for her. This shows that the speaker has now finally resolved to move on completely.

Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines Central Idea

The idea of the poem is to show the speaker of the poem’s sadness and regret of losing the woman he loved. And he succeeds in doing so by using concise language.

The tone of the poem is sad, melancholic, love-struck, and bitter.

Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines Figures of Speech

The poem takes place under the great, endless sky dotted with numerous stars. The speaker who recently lost the love of his life is bitterly regretting the separation, and the night sky he now sat under only reminded him of the moments he spent with her.

‘The night is shattered,’ and ‘The blue stars shiver in the distance; these are metaphors for the current state of the speaker’s love life. His love is now shattered like the night and where there was once warmth, now existed coldness, coldness between the lovers, cold enough to make him shiver.

The speaker says in the beginning that he loved her, and sometimes she loved him back. It induces a theory that the love that was now lost was first lost from the side of the girl. But then the speaker says she loved him, and he loved her back sometimes. So now we’re unclear as to who was primarily responsible for the love lost.

The night is shown to us in many ways throughout the poem. In the second paragraph, ‘the night is shattered’ and ‘blue stars shiver’ make us see the night as the speaker sees it; shattered and cold. Imageries continue in the following paragraphs with ‘endless skies,’ ‘dew to the pasture,’ and ‘night whitening the trees.’ The imagery makes us feel the sadness of the speaker acutely.

Many lines in this poem are repeated. The title of the poem itself is repeated three times throughout the poem. Then the lines like ‘I loved her’ and ‘loved me sometimes’ are also seen to be repeated. These repetitions emphasized the feelings of the speaker and portrayed the state of their love while it lasted. It emphasizes the melancholy and sadness the speaker is feeling.

The poem is without rhyme or rhythm. It is a free verse written in a concise and straightforward language, understood by all.

There is a bit of personification when the speaker says the ‘blue stars shiver.’

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Pablo Neruda shows us the pain and suffering a lover experiences when he separates from his other half. The simple language makes the general populace empathize more with the speaker of the poem. This poem is the penultimate one of the collection, the collection wherein he shows a full cycle of a love life.