The Most Famous Poems by Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda during a Library of Congress recording session, 20 June 1966 (Public Domain)
Pablo Neruda during a Library of Congress recording session, 20 June 1966 (Public Domain)
Photo of Elizabeth Trovall
9 October 2017

Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda remains among Chile’s most beloved public figures thanks to his prolific poetry and career as an international diplomat. The following excerpts of Neruda’s most famous poems are emblematic of his ability to express deep passion and sensuality and find vibrant life and majesty in mundane foods like tomatoes.

If you forget me

“I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.”

Neruda on the rocks | © G B

In “If you forget me,” Neruda emphasizes the need for reciprocity in his romance, though the subject of the poem isn’t completely clear. Some analysts say the poet is speaking of his home country Chile – as the poem was written during Neruda’s exile at the time of Pinochet’s coup – though he could easily be referencing his lover and third wife, Matilde Urrutia. Capturing the emotional intensity of love along with its insecurities, perhaps Neruda is commenting on both. His roots in Chile and his relationship with Urrutia impacted him greatly and had a profound affect on his identity. One thing is for sure, Neruda’s words will never be forgotten.

A dog has died

“My dog has died.

I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I’ll join him right there,
but now he’s gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.

Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I’ll not speak of sadness here on Earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.”

Anyone who has lost a beloved pet can relate to this classic Neruda poem. Here the poet explores the authenticity and dignity of his relationship with his dog, who has died. Though the poem starts out expressing a distance or removal from the dog, the intimacy and love Neruda feels for the pet is revealed as the poem continues. Neruda explores his own mortality in the poem as well, discussing his own views and doubts about the afterlife.

I want to do with you what the spring does with the cherry trees | © Quinn Dombrowski

Every day you play

“You are here. Oh, you do not run away.
You will answer me to the last cry.
Curl round me as though you were frightened.
Even so, a strange shadow once ran through your eyes.

Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle,
and even your breasts smell of it.
While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies
I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth.

How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,
my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running.
So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes,
and over our heads the gray light unwinds in turning fans.

My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
Until I even believe that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”

The poem “Every day you play” includes one of Neruda’s most iconic lines, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” It’s a very romantic poem, like many of Neruda’s most famous works. His words imply an intense sensuality and fertility, as the poem includes several references to the season of spring; flowers, butterflies and fruits.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines

“Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, ‘The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.’

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me sometimes, and I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.”

Haunting and tragic, Neruda’s poem reveals the pangs of heartbreak through the solitude of night, a night once filled with the presence of a lover. Another iconic line of Neruda’s is present in this poem, “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” Along with the night imagery throughout, this poem sticks with the reader thanks to the repeated line, “Tonight I can write the saddest lines,” which feels very immediate, final and strongly connected to Neruda’s inner life at the time he wrote the work.

Berlin, III. Weltfestspiele, Vorbereitung | © German Federal Archives

Ode to tomatoes

“The street
filled with tomatoes,
light is
its juice
through the streets.

In December,
the tomato
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.

It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.”

Archivo-02 | © sisib uchile

Besides his epic romantic poetry, Neruda was famous for writing many different odes to foods and objects. Through great detail and imagery, Neruda makes the ordinary extraordinary in his various odes, like the above “Ode to tomatoes.” By placing so much emphasis and glory into the minute details of life, by reading his odes, the audience can share in Neruda’s passion for the world’s simplest wonders – wonders as simple as tomatoes, onions or a large tuna.

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