Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Entrance to Wood” is essentially a mystical poem. In spite of its simple subject—wood (celery and wine are the subjects of the other two of the “Three Material Cantos”)—“Entrance to Wood” is a poem written in the manner of the best religious poetry of the Spanish golden age. In this poetry, the speaker, through a total renunciation of the senses, usually rises to a new intellectual level and, ultimately, to spiritual communion with God. In Neruda’s poem, through a structured reversal of this procedure, the spiritual aspect is minimized and sensory perceptions are maximized as the speaker bodily falls down toward a physical union with earthly things. What at first appears to be a fall toward death is actually a fall toward life. Neruda uses familiar religious symbols to represent the vital union, not with God, but with matter, “sweet matter.”

The mystical theme is underscored by the speaker’s material/spiritual journey. The poem’s rhythms move forward ritually. The speaker’s sinking through time and space creates the potential for soaring above them. Having reached the dark core of the wood (an inverted dark night of the soul), having exposed himself to matter at this depth, the speaker (and the poet) can join in its essential dialectic of death and life.

At the end of the poem, the speaker asks the wood to act along with him. Linking his “fallen soul” to his own night falling like “broken” water, he makes the wood’s life and death his own. More precisely, it is he who breathes life into the wood by bringing his own spirit to its “crushed materials.” It is the poet and the wood, human and nonhuman, that unite, ignite, and burn with pure passion at the poem’s end. In the act of writing, the poet and his “matter,” his poetry, are one.