Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
In Neruda’s earlier love poetry, Viente poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada (1924; Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, 1969), love is described as both a joyous and a perilous experience. There is often a shadow lurking in the background, an indefinable threat, a romantic foreboding. In the mature Neruda of One Hundred Love Sonnets, however, there is only one tone; it is pure joy, sensuality, union, ecstasy, and triumph that inspire these poems. Love, Neruda seems now to say, can be explored in all of its enchantment without the fear of suddenly losing it.
The major themes of “Sonnet XXVII” are love, passion, and eroticism—but, as previously mentioned, always linked with nature. Neruda’s relationship with nature is essentially sexual. Sex, for Neruda, is a way of entering the world, of conquering and being conquered by the world. It is a path to knowledge.
The poem is dominated by a purely erotic tone. Although it is the beloved’s body that is glorified in this poem, the speaker’s love transcends the body. He is unwavering in his devotion, and a sense of contentment and peace permeates the poem.
The speaker sees his beloved as part of two worlds: the world of night and the world of day. The woman is both day and night, as she is both round and slender (in the first stanza). The two colors used to describe the beloved’s body in the second stanza are blue (“blue as a night in Cuba”) and yellow (“yellow/ as a summer in a golden church”); thus, she is both darkness and light. The woman’s body is described as a world in itself, as well as being part of the world of nature.
The final stanza describes the “underworld” to which the beloved descends after the night is over. There is a sense of regret in the speaker’s tone when he must let her go and cross over into that world. This underworld is not, however, a place of darkness and death. In Neruda’s poem, the underworld to which the woman returns is a place crowded with daylight and practicality. The woman emerges from the glorious and erotic night, her “clear light dims,” and this extraordinary mortal resumes the tasks of an ordinary woman once again.