Tonight I Can Write

by Pablo Neruda

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What symbolism did Pablo Neruda use in "Tonight I Can Write"?

The main symbol Pablo Neruda uses in "Tonight I Can Write" is the night. Like the night, Neruda's memory of his lover is dark, cold, ever-present, and mysterious.

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The primary symbol in the poem is the night, which comes to represent or contain (or possibly cause) all the action in the poem: the poet's memory of his lover, their love, his imperfect understanding of her, his sense of loss, and, as referenced in the title, his ability to write. Neruda conflates the "night" with the "night sky" or the "endless sky"—these can be understood as roughly equivalent in meaning. His example of the "saddest line" combines these elements (the night, the night sky, distance, coldness):

The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.

These ideas become a reference point for understanding his feelings about his lover.

Take, for instance, the juxtaposition of the "sad line" "The night wind revolves in the sky and sings" with "I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too." The connection is emotive and suggestive, rather than explicit. The hidden nature of the night wind, unseen but heard, can be seen as a kind of natural counterpart to the inconsistent and ephemeral nature of his love—she loved him "sometimes," suggesting perhaps her affection varied like the wind, or that the incompleteness of their love was like hidden and forlorn, like the wind.

There is a similar pairing a few lines later, when Neruda juxtaposes these lines:

I kissed her again and again under the endless sky
She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.

The endless sky, implicitly a night sky, is contrasted with the inconsistency of their love, this time on his part: his kisses (perhaps endless, like the sky?) are nevertheless only an indication that "sometimes" he loved her.

This kind of comparison is more fully realizes in the line "To hear the immense night, still more immense without her." Neruda connects the night, "immense" because it covers the world in darkness, with the absence of his lover. His longing for her, which includes his memory of their incompleteness, only adds to the darkness of the night.

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In the line "I kissed her again and again under the endless sky," the "endless sky" symbolizes the love that the speaker felt for this woman when he kissed her "again and again." At this moment, with this woman, the speaker's love felt boundless. Describing his loss of this woman, the speaker uses the symbol of "the immense night"—which represents a heavy, oppressive darkness—and also perhaps a sense of disorientation.

Later in the poem, the speaker says that his "heart looks for her." Here the speaker's heart acts as a symbol for his love. It is also personified as actively looking for the woman, and the implication is that his heart is sad and incomplete: wandering in vain to find its lost love.

The woman's eyes are referenced several times throughout the poem—in one instance as "her great still eyes" and on another as "Her infinite eyes." Eyes are often referred to as the "windows to the soul," so the woman's eyes here could symbolize the soul (or the essence) of the woman that the speaker fell so much in love with. The eyes are described as "great" and "infinite," suggesting that the woman had a large, open soul.

The stars described in the poem as "blue and shiver[ing] in the distance" symbolize the woman herself. She was—and perhaps still is, to the speaker—a light in darkness. She is also, like the stars, unreachable. The stars are an appropriate symbol to represent the woman because they are at once beautiful and mysterious—visible, but out of reach.

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Neruda uses night and day as a major symbolic elements in "Tonight I Can Write." 

As the poem progresses, the night becomes increasingly associated with the period of time when the narrator feels he loved a woman - the woman he writes about in the poem. (We might point out that the woman seems to be nearly symbolic herself and may represent an aspect of life or youth.)

We might take the night to symbolize love or the emotional coherence of the narrator's love. It is this that has been "shattered" and which feels "still more immense without her" as the narrator reflects on the scope of the love he once had for the woman. 

Having lost the woman, the poet writes the lines of the poem and the "verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture," suggesting that his sadness is connected to morning dew, daybreak or the night's end. 

The poem's retrospection points to an idea that perhaps more than love has been lost by the narrator. Perhaps a way of being for the narrator has been lost as well.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

Where the narrator once was able to love the woman while she only sometimes loved him, as he narrates the poem he feels that now he no longer loves her as he once did. His former fervor and dedication have turned to diffidence.

He now may love her, but not with certainty or clarity. The night has passed where that love lived/existed fully.

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