The Poem

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 713

“Entrance to Wood” is a lyric poem of seven stanzas written in free verse. It is the first and best known of Pablo Neruda’s Tres cantos materiales, which were included in book 2 of his Residencia series, Residencia en la tierra (1935). The poem that immediately precedes “Entrance to Wood” is “Agua sexual” (“Sexual Water”), which ends with a vision beyond the grave. “Entrance to Wood” can be viewed as a response to that particular experience.

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That response begins with the poem’s title, which not only reveals a symbolic shift from water to the more substantial wood but also makes a revealing pun. The Spanish “Entrada a la madera” (entrance to wood) echoes the phrase entrar en materia, which means to get into a subject or to get down to business. This poem becomes the first “material” of the “Three Material Cantos” (the other two cantos are entitled “Hymn to Celery” and “Statute of Wine.”)

As in “Hymn to Celery,” the action of the poem begins with a fall. Somewhat like Alice in Wonderland, the “I” or speaker in the first two stanzas of the poem falls into an enchanted forest, toward a physical union with earthly things that is initially ominous. The speaker does not fall intellectually but bodily, with his senses, into the “forgotten decayed room” of the forest. The forest of “secret inconclusive woods,” however, becomes gradually familiar, as the speaker wanders in his new surroundings.

As the topic of the apostrophe (a manner of speech in which someone, some abstract quality, or a nonexistent person is directly addressed as though present) in the first line of the third stanza, “matter” comes to replace the “wood” of the title. The speaker addresses matter directly, saying, “Sweet matter, oh rose of dry wings.” The image of inversion (sinking upward) is of the speaker eagerly climbing up the rose’s vertical branches (the “rose,” however, is composed of “dry wings,” that is, wood). The references to fatigue, tired feet, and kneeling inside the “hard cathedral” of the wood—as if enacting a ritual within a sacred sanctuary—and the bumping of his lips against the wooden statue of an angel, combine to stress the corporeal quality, if not the uncontrolled nature of this hurtling fall toward materiality, this physical “entrance to wood,” that is the real subject of the poem.

In the fifth stanza, the speaker also alludes to his journey or quest, his “funeral journey” among the “yellow scars” of the tree. He is alone on this journey to the source of “mysterious matter,” toward death (he feels “leaves dying inwards”) or toward life in the sense of a rebirth, a return to the womb.

This new setting provides a dramatic context for the long final stanza. In the final stanza, the opposing elements of the physical and the spiritual are fused together as though in a dream to create a strange atmosphere of a bodily union with the cosmos. The speaker becomes one with the “matter” in which he lies. He becomes part of the “pores, veins, circles of sweetness,/ weight, silent temperature” of the wood. He goes on to describe his union with wood as if he were uniting with a physical body, referring to the “mouth, power of sweet consumed pulp” of the wood. In a liturgical invocation to matter midway through the stanza, the speaker says “come to me, to my limitless dream,/ fall into my bedroom.” In his role of mystic or magician, the speaker evokes a sexual union and then proceeds to describe in realistic terms the desired act as though it were actually occurring.

The speaker compares the falling night in his bedroom to water “breaking” (as in a woman about to give birth). The night continues its falling motion, and the speaker asks to be bound not only to its life but also to its death and its “subdued materials.” In the final lines of the poem, the speaker addresses the wood, saying, “let’s make fire, and silence, and sound,/ and let’s flame up, and be silent, and bells.” The act of rebirth, dying in the material world in order to be reborn in the spirit, rising up out of the wood’s ashes, is complete at the poem’s end.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 422

While the “entrance to wood” both materially and spiritually is the central image of the poem, the poet’s language accomplishes this physical and spiritual “entrance” as clearly as the poem’s imagery. The summons in the poem’s final stanza constitutes the first of three interconnected series that provide the poem with a highly structured conclusion. The first of these series is the sequence “fall into my bedroom in which the night falls.” The structuring clause in the second series is the conjunctive phrase “and to your subdued materials,” except for one line that balances the earlier addition of the conjunction by clearly omitting it. The symmetrical balance of the two sequences conditions the reader to expect a similar order in the third and final series in the last two lines, a formal pattern that implies that integration (with matter, mother, or object) can take place only under highly structured conditions.

In the last two lines, the conjunctive clauses increase in number and, in contrast with the vertical arrangement of the previous four lines, their horizontal sweep suggests a mirror inversion. Both the new format and the steadier rhythm indicate a new stage in which subject and object are gradually drawn closer together, as conveyed first by the shift of address from plural “you” to “we,” as well as the switch from verbal phrases to verbs. The latter, especially, set up a semantic correspondence that enhances the symmetry of the parallel lines.

Yet, no sooner is the new order introduced than it is jolted by the grammatical disjunction of the last word, which replaces the verb (“to sound”) with a noun (“bells”). The bells range in symbolic meaning from death to marriage, but the context suggests that their meaning derives mainly from the grammatical difference that is interposed within the series. The change from verb to noun, or from action to substance, signals the union between subject and object. In deriving the final symbol from sound, however, the sequence points to a specifically aural origin that the “Three Material Cantos” consistently identifies with poetic presence. Moreover, the final sequence articulates that presence as the end result of a three-stage process beginning with a purifying journey, a quiet death in stillness, and finally, a rising from the ashes as “sound” and “bells.” Thus, what at first seems to be restricted to a material identification is actually the attainment of poetic experience, of presence, even if the cost of attaining that experience is a disintegration of language and the speaker’s ultimate dissolution.

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Themes