The Poem

“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.

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...

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Forms and Devices

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...

(The entire section is 422 words.)