Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The major themes of Neruda’s poem are death and regeneration. These themes are primarily realized through the speaker’s cyclic journey (similar to those in the Bible or in Dante’s The Divine Comedy, c. 1320). The speaker explores the cosmos, penetrates the earth to its secret chambers, ascends toward light from the roots through the stems of plants, and identifies with the stones of the huge sacred city. The speaker serves as primitive human, as prophet, and, ultimately, as semidivinity, searing through space and through history, bringing the reader with him on an incredible voyage, an adventure to the end of the earth. A strange poetic time machine allows the speaker to swim upstream in the flow of time, exploring nature, humankind, history, and visions of the future.

The speaker’s magic powers have taken him first down into the earth, through seas of darkness. Then, he ascends the ladder. Climbing, he goes through the thickets toward the tall city rocked in a “wind of thorns,” the city that is like a spade buried in primordial sand, the city made out of stone. The speaker beckons to the reader to “climb up” with him.

On this journey, the overwhelming presences are those of nature in all of its power and those of ghostly ancient men who came to terms with nature many centuries ago. Both presences fuse in a moment of love and recognition, and the past becomes the present.

What the speaker finds in his...

(The entire section is 450 words.)