Sonnet XXVII

by Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto

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The Poem

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Although Pablo Neruda calls the fourteen-line poems in the volume One Hundred Love Sonnets sonnets, he uses the traditional sonnet form in widely different ways—from a virtual free-verse order within the framework of a sonnet (as in “Sonnet XXVII”) to the more conventionally strict forms; a sonnet is traditionally a lyric poem of fourteen lines, highly arbitrary in form, and adhering to one or another of several set rhyme conventions.

In the first stanza of “Sonnet XXVII,” the speaker of the poem addresses his beloved. Opening the stanza with the word “naked,” the speaker compares the simple lines of his beloved’s naked body to the simplicity of one of her hands. He goes on to describe her body with the following adjectives: “smooth, earthy, small, transparent, round.” Continuing the description, the speaker, in the final line of the stanza, in an apparent contradiction to the roundness emphasized earlier, compares his beloved’s body to a slender grain of wheat, conjuring up images of another image of earthiness.

The second stanza begins also with the word “naked.” The speaker continues to use metaphorical language to express his emotional response to his beloved’s body. The first metaphor of the stanza declares that the woman’s body is “blue as a night in Cuba.” Metaphors of earthiness introduced in stanza 1 are continued in the next line: “you have vines and stars in your hair.” The beloved’s naked body is also compared to the sacredness of a beautiful summer day; it is “spacious and yellow/ as summer in a golden church.”

The third stanza, like the previous two, opens with the word “naked.” The lover likens his beloved’s naked body to one of her fingernails. Her body is “tiny,” “curved, subtle, rosy.” It is only tiny, however, at night; at daybreak, her body retreats to a different place, to an “underground world.”

The final stanza describes this underground world as “a long tunnel of clothing and chores.” In the daylight hours, the beloved’s body loses its brilliant light: It dons clothing, loses its earthiness; that is, it “drops its leaves.” The delicate, almost magical shape and form of the woman’s body at night becomes transformed, by daylight, into something more mundane. Her body is now merely a “naked hand again.”

Forms and Devices

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Although the volume One Hundred Love Sonnets was dedicated to Neruda’s third wife (the greatest love of his life, Matilde Urrutia) as an affirmation of his love for her, it is not only to her that Neruda sings in these sonnets but also to the things that make up his life with her. Neruda’s love for Matilde fuses in these sonnets with his love of nature.

The subject of “Sonnet XXVII” is woman in nature, cosmic woman, woman surrounded by the force and attributes of nature. Neruda as a nature poet is essentially an observer of his surroundings as well as his own emotional attachment to those surroundings. The inner world of his own psyche is often described in terms of the external world of nature and matter; it is formed and expressed through images and metaphors taken, in a process of synthesis, from the poet’s external environment. In this way, Neruda is both a modern poet of nature and a poet of the human condition.

The basic images of “Sonnet XXVII” equate the beloved’s body with some aspect of the natural world. In the process of linking woman to nature, Neruda’s metaphors “explode” the human body, subject it to a peculiar tension, and extend it. For example, the unexpected imagery in the first stanza describes the...

(This entire section contains 443 words.)

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beloved’s naked body as having “moon-lines, apple-pathways.” The poet describes the roundness of the woman’s body by comparing its shape with that of objects in nature; it is also as slender as “a naked grain of wheat.”

The poet builds a bridge between the human body and the universe; the woman’s body is felt to be an important part of the cosmos. The beloved is a being endowed with supernatural powers; she has “vines and stars in[her] hair.” The beloved is, in this line, literally part of the earth, part of the universe from which she has come. Her sexuality transcends her individual nature, and the relationship between the speaker and his beloved transcends two individual people. The relationship becomes laden with philosophical consequences.

Woman’s sexuality is described not only through nature imagery but also in quasi-religious metaphors. In the second stanza of the poem, the beloved’s body is described as “spacious and yellow/ as summer in a golden church.” In these lines, sexuality, nature, and religion fuse. The color of the woman’s body and its spaciousness trigger a memory in the mind of the speaker: being inside a vast church on a golden summer day. The woman’s body is described not only lovingly but also with reverence and awe by the speaker.