Tonight I Can Write: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:01 Tonight I Can Write
  • 6:05 Analyzing the Theme
  • 7:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Pablo Neruda's love poem 'Tonight I Can Write' mourns the loss of a romantic relationship that fell apart. In this lesson, we'll analyze Neruda's use of poetic devices and his expressive style to better understand this meaningful poem.

Understanding Neruda's Poem Tonight I Can Write

Chilean Nobel Prize winning writer Pablo Neruda was one of the most popular and prolific poets during the twentieth century. In 'Tonight I Can Write,' Neruda focuses on a lost love. The speaker longs for a love once had and idealizes the passion that was felt. Translated by American Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin, this poem exudes youthful melancholy and has a rhythmic flow due to the use of repetition (repeating a word, phrase, or line within a poem). Identify the phrases that are repeated in this poem and notice how more meaning is added to those words as they are used in different ways.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, 'The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.
'

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

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

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tries to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

Notice how the line 'Tonight I can write the saddest lines' is used in line 1, in the first line of the fourth stanza (line 5), and again in the first line of the seventh stanza (line 11). By repeating this line, Neruda creates rhythm as that line returns the reader back to that phrase, much like the downbeat of a drum. Also, the reader is able to fully understand the depth of what the speaker is feeling when that line is read multiple times and expanded upon with the lines that come after it. We know the speaker is sad because he is no longer with this woman and the night reminds him of her, which brings up bittersweet memories that he struggles to let go of.

The word 'night' is also repeated throughout the poem. In the second stanza the night is described by saying, 'The night is starry and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.' This descriptive phrase creates imagery, which is when words are used to create visual images in the reader's mind. Neruda creates an image of the night sky in the reader's mind by using the color blue and describes them as far away.

Night is mentioned again in the next line, which is considered the third stanza because it stands alone. 'The night wind revolves in the sky and sings' adds to the imagery by involving the wind, and personification is also used (giving a nonhuman thing human, life-like qualities). The wind can't actually sing like a human, but Neruda personifies it this way to add to the melancholy feeling or tone of the poem. In the second stanza, personification was also used to say 'the stars shiver,' which stars can't actually do, but it creates a sense of coldness that perhaps the speaker feels, since there isn't the warmth of anyone else to feel.

In the fifth stanza, we understand why the speaker keeps talking about the night: 'Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.' Now we understand why his description of this particular night is so important, and the feelings of romantic nostalgia and loss are conveyed.

In the eighth stanza, those feelings are magnified: 'To hear the immense night, still more immense without her. And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.' The speaker is saying that this vast night is even more massive without her, like a person standing in the middle of nowhere, deeply saddened and utterly alone. The lines of this poem, which are referred to as 'the verse,' cling to the speaker's soul like dew drops that fall and rest heavily on a pasture, dampening everything. But, dew also refreshes plants, and so his painful yet reflective poetic lines can help him move forward.

In the ninth stanza, the 'starry night' is mentioned again to reiterate the fact that the speaker is alone and his former love is not with him, adding to his feelings of loneliness.

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