Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines

Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines is a poem penned by Chilean Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda that appears in the collection of Spanish poems Veinte Poemas de Amour y Una CancionDesesperada. W.S. Merwin, an American poet, translated the collection into English in 1969 as Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Sorrow. The colorful imagery and symbolism employed to portray sensuality were significant features of the collection. Most reviewers were scandalized by the apparent sensuality in most of the poems, but the collection went on to become a best-seller due to an overwhelmingly positive public reception, establishing Pablo Neruda as one of the greatest poets of his generation (De Costa 36). The collection charts a love story from its inception in infatuation to the point of passionate release. Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines, the penultimate poem in the collection, is a melancholic love poem expressing the finality of lost love.

Overall, the poem is so simple and direct that it seems to resist interpretation. Unlike other modernist works, this particular poem explores an array of emotions, which most readers can relate to, in very accessible language(Alonso 17). This poem displays a profound uniqueness for the era it was written- both embodying modernism, the literal movement of the time, and eschewing it at the same time. Its non-conformist nature saturates it with a sense of timelessness. The emotional sincerity contained in the poem is an important distinction between this work and most conventional works of the Modernist Era. Most modernist pieces were known for their diminished emotional expression with a majority featuring prominent personas. The vulnerability conveyed by Pablo Neruda in this poem goes a long way into establishing it as a unique work of the Modernist Era.


Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines is notable for the sense of pure lyricism associated with Pablo Neruda(De Costa 38). Despite generally suppressing rhyme throughout the poem, Pablo Neruda still achieves rhythm through the use of assonance, consonance, and repetition. The title phrase ‘Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines’ is especially prominent having been repeated about three times(Bouwer and Neruda 280). The repetition of the phrase effectively creates a circular movement or cadence to the poem. It shows the that the feelings of sadness experienced by the poet are central to the poem and confers to the poem a sense of thematic unity. In constantly reminding the reader about the message of the title phrase, the poet also manages to express the profoundness of the sense of loss he felt. Since the phrase alludes to his inability to write about his love and the subsequent loss up to this moment, its repetition and elaboration every time it is used emphasizes the over-wrought state of the poet. The word night is also repeated about nine times throughout the poem. Night acts as a trigger for the feelings of loneliness in the poet. The night also helps the reader to understand the poet's relationship with his love.

The poem is also notable for the use, to good effect, of symbolism and imagery throughout. Central to the message of the poem is the use vivid nature imagery as a link to the poet’s memories and the present moment(Alonso 19). The poet contemplates the natural order and focusing on parallels between its characteristics and the nature of his relationship. He focusses on the aspects of nature that serve as a constant reminder of his relationship exploring the cosmic nature of his lost love. His description of ‘the endless sky’ and its comparison to his lover’s ‘infinite eyes’ aptly captures his belief in the transcendental nature of their relationship drawing parallels between it and the cosmos. He begins writing the poem at night, a time when the pervading darkness matches his sadness. He finds no comfort in the star-laden night sky because he reckons that the stars ‘are blue and they quiver'(Bouwer and Neruda 280). The magnitude of his loss is well illustrated by the fact that he equates the woman he was I love with to the force of nature in the universe. Additionally, when the poet mentions the stars that are ‘blue and shiver in the distance,' he is alluding to the great distance he currently feels between him and his former love.

The turmoil in the poet’s mind is aptly captured by his choice of words and use of contradicting statements. For example, he makes an absolute declaration of his feelings for her by stating that “I loved her” only to later state in more uncertain terms that “sometimes I loved her”(Bouwer and Neruda 281). The poet also extensively utilizes personification to express some of his feelings more profoundly. In the second stanza, he states that “the night is starry and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance” to effectively express the loneliness he was experiencing. His sense of solitude is loneliness and solitude is so deep that to capture it he is forced to confer human qualities to the stars in that they “shiver." In the third stanza, he personifies the wind saying that “the night wind revolves in the sky and sings”(Bouwer and Neruda 281). In implying that the night wind is singing, the author is suggesting that the sky is imbued with feeling and movement juxtaposing it with the deep loneliness he is experiencing. His sense of loss is further magnified by the line “the same night whitening the same trees” to show the consistency of nature and magnify how much of a sad experience his life has become without the comfort of his over beside him. The poet’s consistent juxtaposition of the present with memories from the past suggests an inability for him to come to terms with his new state of loneliness. The author juxtaposes his current state of loneliness and the sad nature of this night is juxtaposed to memories about being with his lover on ‘nights like this one' to reveal the marked changes that have since occurred in his life and reinforce his sense of solitude.


Tonight I can Write the Saddest Lines is a poem reminiscing a love lost. Readers get a sneak peek into the poet's love life through the numerous instances where he juxtaposes his present to his memories. His sadness has since subsided enough to allow him to reminisce about the relationship and he acknowledges “that tonight I can write the saddest lines." While the profound pain that he experienced had initially got in the way of any possibility of him reminiscing, he has received his creative energies back and can now write in great detail write about the love and attempt to find closure(Alonso 17).


Love and passion are the overarching themes in this poem. Through the eyes of the poet, we meet a young man in love with an unidentified woman. He expresses his great love for the young woman and is deeply infatuated with her. The passionate romance is effectively captured by his reminisces of her physical features remembering “her voice, her bright body” and “her great still eyes." He also fondly remembers kissing her “again and again under the endless sky” and proclaiming to her “how I loved her”(Bouwer and Neruda 280). Despite denying twice in the poem that he was no longer in love with her saying ‘I no longer love her that's certain,' readers can tell that he is still in love with her. His love is particularly evident in his distress when he considers the possibility of the object of his love belonging to another person; "another's. She will be another’s. As she was before my kisses,”. Readers also witness the finality of a lost love when the poet implies that his love proved insufficient to convince her to stay with her. He understands that he needs to move on from his current state as there seems to be no indication of her coming back. He says with a sense of finality that “though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer and these the last verses that I write for her.”


The writer allows readers a glimpse into his internal state to reveal feelings of deep loneliness. His use of the vivid imagery of nature to juxtapose his earlier state to his current situation allows the reader to observe the marked changes in his internal state since his over left him. He is clearly in a lot of pain remarking that "my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her." His use of a concept as all-pervading and deep like the soul in the context of the emotional suffering following the end of a relationship shows the profound pin with which he regards his loneliness. He writes his poem on a night similar to one he spent with his lover while they were still together remarking that the immensity of the night had increased without her. The increase in the immensity of the night alludes to the sense of hollowness that now encumbers his heart. To emphasize his loneliness and longing for her, he remarks that he still hears her singing from a distance and that he has no one singing to him now. To assuage his sense of loneliness, he attempts to will away the love he still ha for her by stating that he is no longer in love with her but that only adds onto his loneliness. Finally, in an act of ultimate resignation, he mourns that "love is so short, forgetting is so long.”

Reader Response

The pain lost love is profound. What Tonight I can Write the Saddest Linesillustrates, however, is the even greater pain of reliving the times you spent together. For the writer, the greatest pain does not stem from the circumstances surrounding the end of their relationship but the constant reminders of the times they spent together. To this end, even the darkness and stars of the sky are sources of great pain. He also shows that living in denial only serves to add to the pain, therefore, necessitating that he wills himself to move on.

Works Cited

Alonso, Amado. "From Melancholy to Anguish." Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas (1974): 15-19.

Bouwer, J and Pablo Neruda. "Tonight I can Write the Saddest Lines." Bouwer, J and Pablo Neruda. Twenty Love Poemas and a Song of Despair. 1993. 209-211.

De Costa, Rene. The Poetry of Pablo Neruda. Harvard University Press, 1973. Book.

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