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Critically analyze these lines:

“Write, for example, ‘The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.”

The lines mentioned above have been taken from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s poem
‘Tonight I Can Write…’ which is the twentieth and final love poem from his 1924 collection,
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. It is the poet’s best-known work, and remains the
best-selling poetry book in the Spanish language ever, almost 100 years after its first
publication. The poems in this volume revolutionized the depiction of love itself: instead of a
deluge of romantic sentiments, or even as something that was common and prevalent in
ordinary discourse, Neruda transformed the idea of love into a feast of the senses, reveling in
the physical pleasures of love and intimacy.

The poetic persona across the poems comes across as a heroic figure who tries to explore and
achieve a unique voice that would enable him to actually re-interpret love, as well as come up
with a renewed engagement with that concept. In ‘Tonight I Can Write…’, the poetic persona
paints a moving picture of the end of a relationship, which will eventually trail off into the
“song of despair”. Unlike the other nineteen poems of love, the last one shifts its focus away
from the sensual nature of love to deep emotional bonds that unite lovers, and the almost
unbearable sense of loss that pervades one’s psyche at the end of an affair. ‘Tonight I Can
Write…’ reads as a conglomeration of sad verses; the repetition of the first line, “Tonight I
can write the saddest lines” not only acts as self-reflective device for the poetic persona, but
also lends the poem with the feeling of a “terrible epiphany, the realization and recognition of
great sorrow”, according to Michael Predmore.

The self-reflective nature of the poem can also be evidenced by the line “Write, for
example…”: the poem calls attention to itself as a poem, and very self-consciously celebrates
the ability to produce art amidst anguish and sadness. A sense of great destitution is echoed
throughout the poem, mostly because of the poem’s self-awareness that it is the end result of
agonizing heartbreak. For the poetic persona, everything can be associated to his lost love,
and, the night and the night sky are no exceptions. The blue stars shivering in the distance
hint at not just the illuminations of the sky, but also the clear vision that dawns in his heart
once his lover is no longer there with him. In ‘Pablo Neruda: An Introduction’, Anil Dhingra
has elaborated on how the “blue stars” also represent the abject loneliness that distance
provides and accentuates: now that there is a great distance between the lover and the poetic
persona, he cannot help but feel infinitely alone in a vast cosmos.

The loneliness gets intensified through the recurrent image of the night sky, since there is
something incredibly unreachable about its beauty, much like the beauty of the poetic
persona’s lover, and even more, the beauty of their love itself. The shattering of the night sky
also symbolizes the pent-up passion of their love, which is also the inspiration behind most of
Neruda’s poetry. Susnigdha Dey in ‘Pablo Neruda: The Poet” has articulated how it is the
ordinariness of the affair between the poetic persona and his lover that makes it resonate with
people experiencing the same emotions all over the world. However, this ordinariness
reaches a “profoundly universal level” with the line “Love is so short, forgetting is so long”.
This line can be read directly in connection to the second line of the poem “Write, for
example…”: since the memory of his lover refuses to leave him, he creates art in the form of
a poem in order to cleanse his mind, as a form of catharsis. Paradoxically, the poem will also
act as a reminder throughout the ages of what passed between the two: and maybe this is why
the poetic persona feels that forgetting love is fated to be long, since the artistic spirit is
compelled to produce works of art inspired by the feeling of love, works that will survive for
all of posterity as reminders of their relationship.

Thus, in “Tonight I Can Write…”, Pablo Neruda has constructed a brilliantly worded poem
about the end of a relationship. Each line conveys a deep and meaningful emotion, and a
careful analysis is crucial in appreciating the carious sentiments of the poem more fully.


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