Quotation from "A Song of Despair"

The Song of Despair, a poem by Pablo Neruda

Today we have our last poem from our July spotlight poet, Pablo Neruda. I couldn’t leave you without the “Song of Despair” that comes after the 20 love poems. Don’t forget to check The Lois Level for our other entries!

As always, my response is below, but read the poem and formulate your own response before you let my ideas muck up your brain!

The Song of Despair
The memory of you emerges from the night around me.
The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea.
Deserted like the wharves at dawn.
It is the hour of departure, oh deserted one!
Cold flower heads are raining over my heart.
Oh pit of debris, fierce cave of the shipwrecked.
In you the wars and the flights accumulated.
From you the wings of the song birds rose.
You swallowed everything, like distance.
Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank!
It was the happy hour of the assault and the kiss.
The hour of the spell that blazed like a lighthouse.
Pilot's dread, fury of a blind diver,
turbulent drunkenness of love, in you everything sank!
I made the wall of shadow draw back,
beyond desire and act, I walked on.
In the childhood of mist my soul, winged and wounded.
Lost discoverer, in you everything sank!
You girdled sorrow, you clung to desire,
sadness stunned you, in you everything sank!
I made the wall of shadow draw back,
beyond desire and act, I walked on.
Oh flesh, my own flesh, woman whom I loved and lost,
I summon you in the moist hour, I raise my song to you.
Like a jar you housed the infinite tenderness,
and the infinite oblivion shattered you like a jar.
There was the black solitude of the islands,
and there, woman of love, your arms took me in.
There were thirst and hunger, and you were the fruit.
There were grief and the ruins, and you were the miracle.
Ah woman, I do not know how you could contain me
in the earth of your soul, in the cross of your arms!
How terrible and brief was my desire of you!
How difficult and drunken, how tensed and avid.
Cemetery of kisses, there is still fire in your tombs,
still the fruited boughs burn, pecked at by birds.
Oh the bitten mouth, oh the kissed limbs,
oh the hungering teeth, oh the entwined bodies.
Oh the mad coupling of hope and force
in which we merged and despaired.
And the tenderness, light as water and as flour.
And the word scarcely begun on the lips.
This was my destiny and in it was the voyage of my longing,
and in it my longing fell, in you everything sank!
Oh pit of debris, everything fell into you,
what sorrow did you not express, in what sorrow are you 
not drowned!
From billow to billow you still called and sang.
Standing like a sailor in the prow of a vessel.
You still flowered in songs, you still broke in currents.
Oh pit of debris, open and bitter well.
Pale blind diver, luckless slinger,
lost discoverer, in you everything sank!
It is the hour of departure, the hard cold hour 
which the night fastens to all the timetables.
The rustling belt of the sea girdles the shore.
Cold stars heave up, black birds migrate.
Deserted like the wharves at dawn.
Only the tremulous shadow twists in my hands.
Or farther than everything. Oh farther than everything.
It is the hour of departure. Oh abandoned one!

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Response to “A Song of Despair”

“A Song of Despair” is longer than the poems I usually select for this column, and I could certainly write much more than you would ever want to read about it. But since you aren’t reading this for school (and if you are, stop reading my response right now and go back to the poem), I’m going to keep it short.

I really like the way Neruda weaves sea imagery, which is a favorite of mine, in with his lament about being alone. The sea, like all of nature, doesn’t care. It doesn’t mourn, it doesn’t lament. It just goes on, following the routine set by forces that are literally beyond the control of anything on this earth.

Don’t forget though, that for all of its appearances of being a living thing, it isn’t.

The speaker of this poem claims to be in great pain, at the mercy of the callousness of the woman who has left him in the throes of great feeling. But is his feeling love? Or is it passion?

Is it sustainable, or is it a wave that is exciting while it lasts but short lived? A wave that rapidly spends its energy on the shore before disappearing back into the sea?

When you read this poem carefully, you will quickly see that the speaker is not the one that has left this relationship; he (?) has left.

Also, he assumes that his lover has been left in pain, that she cannot possibly feel as he seems to, which is to lament the passing of his passion, but also to assume its inevitability.

If nothing else, this poem helps me see something about relationships that I never understood before.

Agree? Think I’m nuts? Comment below!

If you like “A Song of Despair”

More of Neruda’s Poems

Leaning into the Afternoons”

“We Have Lost Even”

“All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost”