Review #51: Cien sonetos de amor: 100 Love Sonnets

Cien sonetos de amor:

100 Love Sonnets



Translator:  Stephen Tapscott

211 pages

This book counts for

My Dewey Decimal Challenge

and for

The 2011 Non-Fiction Challenge


I began learning Spanish at school when I was 13, and was fortunate to have a Spanish teacher. He was strong at making us discover the richness of the Hispanophone cultural patrimony.  So we not only learned how to ask: where is the post office? but also practiced our Spanish commenting on Picasso’s painting Guernica, analyzing revolutionary songs, and discovering one of the world best poet: Pablo Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize of Literature for his works.

Recently, someone expressed his surprise and disgust that I would love that poet, because of his political positions. What do I care, if he writes poetry, and even love poetry like an angel? If he’s the best poet, I can admire his work, without espousing his political views. I have to specify that that person could not even read the text in the original. So how can you really judge a poet in translation? especially Neruda: you lose all his music, his plays with sounds, and he uses them constantly. Actually, i discovered I had to read it aloud to really appreciate it.

I had not  read Neruda for a while, but a friend encouraged me to watch Il Postino, a movie based on his life as a refugee in Italy. The movie is excellent, and it rekindled my love for Neruda’ s words.

I found this bilingual edition at my library.

Unfortunately, I very quickly discovered that the English translation was terrible: it does not sound at all like poetry in English, it has no rhythm to it, and can only encourage readers to wonder why such a poet would win the Nobel Prize, and confirm the position of the person who expressed his surprise at my reading this poet!

I had forgotten how much Neruda uses nature metaphors to translate his love – lots of wheat, sun, light. It took me a whole to read it, because I wanted to literally taste every verse.

Sonnet 89 is probably my favorite. I wanted to copy it for you, and I Googled it, to simply copy-and-paste it. How happy laziness: I not only found it in Spanish, but accompanied with a GOOD English translation, so much better than the version that was in my book. So I hope you can enjoy  it.


Against the backdrop of Isla Negra #151; the sea and wind, the white sand with its scattering of delicate wild flowers, the hot sun and salty smells of the Pacific #151; Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda sets these joyfully sensual poems in celebration of his love. The subject of that love#58; Matilde Urrutia de Neruda, the poet’s “beloved wife.” As popular in the Hispanic world as the poet’s renowned citeTwenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair/cite, citeOne Hundred Love Sonnets/cite has never before been published in its entirety in English translation. The reason for this astonishing neglect may lie in the historical circumstances that surrounded Neruda’s “discovery ” by English-speaking readers. In the United States he came to popularity during the turmoil of the sixties, when Americans needed a politically committed poet, and much of Neruda’s canon answered that need. But, in his native Chile and throughout Latin America, Neruda has always been cherished as dearly for the earthly sensuality and eroticism of his love poetry as for his statements of political belief. To know this work, then is to understand the poet’s art more thoroughly. [Goodreads]


Pablo Neruda was the pen name and, later, legal name of the Chilean writer and politician Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. Neruda assumed his pen name as a teenager, partly because it was in vogue, partly to hide his poetry from his father, a rigid man who wanted his son to have a “practical” occupation. Neruda’s pen name was derived from Czech writer and poet Jan Neruda; Pablo is thought to be from Paul Verlaine. With his works translated into many languages, Pablo Neruda is considered one of the greatest and most influential poets of the 20th century.

Neruda was accomplished in a variety of styles ranging from erotically charged love poems like his collection Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair, surrealist poems, historical epics, and overtly political manifestos. In 1971 Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature, a controversial award because of his political activism. Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez once called him “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.”

On July 15, 1945, at Pacaembu Stadium in São Paulo, Brazil, he read to 100,000 people in honor of Communist revolutionary leader Luís Carlos Prestes. When Neruda returned to Chile after his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Salvador Allende invited him to read at the Estadio Nacional before 70,000 people.

During his lifetime, Neruda occupied many diplomatic posts and served a stint as a senator for the Chilean Communist Party. When Conservative Chilean President González Videla outlawed communism in Chile, a warrant was issued for Neruda’s arrest. Friends hid him for months in a house basement in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Later, Neruda escaped into exile through a mountain pass near Maihue Lake into Argentina. Years later, Neruda was a close collaborator to socialist President Salvador Allende.

Neruda was hospitalized with cancer at the time of the Chilean coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet. Three days after being hospitalized, Neruda died of heart failure. Already a legend in life, Neruda’s death reverberated around the world. Pinochet had denied permission to transform Neruda’s funeral into a public event. However, thousands of grieving Chileans disobeyed the curfew and crowded the streets. Neruda’s funeral became the first public protest against the Chilean military dictatorship. [Goodreads]


Soneto de la Noche – Sonnet 89
Cuando yo muero quiero tus manos en mis ojos:
quiero la luz el trigo de tus manos amadas
pasar una vez mas sobre mi su frescura:
sentir la suavidad que cambio mi destino.

Quiero que vas meintras yo, dormio, te espero,
quiero que tus oidos sigan oyendo el viento,
que huelas el aroma del mar que amamos juntos
y que sigas pisando la arena que pisamos.

Quiero que lo que amo siga vivo
y a ti te ame y cante sobre todas las cosas,
por eso sigue tu florencido, florida,
para que alcances todo lo que mi amor te ordena,
para que se pasee mi sombra por tu pelo,
para que asi conozcan la razon de mi canto.

Sonnet of the Night
When I die, I want your hands upon my eyes:
I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me one more time:
I want to feel the gentleness that changed my destiny.

I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,
I want your ears to still hear the wind,
I want to smell the scent of the sea we both loves,
and to continue walking on the sand we walked on.

I want all that I love to keep on living,
and you whom I loved and sang above all things
to keep flowering into full bloom,
so that you can touch all that my love provides you,
so that my shadow may pass over your hair,
so that all may know the reason for my song.

Morten Lauridsen




4 thoughts on “Review #51: Cien sonetos de amor: 100 Love Sonnets

  1. I’m so jealous of you Spanish skills. I’m trying to learn Spanish now. I don’t know if I have a favorite poet, but I have studied Dorothy Parker a lot. I love her poems and short stories, but I really like her time period and life story. I would have loved to be a part of the Algonquin Round Table!


  2. Thanks for all the tips! I would love to speak and read Spanish, but right now my concentration is on speaking it since I travel to a lot of Spanish speaking places. I will have to check out the BBC programs.

    As for Dorothy Parker, you can find a lot of her poems online. I have the Portable Dorothy Parker that has her poems and short stories. I will warn you that she is very sarcastic, but also very witty.


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