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Postcolonial Literatures Unit 6 Tonight I Can Write
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Tonight I Can Write
VERY SHORT TYPE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
1. Who wrote the poem ‘Tonight I can write”?
Ans: Pablo Neruda wrote the poem “Tonight I can write’.
2. What type of stanzas make up this poem?
Ans: Couplets and one line stanzas.
3. Which best describes the poem’s speaker?
Ans: The speaker is a person dealing with romantic rejection or parting.
4. In what language was this poem originally written?
Ans: In Spanish.
5. In which year the poem was first published?
Ans: The poem was first published in the year 1924.
6. What does the poem describes?
Ans: The poem describes the dueling natures of Spain during the years of the Spanish Civil war.
SHORT TYPE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
1. How does this poem address the relationship between the natural world and human feelings?
Ans: In his heartbreak, this poem’s speaker uses the natural landscape as a tool with which to understand and measure his emotional reality. He recalls having spent a windy, starlit night, much like the one he now narrates from, beside his former lover.
Thus, the landscape serves as a constant of sorts, allowing him to determine that his feelings have changed from happiness to sadness while the world remains the same. In this sense, he reveals nature to be apathetic and uninterested in human emotions. At the same time, though, he is aware of the way that his feelings influence his perception of nature, making the open night seem by turns exciting and depressing. His moods impact how he feels about nature, but nature itself remains the same regardless of his moods.
2. The poem’s speaker claims to be able to write “the saddest lines.” Do you think this claim is true?
Ans: The speaker’s claim appears to be untrue: his halfhearted examples of “the saddest lines” are understated, revealing that he either cannot or is unwilling to express his heartbreak in writing. While he intuitively feels that his intense sadness should lead to easy, emotive self-expression, this proves untrue. Indeed, Neruda suggests that the speaker’s emotions are so raw and tiring that they render writing harder rather than easier. Thus, ironically, the speaker’s mild lines are in a sense extremely sad, since they are evidence that he is unable to find relief in writing when he most wants and expects it.
LONG TYPE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
1. Discuss the themes of the poem “Tonight I can write’.
Ans: The themes of the poem ‘Tonight I can write’ are:
(a) Memory and Reminiscence: “Tonight I Can Write” is a poem about memories of a lost love and the pain they can cause. Throughout the poem the speaker recalls the details of a relationship that is now broken. He continually juxtaposes images of the passion he felt for the woman he loved with the loneliness he experiences in the present. He is now at some distance from the relationship and so acknowledges, “Tonight I can write the saddest lines,” suggesting that the pain he suffered after losing his lover had previously prevented any reminiscences or descriptions of it. While the pain he experienced had blocked his creative energies in the past, he is now able to write about their relationship and find some comfort in “the verse [that] falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.”
(b) Love and Passion: Throughout the poem, the speaker expresses his great love for a woman with whom he had a passionate romance. He remembers physical details: “her great still eyes,” “her voice, her bright body,” “her infinite eyes.” He also remembers kissing her “again and again under the endless sky” admitting “how I loved her.” His love for her is still evident even though he states twice “I no longer love her, that’s certain.” The remembrance of their love is still too painful to allow him to admit the depth of his love for her, especially when he thinks, “Another’s. She will be another’s. As she was before my kisses,” imagining her “bright body” under someone else’s caress.
(c) Physical and Spiritual: Neruda employs nature imagery to suggest the speaker’s conception of the spiritual nature of his relationship with his lover. When he describes them kissing “again and again under the endless sky,” he describes his physical relationship with her in cosmic terms. He also uses this type of imagery to describe his lover, creating a connection between her and nature. “Traditionally,” states René de Costa in The Poetry of Pablo Neruda, “love poetry has equated women with nature. Neruda took this established mode of comparison and raised it to a cosmic level, making women into a veritable force of the universe.” The speaker compares his lover’s “great still” and “infinite eyes” to the “endless sky.” He also uses nature to communicate his love for her. His voice tries “to find the wind to touch her hearing.”
(d) Alienation and Loneliness: The speaker juxtaposes memories of his passionate relationship with his lover with his present state of alienation and loneliness without her. The speaker employs the imagery of nature to reflect his internal state. He writes his “saddest lines” on a night that is similar to the nights he spent with his lover. Yet the darkness and the stars that “shiver at a distance” in this night suggest his loneliness. The “immense night” becomes “still more immense without her,” especially when he notes, “to think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.” He compounds his suffering when he remembers “nights like this one” when he held her in his arms.
The speaker expresses his loneliness when he notes that he hears someone in the distance singing and repeats, “in the distance.” No one now sings for him. He admits, “my sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer,” and “my heart looks for her, and she is not with me.” As a result, his soul is not satisfied. In an effort to assuage the loneliness he feels, he tries to convince himself, “I no longer love her, that’s certain,” but then later acknowledges, “maybe I love her.” With a world-weary tone of resignation, he concludes, “love is so short, forgetting is so long.” Determined to end his sense of alienation and loneliness, the speaker insists that these will be “the last verses that I write for her.”
2. What is the historical context of the poem?
Ans: The historical contexts of the poem are discussed below:
Latin American Literature: After World War I, Latin American writers began to gain international recognition. As a result, these writers started to shift the focus in their works from regional preoccupations to more universal themes. They also experimented with new literary forms. Modernism especially had an impact on Latin American poets. Love, the family, and social protest became popular subjects, especially with the Uruguayans Delmira Agustini and Juana de Ibarbourou and the Chileans Mistral and Neruda.
Marisol and Marisombra: Neruda has admitted that the poems in Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair were inspired by his relationships with two women during his student years in Santiago. Two distinct women emerge in the poems in this collection: a mysterious girl in a beret and another young woman. Although he does not identify the women by name in the poems, later in an interview he referred to them as Marisol and Marisombra. The posthumous publication of his letters in 1974 revealed the girl in the beret to be Albertina Azocar, the sister of his close friend Ruben Azocar.
Literary Censorship: Chiles leading publisher refused to publish Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair because of its blatant eroticism. When the collection was eventually published, many readers were scandalized by the sexually explicit imagery. Political and literary censorship has existed in some form since the beginning of civilization. Censorship has existed in the United States since the colonial period, but over the years the emphasis has shifted from political to literary. Prior to 1930, literary classics like James Joyces’ Ulysses were not allowed entry into the United States on grounds of obscenity. Other
works, like D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, won admittance into the United States only after court fights. In 1957 the Supreme Court began a series of decisions that would relax restrictions on obscene literature. In 1973, however, the Supreme Court granted individual states the right to determine what was obscene.
3. Discuss the summary of the poem “Tonight I can write the saddest lines”.
Ans: I can write the saddest poetry ever tonight. For example, I could write something like, “the night sky is filled with distant, trembling blue stars.”
The wind twirls around in the night sky, sounding like a song.
I can write the saddest poetry ever tonight. I loved her, and now and then she loved me back.
I used to hold her in my arms on nights just like this one. I kissed her so many times beneath the never-ending sky.
She loved me, and I sometimes loved her back. It was impossible not to love her deep, steady eyes.
I can write the saddest poetry ever tonight. I can’t believe I don’t have her-that I’ve lost her.
The vast, endless night seems even more vast and endless now that she’s gone. Poetry falls onto my soul like morning dew falls onto the grass. It doesn’t matter that my love wasn’t enough for her. It’s a starry night, and she’s not here.
That’s all there is. I can hear a voice singing far away. Far away. My soul. aches with the loss of her.
My eyes keep looking for her, wanting to bring her near. My heart looks for her too, and still she’s not here.
This night is just like the ones we used to share, the same moonlight making the same trees glow white. But she and I-the people who spent those nights together are different now.
I definitely don’t love her anymore, that’s for sure, but I loved her so much. My voice tried to travel on the wind so that she could hear me.
She’ll be someone else girlfriend, someone else’s, just like she was before my kisses. Her voice, her shining body, the bottomless depths of her eyes.
I definitely don’t love her anymore, that’s for sure, but then again maybe I do love her. Love goes by so quickly, and moving on takes such a long time.
Because on nights just like this one I held her in my arms, and now my soul aches with the loss of her.
Even if this be the last pain she puts me through, and these be the last sad lines I write about her.
4. Discuss the power of poetry.
Ans: The poem finds its speaker in emotional turmoil, suffering the pangs and pains of a recent break-up. Though the speaker would probably give anything to be back with his lover, the poem suggests that there is, at least, a valuable by-product of all this heartache: poetry. That is, the poem itself implies that strong emotion inspires rich, authentic, and beautiful poems.
The speaker is the first to admit that he’s sad, drowning in a pool of sorrow, confusion, and self-pity. Such are the consequences of love, the poem suggests. But the speaker also hints that these emotions grant him a new power, one that links suffering to creativity.
Take a look at the poem’s main refrain: “Tonight I can write the saddest lines.” The key-word here is “can”; like some special power-up in a video game, the separation has perhaps unlocked a new level of sadness with which the speaker can compose his poetry. And after writing a number of painfully honest lines, the poem re-states the idea that difficult emotional experience helps to make these lines possible. Illustrating this, the speaker compares the relationship between emotion and poetry to a natural process, through, appropriately enough, a deeply poetic image: “And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.” Emotion and poetry, the simile implies, go together as naturally as dew and grass.
That said, just because the speaker is mainly saying that he can write the “saddest lines,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will or even that he should. It’s up to the reader whether the lines actually in this poem are these “saddest lines” that the speaker mentions; the speaker himself places one of these lines in quotation marks, as if these are only an example of what he’s talking about. Perhaps that line-“The night is starry / and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance”-is meant to gesture to a style of writing that, while valuable, doesn’t quite do full justice to his sorrow.
Looking at it this way, the speaker testifies to his newfound ability while subtly undermining it with a hint of irony. The poem is remarkably raw and bare in the way it expresses itself, as if the speaker wants to simultaneously poeticize the break-up-turn it into a work of art and question whether there is much point in doing so. Even if the speaker can write sad lines, it’s up for debate whether those lines can ever fully capture the pain of his loss.