Soneto XVII, Pablo Neruda

No te amo como si fueras rosa de sal, topacio
o flecha de claveles que propagan el fuego:
te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras,
secretamente, entre la sombra y el alma.

Te amo como la planta que no florece y lleva
dentro de sí, escondida, la luz de aquellas flores,
y gracias a tu amor vive oscuro en mi cuerpo
el apretado aroma que ascendió de la tierra.

Te amo sin saber cómo, ni cuándo, ni de dónde,
te amo directamente, sin problemas ni orgullo:
así te amo porque no sé amar de otra manera,

sino así de este modo en que no soy ni eres,
tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mía,
tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueño.


One of my favourite poems in the Spanish language. When I was first learning Spanish, one of the things I did was to work out a translation for this poem:

I do not love you as if you were a salt-rose, topaz,
or arrow of carnations spreading fire:
I love you as are loved certain dark things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you like the plant that does not bloom and carries
within itself, hidden, the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love lives dark in my being
the suppressed scent that rose from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, nor when, nor wherefrom,
I love you simply, straightforwardly, selflessly:
I love you so because I do not know how to love otherwise,

except this way in which neither am I nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes fall shut with my dream.

I'm not a professional translator, so there are considerations here that a professional translator would have had to take into account that I have happily ignored. The translation does not have a consistent meter or rhyme scheme (though it has to be pointed out: while Neruda kept to 14-ish syllables a line, he has no clear rhyme scheme either).

It's fascinating to see that even without any effort to keep a meter, the English translation is very close to iambic pentameter. With the exception of two lines that are 16 syllables, all the other lines come in at between 9 and 13 syllables, and many lines are iambic or close to it. It's no surprise that some of the strongest lines in the English are practically iambic pentameter:

I love you as are loved certain dark things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes fall shut with my dream.

Two details of the translation that I want to note in particular:

te amo directamente, sin problems ni orgullo
I love you simply, straightforwardly, selflessly

This is the only line in the English translation where the words cannot be traced clearly and obviously to the Spanish. The literal translation is "I love you directly, without problems or pride" but that sounds horrible, especially compared with the rest of the poem. I don't remember how I arrived at this translation, but I do remember that when I got this translation I knew I had it.

tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueño.
so close that your eyes fall shut with my dream.

Sueño, of course, means both "dream" and "sleep". "So close that your eyes fall shut with my sleep" is equally valid, and arguably even more romantic! I went with "dream" simply because the sleep is implied, and since the Spanish speaker reads both meanings at once, it made sense to emphasise the "dream" to an English speaker.