If you love me cover image featuring Pablo Neruda

If You Forget Me by pablo Neruda: Detailed Analysis and Meaning

“If you Forget Me” by Pablo Neruda was published in 1952 and this poem reminds us of what love and separation feel like. In the poem, Neruda presents a loving and romantic picture of his lover, emphasizing how much he loves her and how everything he does brings him closer to her. Perhaps, this poem is a reminder that a relationship is cherished because of love and the importance of one to another. The moment one feels ignored, the relationship starts to suffer. 

Take a look at the poem:

If You Forget Me

I want you to know
one thing. 

You know how this is: 
if I look 
at the crystal moon, at the red branch 
of the slow autumn at my window, 
if I touch 
near the fire 
the impalpable ash 
or the wrinkled body of the log, 
everything carries me to you, 
as if everything that exists, 
aromas, light, metals, 
were little boats 
that sail 
toward those isles of yours that wait for me. 

Well, now, 
if little by little you stop loving me 
I shall stop loving you little by little. 

If suddenly 
you forget me 
do not look for me, 
for I shall already have forgotten you. 

If you think it long and mad, 
the wind of banners 
that passes through my life, 
and you decide 
to leave me at the shore 
of the heart where I have roots, 
remember 
that on that day, 
at that hour, 
I shall lift my arms 
and my roots will set off 
to seek another land. 

But 
if each day, 
each hour, 
you feel that you are destined for me 
with implacable sweetness, 
if each day a flower 
climbs up to your lips to seek me, 
ah my love, ah my own, 
in me all that fire is repeated, 
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten, 
my love feeds on your love, beloved, 
and as long as you live it will be in your arms 
without leaving mine.
- Pablo Neruda

Summary and Meaning

The title of the poem, “If You Forget Me” speaks for itself where the speaker is telling his beloved what’s going to happen if she forgets him. However, the poem does not start with a pessimistic note. It starts on the note of love where the speaker compares his beloved with beautiful, lovely things. 

He compares her with the purity of the moon, the beauty of spring, and how even if he touches the ash of the burnt-out leaves and wood, it brings him closer to her in his imagination. Every sensation that the speaker has makes him feel that she is in his thoughts, somewhere near. 

However, the tone of the poem changes in the third stanza, where the speaker starts thinking about the time when there is no love in their relationship.

He believes that if his beloved stops loving him and starts to forget him, she should be aware of the fact that he would have already forgotten her long before. Moreover, the speaker calls her “home” and if she chooses to walk away, he shall find another home soon in no time.

This is indicative of a message the speaker is giving to the woman he loves. The message is that their love is only flourishing as long as both sides are in it. The moment one leaves, the other should follow suit as well. 

In the last stanza the speaker continues on his romantic note where the speaker tells his lover that if she continues to love him, he shall love her in return and will forever keep her in his heart.

The fire will never extinguish in his heart and love will always connect them. Here, we are reminded of the fact that all relationships have some requirement, and only if that requirement is fulfilled, the love remains strong and intact.

Analysis of the poem

I want you to know

one thing.

You know how this is:

if I look

at the crystal moon, at the red branch

of the slow autumn at my window,

if I touch

near the fire

the impalpable ash

or the wrinkled body of the log,

everything carries me to you,

as if everything that exists,

aromas, light, metals,

were little boats

that sail

toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

The first line of the poem can be read as a continuation of the title, where the poet tells his beloved that if she forgets him, he wants her to know a few things. The poet has written this poem at a time when he was doubtful of his relationship, therefore he tells his beloved of the consequences if she chooses to not love him anymore.

The poem starts with a positive and romantic note where the speaker describes how close he feels to her even if she is far away. Everything that he touches or sees brings him closer to her as if everything belongs to her including him.

The poet compares her to the view that he sees from his window, the beauty and innocence of the moon, the poised autumn season, or even the ash of the burnt leaves or wood which brings him closer to her in his imagination.

It is as if everything that the poet can see, feel, or listen to has an essence of her in it. He imagines traveling in a boat that sails only towards her because she is his home. There is some sort of magnetic connection he has with his lover.

Well, now,

if little by little you stop loving me

I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly

you forget me

do not look for me,

for I shall already have forgotten you.

The poet starts this stanza with a pessimistic tone and continues to tell his beloved that if she tends to stop loving him, he shall cease to love her too. The speaker here is trying to make his beloved feel that as long as the relationship would be important to her, it shall be important for him too.

But, it won’t stop him from forgetting her soon if she starts to forget him slowly. The speaker wants her to know that the second she thinks of forgetting him, she should consider herself forgotten by him. 

There is a very sharp contrast even within the poem where sweet love is juxtaposed with stingy carelessness. It is like the love he feels for his beloved is one of the strongest feelings, but it will break and dissipate within a second if she leaves him. But there’s something hidden here. 

In these lines, we understand how difficult it is for the poet to go through the period of grief when his beloved stops loving him, but he does not want her to know that. Because then it will be difficult for her to move on too, thus the poet tells her that she should know he was the one to forget her first.

If you think it long and mad,

the wind of banners

that passes through my life,

and you decide

to leave me at the shore

of the heart where I have roots,

remember

that on that day,

at that hour,

I shall lift my arms

and my roots will set off

to seek another land.

The poet uses a metaphor to explain how he is going to move on from her and seek love from someone else. The poet states that if she decides to keep him out of the “home” that he lives in, he will lift his arms one day and the roots of his love will seek another home. Here, home is a reference to the heart of his beloved. Perhaps, he implies to the mistress that it is easy to find love. 

The “wind of banners” represents the personality, and the events that the speaker has been through in his life, and yet if his beloved ceases to love him and leaves him alone at the shore, then at the very moment he is going to search for love from someone else.

But

if each day,

each hour,

you feel that you are destined for me

with implacable sweetness,

if each day a flower

climbs up to your lips to seek me,

ah my love, ah my own,

in me all that fire is repeated,

in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,

my love feeds on your love, beloved,

and as long as you live it will be in your arms

without leaving mine.

In the last stanza, it feels that the speaker is no more in that state where he feels deprived of love from his beloved, and starts to feel that love is eternal. The poet suggests that if each hour and each moment his beloved feels that her love is destined for him, then he shall love her more.

Any flower that seeks her lips, is the poet trying to express his love for her. He calls the beloved her own, something that he knows will never leave him and will continue to love him for as long as he lives.

By “fire”, the poet means the love that their heart has for each other. The love is undying in his heart and is never going to be extinguished. His love exists because it is reciprocated by her love, and it is going to live as long as she lives. It is in their arms, connecting them, tying them in a bond that won’t break even if they pull away.

Alternative Interpretation of the Poem

Pablo Neruda wrote the poem “If You Forget Me” while he was in exile from Chile. Therefore, many critics believe that this poem is his writing about his country. Everyone has deep connections with the place they were born, similarly, Neruda felt the same for his country.

He did not want the people or the place to forget him. It seems that the moon he sees, the seasonal changes, and the burnt log also brings him closer to his country. 

If the poet could, he would travel in a boat and sail towards the isle that is waiting for him. He knows that his motherland is waiting for him too, to return and live there.

But, then the poet wonders what if that love that his country has for him terminates and everyone starts to forget him. Then he assures us that if it happens, he will stop loving it too. If his country forgets him, he makes sure that he is the one to forget her first. This describes how attached he is to his country. 

The poet then reminds the country of his personality and the things that he has done for it. He is very sure that if his country does not accept him anymore, he is going to set his roots in some other country. It is something effortless for him to do.

The roots can be referred to as the culture, background, and memories of the poet that he has with his country. He is indicating that he shall move on. The poet is reminded that his country loves him and he shall love it too. Their love connects them. The fire in his heart for his country is undying and can never be replaced by anything. He intends to love it as long as he lives.

 Themes

The theme of the poem “If You Forget Me” is love and separation. The poet starts the poem on a romantic and passionate note, where he tells his beloved of everything that reminds him of her.

Every sensation that he feels brings him closer to her and only if he could sail on the boat and cross the oceans and meet her to express his love. The poet’s love stays throughout the poem even when he says that he will stop loving her.

The poet is aware that just like he loves her, she loves him too, and as long as she does he is ready to face any consequence. The poet has tried to reflect the power of love that one has when in love.

Separation is something that the poet is ready to face. He is not bothered if she stops loving him and starts to forget him rather the poet will be the first one to forget her and unlove her. If she chooses to leave him alone by the shore, by keeping him out of her heart, he does not mind finding another heart to love.

Literary Devices

The literary devices of the poem “If You Forget Me” are:

Metaphor – The poet uses a metaphor to explain how he will be ready to love someone else if his beloved forgets him. For example:

I shall lift my arms

and my roots will set off

to seek another land.

Another example of metaphor is the “wind of banners” where the poet indirectly refers to his personality and life events.

Enjambment: The poet has used enjambment throughout the poem and only if we read the enjambed lines properly, we can understand what the poet is trying to convey. For example:

if I look

at the crystal moon, at the red branch

if little by little you stop loving me

I shall stop loving you little by little.

Alliteration – The poet uses alliteration in the following lines:

if little by little you stop loving me

I shall stop loving you little by little.

and as long as you live it will be in your arms

without leaving mine.

Personification – The poet has personified the flower that will reach up to the beloved to kiss her. For Example:

if each day a flower

climbs up to your lips to seek me,

Repetition – The poet repeats a few words and phrases several times in the poem, to indicate their importance. For example: “I”, “little by little”, “stop loving you”, and “in me”. 

Conclusion

“If You Forget Me” can be read as an intense poem with simple words. One might perceive its different meanings, but I believe that the poet has tried to reflect his insecure feelings through the poem, it feels that his beloved hasn’t forgotten him but he thinks about the time when she will do so.

He is dictating the consequences to her of forgetting him ahead of time. Being in a relationship is easy but maintaining the love in a relationship is where two people are tested. However, in the end, the poet is quite sure that his love for her is something eternal. 

Moreover, it is love that they both have to offer each other, it is like a fire that never extinguishes. The poet may try to say that he will move on and not think about her anymore and she may consider herself forgotten too, but it seems like an act of pretense that he puts on, a place called denial. Because only if moving on was easy, the poet would never write this poem in the first place.

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