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Pablo Neruda

If You Forget Me

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1952

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Summary and Study Guide


“If You Forget Me” (Si tu me olvidas) by Pablo Neruda was published in the 1952 collection The Captain’s Verses (Los versos del Capitan). It was originally published anonymously, but Neruda put his name on the collection in 1963. This book comes a couple decades into Neruda’s canon. He began publishing books, in Spanish, in 1923 and continued to do so until his death in 1973. English translations of The Captain’s Verses began to be published in 1972.

“If You Forget Me” is a free verse poem that uses many symbols from the tradition of love poetry, such as the moon and fire. Neruda explores the themes of Love Is Reciprocity (Mutual Exchange), the Temporal (Time-Related) Nature of Love, and The Heart’s Home.

Poet Biography

Pablo Neruda, a pseudonym for Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, was born in 1904 in Parral, Chile. He grew up in Temuco and moved to Santiago in 1921. There, he attended the University of Chile, studying pedagogy and French. Neruda traveled to various places—such as Sri Lanka, Singapore, Buenos Aires, and Madrid—through governmental honorary consulships, from 1927 to 1935.

Literary journals started to feature Neruda’s work in 1920, and his first book, Crepusculario, came out in 1923. He gained acclaim for his second book, Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada, in 1924.

In the 1930s, during the time of the Spanish Civil War, Neruda became involved with the Republican movement in Spain and France. He returned to Chile in 1937. In 1939, he traveled as consul to Paris and Mexico. This time period was when Neruda worked on his Canto General. It was published in Mexico in 1950.

Neruda returned to Chile in 1943. He joined the Communist Party and was elected senator of the Republic in 1947. His political activism against President González Videla led to Neruda being exiled, going into hiding, and, in 1949, leaving Chile. He crafted political poetry during this period, including Las Uvas y el Viento (1954).

Neruda was a prolific writer, producing over 3,237 pages of work during his life. Other well-known books of his include 100 Love Sonnets (Cien sonetos de amor [1959]). In 1971, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died on September 23, 1973.

Poem Text

Neruda, Pablo (trans. Walsh, Donald D.). “If You Forget Me.” 1952. All Poetry.


“If You Forget Me” (translated by Donald D. Walsh) has six stanzas. The first stanza is the speaker (the poet himself) addressing a beloved, stating that there is one piece of information that he desires to share with the beloved.

In the second stanza, the speaker describes what the beloved does know: The speaker’s sensory experiences draw him toward the beloved. The sensory experiences include the speaker looking at the moon and a tree branch out of his window. The other sensory experience is tactile (about touch)—the speaker puts his hand on the ashes of a fire, including a burned log. He compares these experiences, as well as the rest of the things in the world, to boats that carry him to the beloved.

The third stanza describes an action and reaction. If the beloved gradually stops loving the speaker, then the speaker will gradually stop loving the beloved.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker explains that by the time the beloved suddenly forgets him, he will have forgotten her already.

In the fifth stanza, the speaker describes what will happen if the beloved leaves him. She could decide that his life is crazy and long, then decide to not be part of it. At the time that she chooses to leave, he will uproot himself and seek a new place to live.

The last stanza begins with a turn in the direction of thought. Instead of exploring negative actions and reactions (as in the previous stanzas), the speaker looks at a positive action and reaction. If the beloved constantly believes that she is meant to be with the speaker and kisses only him, he will reciprocate all of her affection. He will not forget or dampen anything. The love of the beloved nourishes the speaker’s love. If she loves him, he will be with her for the rest of his life.