I want you to know
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
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.
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,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.
if each day,
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.
Summary and Analysis
Meaning of the Poem
If You Forget Me was written while Neruda was in Switzerland. Specifically, while his wife was traveling to Paris, Neruda had traveled to the Swiss village of Nylon with his lover, where he spent a week together with her—mostly in bliss. It was here that Neruda wrote the poem with the following written at the top, “Nyon, December 2, facing Lac Leman, with Rosario opposite me and two camparis, at 12.04 the morning.’” Rosario was Neruda’s secret nickname for Matilde Urrutia.
This suggests that he wrote the poem, while he was secluded away in a beautiful Swiss village, with his lover, Matilde Urrutia, literally there looking on as he worked. It would be hard not to imagine that this poem thus relates to his feelings for Matilde Urrutia. At the time, Neruda was still married and living a precarious existence as an exile. To what degree he would be able to maintain his relationship with Urrutia was questionable. Yet, here they were spending the week together in a beautiful village. When this was over, what would happen? If nothing else, this sets up the expectation that “If You Forget Me” will deal with the mixed feelings that Neruda must have been feeling at the time.
Neruda presents a loving and romantic picture for his lover, reminding her of how much he loves her. However, towards the middle of the poem, his tone changes, warning her that if she stops loving him, he will also cease to love her. The tone in the last stanza of the poem reverts back to the positive, romantic tone in the first section of the poem, and the speaker tells his lover that if she does not forget him, if she keeps on loving him, he will forever love her in return. The poem highlights how intense, yet fickle, a love between a man and woman can be.