‘Sonnet Of The Sweet Complaint’ by Federico Garcia Lorca is a fourteen-line sonnet which has been separated into four stanzas by the poet. The first two stanzas contain four lines and can be referred to as quatrains. The second and third stanzas contain three, making them tercets. In its original form, the poem was written in Spanish but has here been translated by John K. Walsh and Francisco Aragon.
The poem was originally included in the collection, Sonetos del amor oscuro, or Sonnets of Dark Love. This was the final collection published of Lorca’s work. It is known the text of ‘Sonnet Of The Sweet Complaint’ is written about a love affair the poet had with a young man late in life. The only “complaint” the speaker has (as the title references) is that there is still a fear inside him that his love will end.
Summary of Sonnet of The Sweet Complaint
The poem begins with the speaker asking that no matter what happens the love between himself and another is never be lost. He wants to be able to relish his lover’s eyes and breath on his “cheek” every night. The speaker is worried about losing what he has because he imagines himself as a tree without adornments on a solitary shore. This is not how he wants to live the rest of his life.
In the last two stanzas, the speaker directs his words to his lover. This person has become so important to him that they have taken on the role of “master.” He is a “dog,” following and indulging his lover’s every desire.
Analysis of Sonnet of The Sweet Complaint
Never let me lose the marvel
of your statue-like eyes, or the accent
the solitary rose of your breath
places on my cheek at night.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by asking that no matter what happens to him that he never loses the “marvel” of his listener’s eyes. There is something about them, and the emotions he attaches to them, which is infinitely important. He goes on to describe his lover’s eyes as being “statue-like.” This is a slightly odd description that might first bring up a feeling of coldness. On the other hand, one might see these eyes as being idealized, like a piece of sculpture.
The second line leads into the third with a description of the feeling and smell of the listener’s breath. It is clear that the speaker has deep feelings for this person. He places importance on the imitate moments with the listener’s breath is on his cheek. It is said to resemble a “solitary rose.” The speaker recognizes these moments as being special and limited. The temporary nature of a single rose is a suitable comparison for a fleeting moment of love.
I am afraid of being, on this shore,
a branchless trunk, and what I most regret
is having no flower, pulp, or clay
for the worm of my despair.
In the next set of four lines, the speaker moves away from describing his listener to worrying about his own state of being. He states first that he is “afraid of being” on “this shore “ alone. While the shore mentioned in these lines could refer to a specific place, for a reader it is enough to imagine any shore beside a body of water. The speaker is casting his mind back to what had been his most poignant fear, finding himself alone without a “flower, pulp, or clay.” He had, and still has to some extent, a deep-seated fear of living his life and ending up without a companion.
The metaphor of the tree works in two different ways. First, the trunk is depicted as being solid and “branchless.” It is dug in on the shoreline and cannot be moved by the wind or the sea. This is a perfect representation of a life of solitude from which one cannot be pulled. All the speaker really wanted was something to break the sameness of this prospective future. The “flower…or clay” would serve this purpose.
Luckily for the speaker, he did not end up in this situation. The relationship he is a part of has adorned him with the emotions he was so desperate to experience. He is no longer alone.
If you are my hidden treasure,
if you are my cross, my dampened pain,
if I am a dog, and you alone my master,
The second half of the poem which is made out of a sestet split into two tercets, begins with the speaker once more addressing his listener. He begins by referring to his lover as being his “hidden treasure.” This relates directly to the shore scene in the previous stanza. The speaker has found this person within their own world, dug them up, and is now able to relish in their presence. Additionally, the speaker’s lover is referred to as his “cross” and his “master.”
The listener has taken on such a prominent role in the speaker’s life that it is as if a whole religion has formed around them. Lorca’s speaker is dedicated to his lover like a “dog” is to its “master.”
never let me lose what I have gained,
and adorn the branches of your river
with leaves of my estranged Autumn.
The fourth stanza picks up right where the third left off. It also relates back to the first line where the speaker was asking not to lose “the marvel.” This time though he refers directly to the relationship as being what he has “gained.” He is unwilling to go back to the way he was living before. The solid, branchless tree is not his preferred form. Here, he presents himself and his lover as being the tree and the river.
The speaker is now able to “adorn” his lover’s “river / with leaves” from his unhappier days. At the same time, the river plows on beneath him, unstoppable and nourishing.