Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint by Frederico Garcia Lorca
With some of these essays I try to provide back story on the poet, the poem, or the technique(s) exercised in the poem. This will not be one of those essays. No, in fact, I've included this poem with no knowledge about it. I know a smattering about Lorca and have read about his time in New York, but overall I'm also undereducated on him, compared to some of the other poets featured on We Convince By Our Presence. So, then, the question is why have I included this poem and poet? Sometimes it's refreshing to stumble upon a poem that dazzles you in the moment and engages your own consciousness in a way that is devoid of context. Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint is one of those poems that seems to have refreshed my poetry palette.
The first stanza rings my comparison alarm bells and fills my mind with images of Apollo and his archaic torso, as described by another triple-named poet (Rainer Maria Rilke). The life-like statute that, in it's solid state, still convinces Rilke that he must seize his own fate and change his life is slightly more intense than the "marvel / of your statue like eyes." Still, Lorca is clinging like Rilke, to a "hidden treasure" of a love that allows him to avoid being "a branchless trunk...having no flower." Lorca's testament to love, in the form of powerful metaphors, sweeps through his fears and regrets, only to reach a unique kind of promise.
"If you are my cross, my dampened pain, / if I am a dog, and you alone my master," this litany of burdens and pains that seem to rule and control Lorca is a confusing mixed metaphor if I've ever seen one! Sure, a hidden treasure is a compliment, I guess, although hidden implies an understated quality that could also be seen as downplaying or diminishing his beloved's appearance. Then he compares his love to a cross and dampened pain. It's tough to argue that a cross is a positive comparison, but I'd venture to say that dampened pain implies an easing of pain where it has once been excruciating. And as if it wasn't confusing enough, Lorca caps the stanza off with a strange dog to master analogy that I might expect to see on an old SAT question. Viewed en mass, these comparisons construct a clear mixed message that Lorca hints at in the title of the poem with the ironic choice of "sweet complaint."
Lorca concludes in a continuation of his ironic, wishy-washy style that just might be the most impressive portion of the poem. The metaphors he built into the bedrock of the poem now have a chance to support each other in what appears to be a winding mess, but is actually a carefully orchestrated stanza of chaos. After a tercet of "ifs," if you are like me then you are expecting Lorca to launch into a pretty big "then" to wrap things up. Instead, he issues something that falls between a request, a prayer, and an ultimatum. "Never let me lose what I have gained," transfers the power back to the loved one who he fears might leave him a branchless trunk with no fruit or fauna for his worm of despair to wallow in. Instead, he wants a presence on the branches of his love's river, a presence that is perplexing and illuminating at the same time. The word choice of "estranged" as a descriptor of his Autumn is a fantastic mind bend and one final twist to send us reeling, just as Lorca himself is throughout this poem. The Sweet Complaint is unnerving and disorienting, not just for Lorca, but also for his audience. Interestingly, his most skillful accomplishment in this poem is creating this unnerving and disorienting pendulum that he himself is feeling in the minds of his readers.