Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint
By Frederico Garcìa Lorca
I am afraid to lose the miracle
of your eyes - like a statue's - and the voice
which strokes my cheek, a thing nocturnal,
your breathing's solitary rose.
I have the pain of being on this shore,
trunk without branches. What I most regret
is having neither pulp, nor clay, nor flower
to feed the earthworm of my hurt.
If you are my hidden treasure,
if you're my cross, my tear-soaked grief,
if I am your lordship's dog,
don't let me lose what I have gained
and decorate the waters of your river
with my abandoned autumn's leaf.
I was first introduced to Frederico Garcìa Lorca at university by a lover who I will call Blood. He would like that, he was always threatening ridiculous stuff. It suits him. Blood was obsessed with self-murdered or martyred poets. (I went through it too… Plath, Sexton, Lowell, Crane, Mishima, Pavese etc…). He loved with abandon. For a while Blood and Lorca seemed indelibly linked. Even now, when I was preparing for this event, reading Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint I had uneasy and tremulous flashbacks to sticky flats and the scent of Blood’s deathly rolling tobacco he bought from Love’s tobacconist’s on North Bridge.
Lorca’s terrible death and the anguished art of his last years have always resonated with me. I like his theatre, the haunting claustrophobia of The House of Bernalda Alba is unforgettable. But for me personally it is the poetry he wrote in the last year of his life, Sonetos del Amor Oscuro (Sonnets of Dark Love) that are so shock and move. They are a huge cry in the dark of love to a young man whose identity remained a mystery until only last year when he was revealed to be art critic and journalist Juan Ramirez de Lucas, who died in 2010. Before his death his entrusted a cache of letters and mementoes to his sister. Ramiriez de Lucas was only 19 in 1936 and was paralysed by the intensity of Lorca’s desires.
Statement - I love roses. Strong ballsy roses, cut with woods, salt, oud, patchouli, hairspray, candyfloss, chocolate and the retro lipstick beauty of violet. It is a scent I have come to late in life, looping me back directly to my childhood in the Middle East where rosewater and the scent of woody, smoked rose oil are filtered through everyday life. I have a lot of rose perfumes in my collection, some sweet, some dipped in cocoa, some burned through with patchouli, fire and smoke, others more traditional, slow burning, gardens at dusk and the scent of a summer arm.
But Jean-Paul Guerlain’s Nahéma from 1979 is the rose that burns like ruby fire in my heart. Sometimes it seems to be almost too much to bear, something that might consume me if I wore too much at once, burn me to ground in a blaze of Ferrrari-tinted flame. Nahéma is a shock and awe rose, violently gorgeous. Some claim it contains no rose at all, and is a CGI masterpiece of aromachemical sleight of hand. In fact there are roses galore, Rose de Mai, Bulgarian rose, oil of roses and damascenones, the natural isolates found in roses that flicker in scent like vermilion flames in distant windows. The peach accord, so beloved of Guerlain just gilds the lily as it were, adding layers of bronzed depth and warm honeyed addiction. It causes the roses to deepen in tone mingling with voluptuous ylang, lily and vanilla.
All rose fragrances hold secrets I think, something dark and private for each individual wearer. Like unfolding the velvet petals, there is shadow at the heart. Nahéma is a vortex of rubicund emotions. Drenched in the grandest French drama, yet magnificently sophisticated and burnished. I chose it for the Lorca poem because of its flickering beauty and mystery. There is something behind the rose, an element of secret-self that always remains hidden. It is one of the few great Guerlain fragrances I continue to wear that still continues to intrigue me. It has changed of course, the roses are a touch more brassy than before, the base a little more shallow, the opening aldehydes a little exhausted. But the overall power still remains.
Lorca is a man who would have understand the power and symbolism of a rose. His late sonnets are laments for desire and drama, for understanding in the shadwows. The love he speaks of is intense and vibrantly alive.
I am afraid to lose the miracle
Of your eyes – like a statue’s – and the voice
Which strokes my cheek, a thing nocturnal,
Your breathing’s solitary rose.
The passion and pain of Lorca’s late passion for his young man burns out of the Sonnets of Dark Love. They have stood the test of time, preserved their mystery and stand as searing testament to an all-consuming love and the memory of an extraordinary man. Nahéma, daughter of fire, is an olfactive essay in smouldering love, a light that burns through the years, igniting the skins she loves. Truly moving, I love the emotions she provokes, drama, contemplation and a sense of something secret, something lost that leaves behinds a deep dark rose-filled hole. These words serve to fill something of the night.