The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sonnet 35, also known by its first six words, “If I leave all for thee,” is written in rhymed iambic pentameter lines. The poem, written in the first person, is spoken not to the reader but to the poet’s lover. The experience is universal: One lover addresses another. The energy of that address is also universal; it is fevered and intense. The reader watches, as an audience might watch a drama unfold. The sonnet is soliloquy-like, a monologue set apart from the action of stage and drama surrounding it.

The poem begins with the speaker, a woman, asking her lover whether he will make an equal “exchange.” The items include nothing less than “all” of her love for all of his. There is a sense of extremes in this opening moment, and the reader senses a tone of desperation on the speaker’s part. Something is awry. Her lover seems distant somehow, or she has lost something. The reader cannot be sure. Next she asks herself whether she would “miss” the quotidian of her life, whether the daily, temporal, and basically general talk, the “common” kiss, would be missed. She asks whether her lover could “fill that place” that she would have to give up for him.

The speaker has apparently lost something or someone, and she is deeply concerned about whether her lover can fill the absence. The poet is in grief, she says plainly: “I have grieved so I am hard to love.” In this poem, unlike others in the Sonnets from the Portuguese sonnet sequence, the poet is preoccupied by something as...

(The entire section is 628 words.)