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Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: The Mexican Phoenix
by Leslie Monsour

or (Sister) Juana Inés de la Cruz is universally regarded as the first major poet of the Americas and the intellectual mother of Mexico. Because her works rose like a flame from the ashes of religious disapproval, the embattled writer came to be identified with the magical bird of myth, the Phoenix. With the publication of her first book, Sor Juana was also dubbed Musa decima, "Tenth Muse," an epithet of praise originally applied to Sappho and shared by Sor Juana's New England contemporary, Anne Bradstreet. During her lifetime, Sor Juana's works were distributed, read, and admired throughout the Spanish Empire, from Lima, Quito, Central America, and Mexico, to the Indies, the Philippines, and the Iberian peninsula.

The astonishing range of Sor Juana's body of work includes sonnets, hymns, romances, narratives, comedies, farces, religious plays, essays and letters. With the publication, in Madrid, of her first two collections in 1689 and 1692, the Golden Age of Spanish literature, which had declined by the early 1600's, was revived and extended to the year 1700, when, five years after her death, Sor Juana's third and last collection appeared in print. The poet and translator, Willis Barnstone, observed, "Curiously, the last high moment of poetry of the Spanish Golden Age was found in the first poetic figure of the New World." (Barnstone 84).

Her accomplishment is without precedent. As if it were not enough to be a colonial female of humble origins in a seventeenth century Catholic empire, her nebulous, itinerant father was not married to her mother. Finding herself oppressed and limited by a society in which girls were allowed only minimal literacy, and consumed by a thirst for knowledge that superceded all other needs in her life, Sor Juana was almost entirely self-taught. It is the subject of her most important poem, "First Dream" (Primero sueño), a poem unique in the history of Spanish poetry for the intensity of its intellectual passion.

Although she achieved prominence as a woman of extraordinary wit and intellect during her youth, serving in the court of the Imperial City of Mexico, almost all of her major writing was done after taking the veil. For a time, she enjoyed the freedom to compose poems and plays on a variety of religious and non-religious subjects. Significantly, Sor Juana was among the first to experiment with Nahuatl ballads, known as tocotines, traditional Indian-style dance songs. Her villancicos—religious hymns—reflect "the multilingual vernacular of colonial Mexico. Two are in Nahua,...several are in the Spanish dialect of the African slaves, one partly in Portuguese, one partly in Basque." (Rappaport 13) In his introduction to Sor Juana's selected writings, Ilan Stavans noted, "Dependent as it was on Europe, the criollo intelligentsia of seventeenth century New Spain denigrated indigenous folklore. But Sor Juana's scope was much larger: in her work one witnesses the metamorphosis of the poetry of New Spain into the poetry of Mexico." (Peden/Stavans xxxii)

Sor Juana's richest and fullest years of productivity occurred between 1680 and 1688, during the patronage of the Countess of Paredes, María Luisa de Lara y Gonzaga, the most significant figure in Sor Juana's life. It was the Countess who carried Sor Juana's first manuscript back to Madrid and commissioned its publication in 1689.

Sor Juana's ensuing fame and success were condemned by her clerical peers and superiors. For only a few more years, she was able to immerse herself in her scholarly and artistic pursuits, evading her most dangerous critics and neglecting the anguish of her own unresolved spiritual turmoil. Her last major work, Response to Sor Filotea, a long letter written in 1694, describes her boundless appetite for knowledge and her lifelong aspiration for higher learning. This document, composed three centuries before Viginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, is now recognized as "the first statement in [the western] hemisphere to argue a woman's right to study and teach and learn." (Peden/Stavans v) Shortly thereafter, Sor Juana abruptly and inexplicably renounced her work and gave in to the church. She died in a plague epidemic that swept through the convent in 1695.


The two basic sources for Sor Juana's biography have remained the autobiographical Response to Sor Filotea and a brief biographical narrative written by the Jesuit priest, Diego Calleja, for the posthumous publication in 1700 of Sor Juana's third book. The former is more of a self-defense than an autobiography and leaves out her years at court; the latter suffers from an emphasis on supernatural signs, or, as Octavio Paz writes, "legend contaminating history, Christian marvel dissolving prosaic reality." (Paz 64) Neither source sheds any light on the two great enigmas of Sor Juana's life: why she left the court of the Viceroy to become a nun and why she abandoned her literary studies and writings the year before her death. The biography, Sor Juana or, The Traps of Faith, by Octavio Paz, completed in 1981 and translated into English by Margaret Sayers Peden in 1988, remains by far the most thorough, analytical, authoritative, and insightful examination of Sor Juana's life and work.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was born Juana Ramírez de Asbaje in San Miguel Nepantla, a village located between the two great volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, not far from the Imperial City of Mexico, as Mexico City was known at that time. According to a certificate of baptism found by scholars in the parish of Chimalhuacán, in whose jurisdiction Nepantla was situated, a girl child, "Inés, daughter of the Church," was baptized on December 2, 1648. (Paz 65) "Daughter of the Church," meant she was illegitimate. Doña Isabel Ramírez de Santillana, Sor Juana's mother, "was a small landowner of the larger hacienda in this high, fertile region on the route Cortez took when he marched with invading troops from the coast toward the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán—now Mexico City." (Barnstone 61) Isabel Ramírez declared in her will that she gave birth to six illegitimate children, five female and one male. The will supports the certainty that the child, Inés, baptized on the date entered in Chimalhuacán, was Sor Juana.

Juana Inés was the youngest of Doña Isabel's first three daughters. The father, Pedro Manuel de Asbaje y Vargas Machuca, seems to have vanished when Sor Juana was a small child. In all her works, Sor Juana scarcely mentions her father's name, nor was there any connection between his relatives and the Ramírez family. All that is known of him is that he was probably a Basque and may have been an itinerant soldier.

Sor Juana and her family were criollos, that is, Spaniards who were born in New Spain, as Mexico was known from the time of the Spanish conquest in 1535 until Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821. criollos were second from the top of the racial ladder, one step under the españoles, those who had come from Spain to settle in the empire's colony as bankers, lawyers, or members of the Viceroy's court. Below the criollos, were the mestizos, those who were part-Spaniard and part-indigenous native; next were the castizos, a mixture of mestizo and white; and below these, at the bottom of the ladder, came the mulattos, zambos, and other mixtures of African and Indian slaves. Gender, too, played an important role in the shaping of the social hierarchy of New Spain. "Male rule prevailed, a direct result of the male composition of the army led by Hernán Cortés. Unlike their counterparts in the British colonies to the north, the Iberian conquistadores crossed the Atlantic without spouses. Their goal was not to...build an altogether new civilization. ...[Rather], their mandate was to subdue the native population and build a dependency whose riches the Spanish Catholic monarchs could use to enhance their domain." (Peden/Stavans xxv) During Spanish rule, the role of criolla women was strictly limited to domestic work, courtly participation, or monastic life—all male-dominated areas.

In the more remote villages, such as San Miguel Nepantla, informal networks of amigas (women friends) were formed through which girls were taught the basics of literacy. In her Response to Sor Filotea, Sor Juana tells of her earliest encounter with learning, when, not yet three years old, she followed an elder sister to a reading lesson:

Affection and mischief caused me to follow her, and when I observed how she was being taught her lessons I was so inflamed with the desire to know how to read, that deceiving—for so I knew it to be—the mistress, I told her that my mother had meant for me to have lessons too. She did not believe it, as it was little to be believed, but, to humor me, she acceded. (Peden 13)
Sor Juana further relates that she "abstained from eating cheese because I heard that it made one slow of wits, for in me the desire for learning was stronger than the desire for eating." (Pedén 15) Later in the letter, Sor Juana describes how her appetite for learning only increased with time:
Being six or seven, and having learned how to read and write, along with the other skills of needlework and household arts that girls learn, it came to my attention that in Mexico City there were schools, and a University, in which one studied the Sciences. The moment I heard this, I began to plague my mother with insistent and importunate pleas: she should dress me in a boy's clothing and send me to Mexico City to live with relatives, to study and be tutored at the University. She would not permit it. (Peden 15)
Sor Juana resolved the conflict by sequestering herself in her grandfather's library, where she spent the next year or two reading every book on his shelves:
I assuaged my disappointment by reading the many and varied books belonging to my grandfather, and there were not enough punishments, nor reprimands, to prevent me from reading; so that when I came to the city many marveled, not so much at my natural wit, as at my memory, and at the amount of learning I had mastered at an age when many have scarcely learned to speak well. (Peden 15)
She did not go easy on herself while she progressed in her studies:
I began to study Latin grammar—in all, I believe, I had no more than twenty lessons—and so intense was my concern that though among women (especially a woman in the flower of her youth) the natural adornment of one's hair is held in such high esteem, I cut off mine to the breadth of some four to six fingers, measuring the place it had reached, and imposing upon myself to learn while my hair was growing, I would again cut it off as punishment for being so slow witted. And it did happen that my hair grew out and still I had not learned what I had set for myself—because my hair grew quickly and I learned slowly—and in fact I did cut it in punishment for such stupidity: for there seemed to me no cause for a head to be adorned with hair and naked of learning—which was the more desired embellishment. (Peden 15)

Sometime after her eighth year, Sor Juana was sent to Mexico City to live with her mother's sister, María Ramírez, who had married the wealthy merchant, Juan de Mata. The reason for her going is speculated to be the possible conflict with her mother's new lover, Captain Diego Ruiz Lozano, who had taken over as head of the household and fathered a new son with Isabel Ramírez. Sor Juana lived in Mexico City for several years, developing and sharpening her intellectual virtuosity, until her uncle, a prestigious man, introduced her in the court of the Viceroy, Don Antonio Sebastián de Toledo, Marquis de Mancera, where she was presented to his wife, the newly arrived Vicereine, Doña Leonor Carreto, Marquise de Mancera. Sor Juana was fifteen. "The intelligence, the charm, and possibly the helplessness of the girl immediately impressed the Marquise. Juana Inés was at once admitted into her service...as the lady Vicereine's favorite." (Paz 88) For the adolescent prodigy, this meant further access to education, both intellectual and social.

At twenty or twenty-one years of age, Juana Inés changed her life dramatically. She ceased to be Juana Ramírez de Asbaje and became Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz when she joined the Convent of the Barefoot Carmelites in 1669. There is meager documentation of her years of courtly life. Only speculation can answer why she chose to leave its aristocratic comforts and the avid admirers that surrounded her. It may have been to evade the growing expectations that she, as a desirable, popular young woman, should be married; but married life was a condition she desperately wished to avoid, in order to devote herself to the life of the mind. Convent living presented a logical, if not ideal, alternative. She writes in The Response,

I entered the religious order knowing that life there entailed certain conditions (I refer to superficial and not fundamental regards) most repugnant to my nature; but given the antipathy I felt for marriage, I deemed convent life the least unsuitable and the most honorable I could elect if I were to insure my salvation. (Pedén 15)

Sor Juana found the Barefoot Carmelites far too dogmatic and strict for her purposes, and after three months, she joined the more liberal Convent of Santa Paula of the Hieronymite, where she stayed for her remaining twenty-six years. Because of her preference for the more permissive order, some scholars have questioned the seriousness of Sor Juana's religious devotion. It remains a mystery whether the drastic nature of her final spiritual conversion, one year before her death, came from within or was imposed upon her by the unrelenting pressure of clerical condemnation.

Sor Juana was not required to forsake all worldly goods when she took the veil. The nuns of the Convent of Santa Paula, a convent exclusively for criolla women who gave significant dowries before they were admitted, lived in the privileged conditions of the upper classes. A wealthy benefactor made it possible for Sor Juana to lead a convent life of considerable luxury. Her nun's 'cell' was anything but ascetic, as we see in portraits made in her personal library. The room is "sumptuously elegant, the walls lined with her handsomely bound books [and] an imposing, elegant clock. ...Most cells were two-story apartments [containing] a large sitting room and study, kitchen, bathroom, as well as sleeping quarters for herself and for her servants." (Barnstone 72) Sor Juana not only had space for books, scientific and musical instruments, maps, and other research material, she "frequently found herself surrounded by silence and tranquillity conducive to writing at her leisure," and, although, like other nuns, she was forbidden to leave the convent's walls, "through her reading and artistic endeavors, Sor Juana was able to travel in her imagination to distant places and to seek knowledge well beyond the confines of the convent, which she often found suffocating." (Peden/Stavans xxxvi) Furthermore, during her convent years, Sor Juana continued to receive and accept commissions from the court as well as distinguished visitors to her apartment. It was in the Convent of Santa Paula that her published body of work was composed, including the poems, sacred lyrics, and plays.

Ultimately, Sor Juana abandoned the cause she defended throughout her life. In 1694, after repeated reprimands from the male hierarchy of the Church—in particular, the letter from Sor Filotea, the pseudonym used by the Bishop of Puebla, Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz, to whom Sor Juana addressed her Response in 1691—and worn down by her own spiritual torment, Sor Juana reached a crisis and submitted to the Church, signing, in her own blood, a statement affirming her faith and her defense of the mystery of Mary's Immaculate Conception. She turned over all of her belongings, including her vast classical library and all musical and scientific instruments, to the Archbishop to be disposed of for charity, and withdrew into silence. Calleja reports that "her cell was left bare except for three small books of devotions and a number of hair shirts and scourges." (Paz 463)

A year later, in 1695, an epidemic broke out in the convent. The nature of the disease is unknown, but the death rate was very high. According to Calleja, nine out of ten nuns died. While she was caring for her sisters, Sor Juana, too, became ill, and at four o'clock in the morning of April 17, 1695, she died. Five years later, in 1700, her remaining works were published in Madrid.


First Dream (Primero sueño or El sueño), is a poem of 975 lines, composed in a verse form known as the silva, "which uses the basic Spanish classical lines (either eleven or seven syllables long, corresponding to the iambic pentameter or trimeter in English) irregularly combined and rhymed in an order that does not repeat itself in stanzaic form." (Bergmann/Rivers 127) Sor Juana acknowledges in the poem's subtitle that she is imitating a form used extensively by the Baroque poet who was her chief influence, Luis de Góngora. A demanding but flexible form, it is Sor Juana's most personal poem, and the only one, according to her, that was not written by request or commission. In the Response, she makes the sardonic observation, "the only piece I remember having written for my own pleasure was a little trifle they called El sueño." (Peden 65) Octavio Paz notes, "The belittling tone should not deceive us; it is her longest and most ambitious poem." (Paz 357)

Probably written in 1685, the poem was published in the second volume of works (1692). It follows the tradition, used by the Roman poets of antiquity, of anabasis: an upwards journey towards enlightenment, accompanied by a guide. First Dream is unique in that the soul, or intellect, leaving the body behind in slumber, makes the journey on its own. The poem breaks with tradition even more radically when the body's senses awaken following the soul's voyage of a single night, and the journey's end "brings only darkness, a clear sign of Sor Juana's increasing skepticism." (Pedén/ Stavans xxxix)

The excerpt chosen for this essay summarizes the heroic journey of First Dream, as it moves on a course from inspiration to fall and from fall to defiance. The excerpt also refers to Phaëthon, the mythological figure whose influence is prominent throughout the work. Sor Juana's extensive use of mythology is likely the result of her familiarity with Ovid's Metamorphoses. In Ovid, Phaëthon is a proud, rash boy, who, wishing to prove that he is truly the son of Apollo, ventures to meet his father in person, just as Sor Juana may have wished to know her father and erase the shame of her illegitimacy. Although Phaëthon foolishly insists that Apollo grant him the reins of the sun chariot for a day, Sor Juana sees the tragic youth as daringly heroic in his passion for glory, which corresponds to her own passion for learning. Octavio Paz writes, "The figure of Phaëton influenced Sor Juana in two ways. First, as the intellectual example that joins love of learning to daring: reason and spirit. Second, because he represents freedom in its most extreme form: transgression." (Paz 384)

Apollo's powerful horses prove to be beyond Phaëthon's own limited strength and skill. They drag the sun so close to earth, it scorches everything—land, sea, creatures, and people. In order to save the earth from total destruction, Jove launches a thunderbolt at Phaëthon, sending him plummeting in a ball of flame into the River Po. Apollo, in agony over the loss of his son, gains control of the horses and brings the sun back where it belongs. In his grief, he can't bear to take up the reins again, and earth is left in total darkness for a day.

Phaëthon's terrible punishment, Sor Juana writes, will not dissuade other daring ones from defying authority to achieve glory. In fact, she says, harsh punishments will only serve to ennoble and publicize bold acts, challenging others to try similar feats, regardless of the consequence.

The 1997 edition of Sor Juana's Obras Completas (Complete Works) includes sixty-seven Petrarchan sonnets. For translators and readers alike, the sonnets present irresistible challenges. They are grouped by theme, ranging from the philosophical, historical, mythological, satirical, and amorous, to the laudatory and the sacred. Their irresistibility springs from the sonnet form itself, a timelessly appealing vehicle, which Sor Juana handles with sly flair and fluent skill, combining wit and intimacy, at once revealing and elusive. They are also flavored with the pessimistic cynicism that characterized the Baroque mentality. Sor Juana was born when the Age of Reason began. Its influences, combined with such events as the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the decline of Catholic dominance in Europe as well as Galileo's controversial confirmation that earth is not the center of the solar system, shook the foundations of morality and religious belief. Baroque poetry is full of witty obfuscation and linguistic challenge. It relies on the literary inventions and intellectual convolutions of antithesis, hyperbole, disjointed syntax, play on words, paradox, conceit, and chiasmus—retruécano—"a type of pun involving inverted parallel construction," (Cobb 8) as in the sonnet, "In which the poet complains of her fate, notes her aversion to luxuries, and justifies her pleasure in the Muses" (146):

When you pursue me, world, why do you do it? How do I harm you, when my sole intent is to make learning my prize ornament, not learn to prize ornament and pursue it?
Sor Juana's cutting cynicism finds its way into the amorous sonnets, as well, as in the final lines of the sonnet, "Loving Without Chagrin" (176):
Who offers half, denies a whole connection; so while you're out there practicing your lie, know that my devastation's well rehearsed.

The pessimism and skepticism of the age are most conspicuous in the sonnets, "She suspects disguised cruelty in the comfort Hope brings" (151):

Unending ailment, Hope, your curse abides; and I've remained enthralled year after year. You keep a balance between faith and fear, the scales forever even on both sides —
and "Rosy Obsession..." (152):
they chase your night in search of your pink dawn who fit their spectacles with rosy lies and color things as they would have them be; while I know better what my fate will spawn and in each hand I keep each of my eyes, so what I touch is all that I can see.

Poems Discussed
(Presented in English translation, followed by the original in Spanish)

First Dream (Primero sueño)
Lines 781-826

At other times—more daring—
the mind condemned it as excessive fear
to forfeit victory beforehand by
avoiding all warfaring;
then mind bent to comparing
that course with the young man's who dared to steer
the burning chariot; his deed invited
misfortune, but ignited
the spirit's flame to match that charioteer
until at last it led to,
not cause for fear, but lessons to be learned
and pathways to the risks for which it yearned:
roads which, once taken, fear of punishment
would never keep untraveled—so I say—
by repetitive intent.
Not the deep where he must stay
—cerulean grave of his unhappy ashes—
nor that destroying ray of vengeful fire
in any way abashes
the arrogant desire
of those who think it worthless to draw breath
unless they glorify their names in death.
Rather may example spur
the overly ambitious
the same high-flying peril to incur,
through flattery's pernicious
urging, which sends courage to seek glory
in those very risks that spell
ruin, and, read right, foretell
only disastrous endings to the story.
O, would that punishments were never touted!
The motive for such crime should then be flouted:
Judicious silence should—statesman most wise—
wholly put an end at once
to every rash endeavor,
or manage to feign ignorance about it,
or else, by punishing in secret, rout it
in those charged with such affronts,
without displaying, ever,
noxious examples before others' eyes.
For from insolent deeds the greatest trouble
is how, through fame, they double,
spreading contagion where the deed is known;
when guilt is single, distant and alone,
less likelihood exists of imitation
than when harsh punishments draw admiration.

Tr. Rhina Espaillat (2010)

El sueño: Primero sueño, que así intituló y compuso la madre Juana Inés de la Cruz, imitando a Góngora Versos 781-826
Otras—más esforzado—,
demasiada acusaba cobardía
el lauro antes ceder, que en la lid dura
haber siquiera entrado;
y al ejemplar osado
del claro joven la atención volvía
—auriga altivo del ardiente carro—,
y el, si infeliz, bizarro
alto impulso, el espíritu encendía:
donde el ánimo halla
—más que el temor ejemplos de escarmiento—
abiertas sendas al atrevimiento,
que una ya vez trilladas, no hay castigo
que intento baste a remover segundo
(segunda ambición, digo).
Ni el panteón profundo
—cerúlea tumba a su infeliz ceniza—,
ni el vengativo rayo fulminante
mueve, por más que avisa,
al ánimo arrogante
que, el vivir despreciando, determina
su nombre eternizar en su rüina.
Tipo es, antes, modelo:
ejemplar pernicioso
que alas engendra a repetido vuelo,
del ánimo ambicioso
que—del mismo terror haciendo halagado
que al valor lisonjea—
las glorias deletrea
entre los caracteres del estrago.
O el castigo jamás se publicara,
porque nunca el delito se intentara:
político silencio antes rompiera
los autos del proceso
—circunspecto estadista—;
o en fingida ignorancia simulara
o con secreta pena castigara
el insolente exceso,
sin que a popular vista
el ejemplar nocivo propusiera:
que del mayor delito la malicia
peligra en la noticia,
contagio dilatado trascendiendo;
porque singular culpa sólo siendo,
dejara más remota a lo ignorado
su ejecución, que no a lo escarmentado.

Sonnets 146
"When you pursue me, world, why do you do it?"
In which the poet complains of her fate, notes her aversion to luxuries, and
justifies her pleasure in the Muses.

When you pursue me, world, why do you do it?
How do I harm you, when my sole intent
is to make learning my prize ornament,
not learn to prize ornament and pursue it?
I have no treasure, and I do not rue it,
since all my life I have been most content
rendering mind—by learning—opulent,
not minding opulence, rendering tribute to it.
I have no taste for beauties that decay
and are the spoil of ages as they flee,
nor do those riches please me that betray;
best of all truths I hold this truth to be:
cast all the vanities of life away,
and not your life away on vanity.

Tr. Rhina Espaillat (The Raintown Review. Volum 8, Issue 2. December 2009)

Quéjase de la suerte: insinúa su aversión a los vicios, y justifica su divertimiento a las musas

En persequirme, Mundo, qué interesas?
En qué te ofendo, cuando sólo intento
poner bellezas en mi entendimiento
y no mi entendimiento en las bellezas?

Yo no estimo tesoros ni riquezas;
y así, siempre me causa más contento
poner riquezas en mi pensamiento
que no mi pensamiento en las riquezas.

Y no estimo hermosura que, vencida,
es despojo civil de las edades,
ni riqueza me agrada fementida,

teniendo por mejor, en mis verdades,
consumir vanidades de la vida
que consumir la vida en vanidades.

Loving Without Chagrin
I can't hold on to you, nor can I quit,
nor know why, whether out of reach or near you,
a certain something happens to endear you,
while other somethings urge me to forget.

Since you will not release me or reform,
with luck, I'll moderate my heart somewhat,
so half recoils when you invade my thought,
and half is tender, amorous, and warm.

There's hope if this suffices as affection,
for quarrelling is but a way to die,
and jealousy brings nothing but the worst.

Who offers half, denies a whole connection;
so while you're out there practicing your lie,
know that my devastation's well rehearsed.

Tr. Leslie Monsour (Iambs & Trochees. Journal IV, Issue 2. Fall/Winter 2005)

Que da medio de amar sin mucha pena

Yo no puedo tenerte ni dejarte,
ni sé por qué , al dejarte o al tenerte,
se encuentra un no sé qué para quererte
y muchos sí sé qué para olvidarte.

Pues ni quieres dejarme ni enmendarte,
yo templaré mi corazón de suerte
que la mitad se incline a aborrecerte
aunque la otra mitad se incline a amarte.

Si ello es fuerza querernos, haya modo,
que es morir el estar siempre riñendo:
no se hable más en celo y en sospecha,

y quien da la mitad, no quiera el todo;
y cuando me la estás allá haciendo,
sabe que estoy haciendo la deshecha.

She suspects disguised cruelty in the comfort Hope brings
Unending ailment, Hope, your curse abides;
and I've remained enthralled year after year.
You keep a balance between faith and fear,
the scales forever even on both sides —

to which, held in an ever-pending lull,
just at the verge of tipping, your deceit
allows no mounting or decrease in weight,
but gives despair and promise equal pull.

Who stripped you of your true name, murderer?
Essentially, yours is a greater crime:
you dally with the soul, suspending her

between two fortunes, wretched and sublime—
not so that life will linger or endure,
rather to let death take its own sweet time.

Tr. Leslie Monsour (2007)

Sospecha crueldad disimulada, el alivio que la esperanza da

Diuturna enfermedad de la Esperanza,
que así entretienes mis cansados años
y en el fiel de los bienes y los daños
tienes en equilibrio la balanza;

que siempre suspendida, en la tardanza
de inclinarse, no dejan tus engaños
que lleguen a exederse en los tamaños
la desesperación o confianza:

quién te ha quitado el nombre de homicida?
Pues lo eres más severa, si se advierte
que suspendes el alma entretenida;

y entre la infausta o la felice suerte,
no lo haces tú por conservar la vida
sino por dar más dilatada muerte.

Rosy Obsession
Rosy obsession of humanity,
intricate dreams all daydreamers pursue,
and all vain dreams of treasure's golden hue,
demented Hope, gilded insanity;

world without end, springlike longevity,
feeble imaginings of verdant dew,
the now expected by the happy few,
the never of the hapless majority:

they chase your night in search of your pink dawn
who fit their spectacles with rosy lies
and color things as they would have them be;

while I know better what my fate will spawn
and in each hand I keep each of my eyes,
so what I touch is all that I can see.

Tr. Leslie Monsour (2010)

"Verde embeleso" . . .

Verde embeleso de la vida humana
loca Esperanza, frenesí dorado,
sueño de los despiertos intrincado,
como de sueños, de tesoros vana;

alma del mundo, senectud lozana,
decrépito verdor imaginado;
el hoy de los dichosos esperado
y de los desdichados el mañana:

sigan tu sombra en busca de tu día
los que, con verdes vidrios por anteojos,
todo lo ven pintado a su deseo;

que yo, más cuerda en la fortuna mía,
tengo en entramabas manos ambos ojos
y solamente lo que toco veo.

Works Cited

Barnstone, Willis. Six Masters of the Spanish Sonnet. Southern Illinois University Press, 1993.

Bergmann, Emilie L. & Schlau, Stacey, eds. Approaches to Teaching the Works of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. The Modern Language Association of America, 2007.

(Cobb, Carl W.) Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. The Sonnets of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in English Verse. Translated with Introduction by Carl W. Cobb. The Edwin Mellen Press, 2001.

Paz, Octavio. Sor Juana or, The Traps of Faith. Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. Harvard University Press, 1988.

(Peden/Stavans) Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Poems, Protest, and a Dream. Selected Writings. Translated with notes by Margaret Sayers Peden; Introduction by Ilan Stavans. Penguin Books, 1997.

(Rappaport, Pamela Kirk). Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Selected Writings. Translated and Introduction by Pamela Kirk Rappaport. Paulist Press, 2005.

Selected Bibliography Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Fama y obras pósthumas del Fénix de México, Décima Musa, poetisa americana, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Madrid: Ruiz de Murga, 1700. Facsimile available online: http://www.ub.uni-bielefeld.de/diglib/delacruz/fama/

—-. Inundación Castálida de la única poetris, Musa Dézima, Soror Juana Inés de la Cruz, religiosa professa en el Monasterio de San Gerónimo de la Imperial Ciuded de México. Madrid: Juan García Infanzon, 1689.

—-. Inundación Castálida . . . Vol. 2. Madrid, 1692.

—-. Inundación Castálida. Edited by Georgina Sabat de Rivers. Castalia, Madrid, 1982.

—-. Obras Completas de sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Edited by Alfonso Méndez Plancarte (vols. 1-3) and Alberto G. Salceda (vol. 4). Fondo de Cultura Económica, México, 1951-57.

—-. Obras Completas. Prologue by Francisco Monterde. Mexico City: Editorial Porrúa, 1989.

—-. Primero sueño y otros textos. Selected by Susana Zanetti; notes by Gabriela Mogillansky. Editorial Oceano de México, 1998.

—-. Sonnets of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in English Verse, The. Translated by Carl W. Cobb. Hispanic Literature, Volume 66. The Edwin Mellen Press, 2001.

—-. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Poems. Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, Binghamton, NY, 1985.

—-. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Writings. Translated and Introduction by Pamela Kirk Rappaport; Preface by Gillian T. W. Ahlgren. Paulist Press, 2005.

Recent Bibliography 1995-1997
Source: The Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Project, sponsored by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Dartmouth College: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~sorjuana/

Juana Inés de la Cruz. Carta de Serafina de Cristo, 1691. Edited by Elías Trabulse. México: Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura, 1996.

—-. "The dream. [Primero Sueño]. Translated by Gilbert Cunningham. Literatura Mexicana 6, no. 2 (1995): 600-612.

—-. "Extracts from Los empeños de una casa. Translated by Catherine Boyle. Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 4, no. 2 (November 1995): 197-214.

—-. Fama y obras postumas. Introduction by Antonio Alatorre. México: Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad Nacional Autonóma de México,1995.

—-. Inundación castálida. [Edición facsimilar.] Introduced by Fredo Arias de la Canal. México: Frente de Afirmación Hispanista, 1995.

—-. Inundación Castálida. Edited by Aureliano Tapia Méndez, Tarsicio Herrera Zapién, and Guadalupe V. García. Morelos Ote.: Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura, 1995.

—-. Inundación castálida. Edited by Gabriela Eguia-Lis Ponce. México: Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad Nacional Autonóma de México, 1995.

—-. Libro de cocina: selección y transcripción atribuídas a Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Convento de San Jerónimo. 2 ed. Visiones y Tentaciones; I. Toluca, Estado de México: Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura, 1996.

—-. Obras Completas. Prologue by Franciso Monterde. Editorial Porrúa: Mexico City, 1997.

—-. Poemas. Edited by Angel M. Aguirre. Colección Torremozas; 112. Madrid: Ediciones Torremozas, 1995.

—-. Poemas. Buenos Aires: El Francotirador, 1996.

—-. Poems, Protest, and a Dream: Selected Writings. Edited by Margaret Sayers Peden and Ilan Stavans. Penguin Classics. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

—-. Poemas. Edited by Carmen Olle. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1996.

—-. Prime Sway. ["Primero sueño"]. Translated by John M. Bennett. Norman, Oklahoma: Texture Press, 1996.

—-. Segundo tomo de las obras de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Edited by Fredo Arias de la Canal. México: Frente de Afirmación Hispanista, 1995.

Juana Inés de la Cruz
Years: 1648-1695
Birthplace: Mexico
Language(s): Spanish
Forms: Sonnets, epigrams, lyrics, dirges, elegies, hymns, celebratory songs, sacred romances, epistolary romances, décimas, villancicos, silvas, allegories, prologues, dramas, comedies, farces, essays, letters
Subjects: Religious themes; tributes to courtly and clerical figures; cultural satire & burlesque; mythology, science, & history; philosophy & morality; romance & love; commemorative observation; Catholic saints; mortality & immortality; autobiography; social justice; gender inequality.
Firsts: First major poet of the Americas; first literary figure in the western hemisphere to defend a woman's right to learn, teach, and write
Entry By: Leslie Monsour
Photo Credit: Portrait of Sor Juana by Miguel Cabrera, courtesy of National Historical Museum, Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City, Mexico.
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