Juana Inés de la Cruz Essay - Critical Essays

Cruz, Juana Inés de la

Introduction

Juana Inés de la Cruz 1651–1695

(Born Juana Ramirez de Asbaje) Mexican poet, playwright, and autobiographer.

Juana is recognized as one of the most important female writers of her time. Her most acclaimed poem El sueño, is praised for its personal, lyric qualities as well as its incorporation of images from history, mythology, science, physiology, and philosophy. Her passionate defense of female intellectual rights has led many critics to cite her as a significant feminist poet and scholar.

Biographical Information

Juana was born on November 12, 1651, on a small farm southeast of Mexico City. Her parents were not married, and the fact that she was born illegitimate was a stigma that followed her the rest of her life. She was a precocious reader, and her obsessive interest in scholarly topics was considered very unusual for young girls at that time. At the age of eight, she had already composed poetry and a prologue to a play. She was sent to Mexico City to live with relatives, and it was at that time she came to the attention of the viceroy, the marquis of Mancera, and his wife. Her wit and sharp intelligence made her a favorite in their court, and she was recognized as a formidable intellectual presence. It was at court that she was asked to write verse commemorating special social or political events of the day. She entered the Carmelite convent on August 14, 1667, but a year later left to join the convent of St. Jerome. The religious life allowed her a limited degree of social independence and intellectual pursuit, and she continued to study philosophy, history, and literature. Near the end of her life, she was pressured to concentrate on only serious poetry and theological essays; her response, Respueta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz, is considered a strong self-defense of her intellectual development and has become a recognized hallmark of feminist literature. Disillusioned at the publicity this document generated, Juana withdrew from public life. She died of an unidentified plague on April 16, 1695.

Major Works

A prolific writer, Juana composed personal lyrics, poetic portraits, religious verse, and villancicos. Primarily sonnets, her lyrics are characterized by conventional structure, an intellectually rational approach, and autobiographical subject matter. Her verse expresses the themes of love, jealousy, duty, and absence and incorporates elements of mythology, theology, science, literature, and

history. In her twelve sequences of villancicos—poems sung by a choir on major feast days—Juana presents an innovative, often humorous celebration of Mexican life.

Critical Reception

Juana is almost universally lauded for her concise, spirited poems that reflect the public, religious, and social life of Mexico in the seventeenth-century. Critics note how she fused traditional poetic forms with fresh use of language to create vibrant, innovative verse. El sueño, her best-known poem, has been studied for its deft treatment of philosophical and autobiographical issues. Juana has been praised for her incorporation of images and subject matter from a diverse group of intellectual interests, such as literature, mythology, science, theology, physiology, and history. The influence of many major and minor Spanish poets have been found in her poetry, from Lope de Vega, Gongora, Quevedo, and Agustin de Salazar y Torres. Many commentators have analyzed the feminist ideology in both her prose and her poetry and consider her a strong feminist icon and a courageous, talented writer.

Principal Works

Poetry

Poemas 1690

Fama y obras pósthumas 1700

Obras poéticas 1715

El sueño [The Dream] 1951

Obras completas. 4 vols, (poems, essays, and plays) 1951-1957

Other Major Works

Auto sacramental del divino Narciso (play) 1690

Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz [A Woman of Genius: The Intellectual Autobiography of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz] (autobiography) 1691

Crtticism

Robert Graves (essay date 1955)

SOURCE: "Juana de Asabaje," in The Crowning Privilege: The Clark Lectures 1954-1955, Cassell & Co., 1955, pp. 166-84.

[In the following essay from 1955, Graves categorizes Cruz as a woman of poetic genius and compares her to other great female poets.]

Every few centuries a woman of poetic genius appears, who may be distinguished by three clear secondary signs: learning, beauty, and loneliness. Though the burden of poetry is difficult enough for a man to bear, he can always humble himself before an incarnate Muse and seek instruction from her. At the worst this Muse, whom he loves in a more than human sense, may reject and deceive him; and even then he can vent his disillusion in a memorable poem—as Catullus did when he parted from Clodia—and survive to fix his devotion on another. The case of a woman poet is a thousand times worse: since she is herself the Muse, a Goddess without an external power to guide or comfort her, and if she strays even a finger's breadth from the path of divine instinct, must take violent self-vengeance. For awhile a sense of humour, good health, and discretion may keep her on an even keel, but the task of living to, for, and with herself alone, will sooner or later prove an impossible one. Sappho of Lesbos, Liadan of Corkaguiney, and Juana de Asbaje belonged to this desperate sisterhood: incarnations of the Muse-goddess, cut off from any simple gossiping relation with their fellow-women, who either adored them blindly or hated them blindly, and from any spiritual communion with men on equal terms. Though a woman so fated cannot help feeling physical desire for a man, she is forbidden by her identity with the Goddess from worshipping or giving herself wholly to him, even if he desires to worship and give himself wholly to her. It is possible that Clodia was another of these unfortunates, so that the harder Catullus tried to please her, the more despairingly she fought him off: playing the society harlot rather than consent to burn with him in a mutual flame.

About Clodia little is known, and about Catullus no more than his poems reveal. Even the story of Sappho survives only in fragmentary form. We learn that she was early married on Lesbos to one Cercolas, a man of no distinction, and bore him a daughter; that her learning and inventive faculties were memorable; that she tutored girls of literary promise; that she rejected the advances of Alcaeus, the leading poet of his day; that she fled to Sicily from some unnamed trouble and, after an unhappy affair with one Phaon, a common sailor, 'took the Leucadian leap': which implies some spectacular act of self-destruction. The inter-relation of these bare facts remains obscure; yet it seems that a possessed woman poet will rather subject herself to a dull husband or ignorant lover, who mistrusts her genius and may even ill-treat her physically, than encourage the love of a Catullus or Alcaeus, which demands more than it is hers to give.

The story of Liadan is also fragmentary. She was a brilliant young Irish ollamh (or master-poet) of the seventh century A.D., privileged to make semi-royal progresses from one great mansion to another, preceded by a peal of golden bells, and followed by a train of lesser bards and pupils. On one of these she went to Connaught, where the ollamh Curithir welcomed her to an ale feast. After the long exchange of riddling poetic lore in Old Goidelic, customary on such occasions, he burst out suddenly: 'Why should we not marry, Liadan? A son born to us would be famous.' She was startled into answering: 'Wait until my progress is done; then visit me at Corkaguiney and I will come with you.' He did so, only to find that Liadan, regretting her lapse, had meanwhile taken a religious vow of chastity. In despair and anger, Curithir took a similar vow, and when they went away together, as agreed, it was to the monastery of Clonfert, where Liadan insisted on placing herself under the spiritual direction of St Cummin, a hard and severe abbot. Curithir followed suit. Cummin found them two separate cells, offering Curithir the choice of either seeing Liadan without addressing her, or addressing her without seeing her. He chose the second alternative; and Liadan consented to this arrangement. They were then each in turn allowed to wander around the other's wattled cell; until Liadan persuaded Cummin to grant Curithir greater freedom, of which she must have known that he would try to take advantage. As a result, he was banished from Clonfert, and sailed away to the Holy Land; but Liadan let herself die of remorse, because she had foolishly involved him in her ruin.

Unlike Sappho and Liadan, Juana de Asbaje was born into a society where she must have seemed as portentous as a talking dove, or a dog which does long division. Neither in Lesbos nor ancient Ireland had limits been set to a woman's learning. Sappho was no freak, but merely the truest of several famous women poets. Liadan, to win her peal of golden bells, had passed the ollamh's twelve-year course in literature, law, history, languages, music, magic, mathematics, and astronomy—one of incredible stiffness—and that a woman should so distinguish herself was not considered abnormal. In seventeenth-century Mexico, however, the Church had gained such a stranglehold on learning and literature that women, doctrinally debarred from the priesthood, and despised as the intellectual and moral inferiors of their fathers and brothers, could nurse no aspirations beyond a good husband, many children, and a Christian death. Only at the Viceregal Court might a lady read poems or romances, and thus equip herself for the games of chivalry in which etiquette required her to assist the courtiers; but even so, a confessor always stood by to check all signs of vanity or immodesty.

Juana, born on November 12, 1651, was the daughter of Don Pedro Manuel de Asbaje, an immigrant Vizcayan, and Dona Isabel Ramirez, whose father, the head of a family long established in Mexico, owned a substantial estate near Chimalhuacân, and seems to have been a man of some cultivation. Juana's mother, however, could neither read nor write and, when she died some thirty years later, it transpired that Juana and her two sisters had all been born out of wedlock: presumably because the father had left behind a wife in Spain. Though he seems to have legitimized the three of them before they grew up, it has been suggested that the shame of having been born a bastard encouraged Juana to excel as a poet, while it soured her against marriage; but this is mere speculation.

One morning, when she was three years old, her sister said: 'Mother cannot have you about the house today. Come with me to school and sit quietly in a corner. ' Juana went …

… and seeing that they gave my sister lessons, I so burned with a desire to know how to read that, deceiving the teacher, as I thought, I told her that my mother had ordered her to give me lessons. She did not believe this, as it was incredible, but to humour me, she acquiesced. I continued to attend and she to teach me, not in mockery now, because experience had undeceived her; and I learned to read in such short time that when my mother (from whom the teacher had hidden the matter in order to give her the pleasure and receive the reward all at once) found out, I was already proficient. I, too, had concealed it, thinking that they would whip me for acting without orders. She who taught me still lives, God preserve her, and can testify to the truth…. I recall that in those days I had the appetite for sweets and delicacies that is common at such an age, but that I abstained from eating cheese because I had heard it said that taking this made one dull-witted; for my desire to learn was stronger than the wish to eat, which ordinarily is so powerful in children.

At the age of six or seven, she pleaded to be enrolled at Mexico City University and, since the statutes barred women from taking the course, to have her hair cut and be dressed as a boy. When her mother laughingly refused, Juana took possession of her grandfather's library, which no punishment could deter her from reading; and when she found that the most desirable books were in Latin, mastered the elements in fewer than twenty lessons and, before she was eight, could read and enjoy Plato, Aristophanes, and Erasmus. Juana now made life so difficult for her mother that she was sent to her uncle's house in Mexico City, where she taught herself literature, science, mathematics, philosophy, theology, and languages. At the age of thirteen she was presented at Court by the uncle; there her exceptional talents, vivacity, and beauty—wide-set chestnut-coloured eyes, broad brow, quick smile, straight nose, determined chin, delicate fingers—qualified her to be the darling and first lady-in-waiting of the Vicereine. For three years Juana took part in all the gallant diversions of the Viceregal Court, the cultural centre of the New World, and became its principal ornament, next to the regal pair themselves: studying every book that came to hand, and writing a profusion of court verse in Castilian, Latin, and Aztec—besides theatrical sketches, satires, verses of commendation and occasional trifles, some of them 'highly seasoned'; and finding time for poetry of a truer and more personal kind. A great many well-born young men asked her hand in marriage, but she behaved with admirable discretion and refused their offers, though the Viceroy and Vicereine would doubtless have provided a dowry.

When she reached the age of sixteen, the Viceroy heard her decried as having only a smattering of knowledge, and therefore summoned forty learned men—University professors, theologians, poets, mathematicians, and historians—to examine her in their various subjects. He afterwards recorded with satisfaction:

Like a royal galleon beating off the attacks of a few enemy sloops, so did Juana fight clear of the questions, arguments and objections that so many specialists, each in his own department, propounded….

Father Calleja, of the Society of Jesus, her first biographer, asked Juana what impression this triumph, capable of puffing up even the humblest soul to self-importance, had made upon her. She replied: 'It left me with no greater satisfaction than if I had performed a small task of hemstitching more neatly than my embroidery-teacher. ' About this time she first expressed a total aversion to marriage. Her motives have ever since been hotly debated. Father Calleja suggests that she recognized the glitter of Court life as empty delusion; never fell in love with a man; and soon realized that only service to God could give her lasting happiness. This is still the view of the Church, despite her plainly autobiographical love-poems, written at the age of sixteen: Este amoroso tormento que en mi corazón se ve, and: Si otros ojos hé visto, matenme, Fabio, tus airados ojos; and the poems of disillusion which followed, especially the famous:

Hombres necios que acusáis
a la mujer sin razón;

and the two scorching farewell sonnets to Silvio, whom she hates herself for having loved so well.

Juana presently decided to become a nun, although, as she wrote later: Ί knew that the estate implied obligations (I am referring to the incidentals, not the fundamentals) most repugnant to my temperament.' In this course she was encouraged by her confessor, Father Antonio Nunez de Miranda, to whom 'she broached all her doubts, fears, and misgivings'. Her first attempt failed: after three months as a novice among the Barefoot Carmelites, her health broke down, and she withdrew on doctor's orders. Fourteen months later, however, she was well enough to enter a Jeronymite convent and in February 1669, having completed a short novitiate, took the veil as Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz, the name by which she is now generally known.

Father Antonio did not insist that she should abandon her studies and, since the Jeronymites were the most liberal of the Orders in seventeenth-century Mexico, her cell soon became an academy, lined with books and filled with the instruments of music and mathematics. Juana learned to play several instruments, wrote a treatise on musical harmony, made a name as a miniaturist, became proficient in moral and dogmatic theology, medicine, canon law, astronomy, and advanced mathematics. Her library swelled to four thousand books, the largest in the New World, and it is recorded:

… the locutorio of the Jeronimas was frequented by many of the highest in Mexico, thanks to the renown of Sor Juana. She had loved solitude but [her presence] brought her many distinguished visitors. Not a Viceroy of that epoch but desired to know her and, from the highest to the lowest, they all consulted Juana on weighty affairs. A natural affability and graciousness made her lend herself with good will to these fatiguing visits.

Juana continued to write verses, though none for publication: mostly birthday and name-day greetings addressed to her friends at Court, dedications, epitaphs, commemorations, rhymed letters of thanks for books or musical instruments—all smooth, eloquent, and highly rhetorical. To these she added sacred sonnets, dirges, roundelays, carols, panegyrics of saints, lively allegories, and religious plays. She was also a famous cook and for ever sending her friends gifts of confectionery: almond rings, nuns' sighs (to use the politer phrase), cakes, and puff pastry of every kind. Accompanying these went humorous verses, such as this:

Frequent balls, concerts, and ballad-recitals were given in the Convent and patronized by the Viceregal pair who never failed to attend vespers there as an excuse for amusing and instructive conversation with the 'Mexican Phoenix'. It was an easy life, since no limit was put on the number of Indian serfs owned by the sisters; one convent of a hundred nuns had five hundred such serving-women working for them. Juana was unlucky, at first, to be under a jealous and narrow-minded prioress, at whom she once shouted in exasperation: 'Hold your tongue, you ignorant fool!' The prioress complained to the then Archbishop of Mexico who, as an admirer of Juana, endorsed the prioress's complaint with: 'If the Mother Superior can prove that this charge is false, justice will be done.'

Juana performed all the religious tasks laid on her, though not greedy of ecclesiastical advancement and, when on one occasion unanimously elected prioress, declined the honour. The gay times at the Convent seem to have ended with the Viceroy's term of office; but her 'passion to know' remained as strong as ever, and this, she wrote, subjected her to more criticism and resentment than the massive learning she had already acquired. On one occasion a 'very holy and candid prelate' ordered her to cease from her studies. She obeyed in so far as she read no more books …

… but since it was not within my power to cease absolutely, I observed all things that God created, the universal machine serving me in place of books.

During the three months of the prelate's continuance in office, she studied the mechanics of the spinning top, and the chemical reactions of convent cookery, making important scientific discoveries. Later, when she fell seriously ill, the doctors also forbade her to read, but …

… seeing that, when deprived of books, her cogitations were so vehement that they consumed more spirit in a quarter of an hour than did four days' reading,

they were forced to withdraw their prohibition.

Juana's confessor, still the same Father Antonio, now tried to dissuade her from seeing and writing to so many friends and learned laymen, on the ground that this was irreconcilable with her profession; and when she would not listen to him, resigned his charge. Next, she was ordered by an unnamed superior to refute an admittedly unorthodox sermon preached by a famous theologian, the Portuguese Jesuit Father Antonio Vieira; which Juana did in a letter of such masterly argument, that when it was published (without her knowledge or permission) the most learned doctors of Spain and Portugal were highly diverted to find that this Mexican nun had completely demolished Vieira's thesis; and sent her profuse congratulations. But one old friend, the Bishop of Puebla, qualified his praises with the suggestion that the letter proved how sadly she had wasted her talents in writing shallow verses and studying irrelevant and profane subjects; instead, she should have devoted herself to the unmasking of doctrinal error, now so rife in Christendom. Juana, deeply offended, replied that she made no claim to academic distinction, had written the letter only because ordered to do so and, when she saw it in print, had burst into tears, 'which never come easily to me'. Then, rather than become a theologian, to the exclusion of all her other studies, she grimly sold her entire library for the benefit of the poor, together with all her musical and mathematical instruments; and submitted to the severest conventual discipline, which Father Antonio, returning in joy, unsuccessfully begged her to moderate. This spectacular event created such a stir that the new Archbishop of Mexico similarly sold all his books, jewels, valuables, and even his bed.

In 1695, some of the sisters fell ill of the plague, and Juana, though weakened by nearly two years of rigorous pen ance, set herself to nurse them; but presently caught the infection and succumbed. The Jeronymite records contain this sentence, scratched with Juana's fingernail dipped in her own blood—because she had renounced the use of pen and ink:

Immediately above will be noted the day, month and year of my death. For the love of God and of His Purest Mother, I pray that my beloved sisters, both those now living and those who have gone before, will recommend me to Him—though I have been the worst woman in the world.

Signed: I, Juana Inés de la Cruz.

Juana de Asbaje wrote true poetry before she was seventeen; but what of her heiress and successor, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz? We can applaud the dazzling fantasy of Sor Juana's religious verse, its perfect sense of rhythm and sure balance of phrases, its essential clarity, which shames the interlaced extravagances of contemporary Gongorists, and the universality of knowledge displayed by the incidental references. Yet the appeal is almost wholly to the intellect. Juana never became mystically involved with Christ. She accepted Him as a theological axiom, rather than as the divine bridegroom whom St Teresa knew, and of whom the medieval Irish nun wrote:

Jesukin, my Jesukin
My small cell doth dwell within!
With prelates have I nought to do:
All's untrue but Jesukin.

She was no longer the Muse of every Mexican gallant, though flatterers continued to call her 'The Tenth Muse'; and as an intelligence she now functioned in a field which the ecclesiastics, to whom she had promised obedience, were always seeking to reduce; being forced to play a religious part in which she could not wholly believe, because it was repugnant to her temperament, yet at last playing it so successfully as at once to shame them and defeat her own ends. When she had sold her books and cut herself off from the world, the only solace left was the fellowship of her ignorant sisters, and even this seems hardly to have been an unmixed blessing:

It happened that among other favours, I owe to God an easy and affable nature and the nuns loved me for it (without taking notice, like the good people they were, of my faults) and greatly enjoyed my company; knowing this and moved by the great love I had for them—since they loved me, I loved them more—there were times when they intruded somewhat, coming to me to console themselves and to give me the recreation of their company.

It was in no spirit of mock-humility that she described herself as the worst of women; writing the confession in her own blood. She meant that when she first took the Leucadian Leap by becoming a nun, it had not been into the sea of pure religion. Still keeping her intellectual pride, her thirst for scientific knowledge and her pleasure in profane authors, lay visitors and the minor pleasures of the flesh, she could remember what it had been to love and to write poetry; and her ancient powers still occasionally reasserted themselves, for instance in some of the songs, based on the Canticles, which enliven her religious play The Divine Narcissus. Juana called herself the worst of women, it seems, because she had lacked sufficient resolution either to stick it out as a Muse, or make a complete renegation in the style of Liadan.

Now, though both Liadan and Juana were young and famous women poets who took vows of celibacy and submitted to ecclesiastical discipline, it was Juana's Irishness, rather, that first led me to compare them. Juana not only combined Christian ethics with pagan emotion, and profound learning with easy lyricism, like the ollamhs, but had inherited their technique by way of the early medieval Latin hymns and the anti-monastic ballads of the Goliards. She too loved the short rhymed quatrain, and the internal rhymes of her Carol to St Peter.

Y con plumas y voces veloces
Y con voces y plumas las sumas
Cantad …

were in the purest Bardic tradition, like St Bernard of Cluny's Rhythm, which begins:

Hora novissima, tempora pessima
Sunt; vigilemus
Ecce minaciter imminet arbiter
file supremus …

Moreover, she excelled in satire of the scorching Irish sort that would raise blotches on the victim's face: her "Lines to Sour-Faced Gila" might have been written by the arch-ollamh Seanchan Torpest himself, notorious for having rhymed rats to death. Perhaps Juana's Vizcayan blood was at work; an ancient tie of kinship and religion bound the Western Irish with the Northern Spanish—both peoples had worshipped the same pre-Christian Muse-goddess and the doomed hero Lugos, or Lugh, her gifted son.

Gerard Flynn (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: "The Poetry of Sor Juana," in Sor Juana Inès de la Cruz, Twayne, 1971, pp. 82-98.

[In the following essay, Flynn provides a stylistic and thematic overview of Cruz's poetry.]

Sor Juana was in effect a poet laureate who had to write many poems for the important occasions of Church and State. For the Church she wrote a series of villancicos celebrating certain feast days of the year. Most of them were to be combined with the prayers of matins, and a few were to be sung at the Epistle, the Offertory, and the Ite missa est of the Mass.

Those villancicos that were written as "complete sets for matins" were broken up into three nocturnes matching the three parts of matins. The first nocturne had the task of introducing the mystery of the feast day or the history of the saint whose memory was being celebrated. The second nocturne was generally less grave and drew images from the arts and sciences: medicine, music, fencing, astronomy, philosophy, teaching, painting, physics, and history. In most cases the second nocturne also had the jácara, a lively piece that provided relief for the congregation. In the villancicos for the Immaculate Conception, 1689, Sor Juana describes the purpose of the jácara; the chorus has sung very well and now: "one singer alone wanted / in a jacarandina / to soothe with levity / the gravity of the tones."

The third nocturne had the remaining two poems of the set and usually repeated a previous theme. One of these poems was the ensalada, a mixture of verses that were for the most part frivolous. Nevertheless, it is the ensalada that has the one durable part of all these villancicos, the poetry of the Negro.

The Negroes appear in the following verses of the villancicos: Assumption 1676, VIII; Immaculate Conception 1676, VIII; St. Peter Nolasco 1677, VIII; Assumption 1679, VIII; Assumption 1685, VIII; St. Joseph 1690, VIII. The purpose of the Negro verses was to amuse a congregation that was tired after a long time at prayer, but in effect they capture the religious spirit of the occasion better than the other verses.

The Church preaches the gospel of the uncircumcision, which is not confined to any nation because of its purity of blood, superior law, politics, economics, or philosophy. The gospel is meant for all, the meanest slave and the greatest king. And so the Negroes can sing to their mother Mary, who is also the mother of God.

The Feast of the Assumption 1676
The Spanish of the Negroes The same verses in ordinary Spanish. An English translation.
1. Cantemo, Pilico, que se va las Reina 1. Cantemos, Perico, que se va la Reina 1. Petey, let's sing, the Queen is going away
y dalemu turo una noche buena. y démosle todos una noche buena. let us all bid her good night.
2. Iguale yolale Flacico, de pena, que nos deja ascula 2. Igual es llorar Blasico, de pena, que nos deja oscuros 2. Better to cry Blaisey, from sorrow since she leaves us dark (in darkness)
a turo las negla. a todos los negros. all us Negroes.
1. Si las Cielo va 1. Si al Cielo va 1. If she's going to Heaven
y Dioso la lleva y Dios se la lleva and God takes her away
¿pala qué yolá ¿para qué llorar why should we cry
si Eya sa cuntenta? si Ella está contenta? if She is happy?
Sará muy galana Estará muy galana She must be beautiful
vitita ri tela vestida de tela dressed up in silk
milando la Sole mirando el Sol seeing the Sun
pisando la Streya. pisando las Estrellas. walking the Stars.
2. Déjame yolá 2. Déjame llorar 2. Let me cry
Flacico por Eya Blasico por Ella Blaisey for her
que se va, y nosotlo que se va y nosotros for she's going and
la Oblaje nos deja. el Obraje nos deja. she leaves us the workhouse.
1. Caya, que sa siempre 1. Calla, que está siempre 1. Quiet, she will always
milando la Iglesia; mirando la Iglesia; be watching the Church;
mila las Pañola mira a la Española look at the Spanish lady
que se quela plieta. que se queda prieta (or apretada). how somber she is.
2. Bien dici, Flacico 2. Bien dices, Blasico 2. You are right, Blaisey
tura sa suspensa; toda está suspensa; she is all amazed;
si tú quiele, demo si tú quieres, demos if you want, let us
unas cantaleta. una cantaleta. sing in jest.
1. Nomble de mi Dioso 1. Nombre de mi Dios 1. By God's name
que sa cosa buena! que es cosa buena! that's a good idea!
Aola, Pilico Ahora, Perico Now, Petey
que nos mila atenta. que nos mira atenta. since she's looking at us.
Estribillo Estribillo Refrain
!Ah, ah, ah, !Ah, ah, ah, Ah, ah, ah,
que la Reina se nos va! que la Reina se nos va! the Queen has gone and left us!
!Uh, uh, uh. !Uh, uh, uh, Hu, hu, hu,
que non blanca como tù, que no es blanca como tù She is not white like you,
nin Pañó que no sa buena, ni Española que no es buena nor Spanish, which is not good,
que Eya dici: So molena que Ella dice: morena cause she says I am dark
con las Sole que miré! con el Sol que me miró! from the Sun that looked on me!
!Ah, ah, ah, !Ah, ah, ah. Ah, ah, ah,
que la Reina se nos va! que la Reina se nos va! the Queen has gone and left us!

Here is the sentiment of the poor and downtrodden. The Queen has gone to heaven where she's looking after all her friends, not just the people from high society. She is a dark queen (la Virgen Morena) who has a special love for Petey and Blaisey. Even for the poor, life is a comedy.

In the last villancico of the Immaculate Conception 1676 series, a Negro sings his praises of the Virgin. He is happy and he is singing because he knows how to praise his queen as well as the next man:

Acá tamo tolo
Zambio, lela, lela,
que tambié sabemos
cantaye las Leina.

All we mixed bloods (zambos)
Are here, lela, lela,
cause we too know how
to sing to the Queen.

He is told to go away on this feast of purity and light, for anything black doesn't fit in with the celebration. But he answers:

Aunque neglo, blanco
somo, lela, lela,
que el alma rivota
blanca sa, no prieta.

Although black, we are
white, lela, lela,
cause the good soul
is white, not black.

There is no stopping this fellow. The rest of the verses are his. The devil grew bold and tried to harm the Virgin, but she gave that scoundrel (dirty dog) just what he deserved.

The villancicos of St. Peter Nolasco 1677 also show the feeling of the Negroes towards the whites. The black man is the poor man who works hard for little pay. He has heard that St. Peter Nolasco redeems the slaves but he cannot believe he did anything for the blacks because he knows from experience the whites get all the good things and live up there in that palace. In a primitive way his thought is very cynical and uncharitable, and the Negro repents for having had it:

La otra noche con mi conga
turo sin durmi pensaba
que no quiele gente plieta
como eya so gente branca.
Sola saca la Pañola;
!pues, Dioso, mila la trampa
que aunque neglo gente somo

aunque nos dici cabaya!
Mas ¿qué digo, Dioso mío?
!Los demono, que me engaña,
pala que esé mulmulando
a esa Redentola Santa!
El Santo me lo perrone,
que só una malo hablala,
que aunque padesca la cuepo
en ese libla las alma.

The other night with my wife
I couldn't sleep and thought
he doesn't like black people
as well as his own white.
He only helps the Spaniard;
well, God, see the hitch
cause we are people, though we're black
though they call us burro!
But what am I saying, God?
the devil he deceives me,
to make me gossip
about that redeeming Saint.
I hope the Saint will pardon me,
and all my evil chatter
for though the body suffers
that's what frees the soul.

In the Assumption 1679 series of villancicos there are two princesses from Guinea with bundles, who are on their way to market. These salesladies put down their bundles and start to sing:

2. Dejemoso la cocina
y vamoso a turo trote,
sin que vindamos gamote
nin garbanzo a la vizina:
qui arto gamote, Cristina,
hoy a la fieta vendrá.

Let us leave the food
and go as fast as we can
without selling sweets (potatoes)
or chickpeas to the women:
for many sweets, Christina,
will come to the fiesta today.

The Lady Mary ("Ledy Melly") was a good slave and that's why they freed her and sent her up to heaven:

Milala como cohete
que va subiendo lo sumo.

See her like a skyrocket
climbing in the sky.

For the theologian the Assumption is a mystery of Faith that demands careful study, but for these two princesses with their graphic minds the Assumption is like the path of a skyrocket.

In the Assumption 1685 series the camotero (vendor of sweet potatoes) is a man on very personal terms with his heavenly mother. He would never think of calling himself "one of the faithful," but only "your black Tony" (tu negro Anton), and he asks Mary to wait before ascending until he can bring his gifts to her:

Espela, aun no suba,
que to negro Antón

te guarra cuajala
branca como Sol.

Wait, don't go yet
for your black Tony
has curds for you
white as the Sun.

God must delay His plan in History until Antón can deliver his salted chickpeas, fine sweets, and curds to his mother, Mary. Like the two princesses of Guinea, Anton has a graphic way of saying things. Who but he would think to say:

¡Oh Santa María
que a Dioso parií
sin haber comadre
ni tené doló!

Oh Holy Mary,
who delivered God
without a midwife
or labor pains!

The Negro verses appear in the last villancico of each set. Of all the verses they alone have preserved for us the religious meaning of the occasion.

A good many poems that Sor Juana composed for State occasions (the birthday of the king, the birthday of the victory, and so forth) will not stand the test of literary criticism; the same may be said of the villancicos, which she wrote for Church occasions. Sor Juana led a liturgical life, of which the feasts of the villancicos were a part, and so they have a certain sincerity and genuineness not to be found in many of her secular pieces; nevertheless, they are not poetry.

The villancicos rely too much on paradoxes and other trick devices. If the reader will picture for a moment the Cathedral of Mexico or Puebla in the early hours of the morning with the choir and religious singing the prayers of matins, he can see the problem of the nun. In between antiphon, psalm, and lesson, she had to supply villancicos that were also to be sung, and she could not appeal to the eyes of those present but only to their ears, since the villancicos do not provide the spectacle of theater. Sor Juana had to create means of attracting and holding attention.

Thus she puts a paradox in one of her poems: did the Blessed Mother descend or ascend when she was assumed into heaven? She ascended with joy into the arms of her Son; "the rest was a descent."

Another paradox is the bet between St. Joseph and God, and the idea that Joseph wakes up when he sleeps, because an angel reveals to him in a dream that his virgin wife is to bear the Son of God.

Another trick device is an enigma or riddle:

—I shall propose a riddle.
—And I shall answer it.

One singer argues that the Feast of the Assumption is August 15, and another argues that it is March 25 (the Incarnation) because the real assumption or rising of the Mother of God was her union with Christ. Perhaps no theologian will object to this argument but the literary critic will have to agree with Menéndez Pelayo, who called these verses mental gymnastics and disapproved of them.

In some of the villancicos Sor Juana mixed Spanish and Nahuatl, or Spanish and Latin:

Yo al Santo lo tengo
mucha devoción,
y de Sempual Xuchil
un Xuchil le doy.
(Feast of St. Peter Nolasco 1677, Villancico VIII)

Tristes te invocamus:
concede, gloriosa,
gratias quae te illustrant,
dotes quae te adornant.
(Feast of the Assumption 1679, Villancico II).

The villancicos are important documents for the biographer of Sor Juana and for the historian of the seventeenth century. One of the villancicos is written with the simplicity of a catechism; another shows that Sor Juana knew the doctrines of latria and hyperdulia; another shows she knew the procedure of a Scholastic debate; in another she applies the idea of hylomorphism to the Assumption. There are scores of ideas and expressions such as those just mentioned in the two-hundred-odd pages of the villancicos. As for the historian, he will find many social and cultural references in these verses: a Negro vendor of sweet potatoes; a Biscayan; two sacristans; an idea from physics; an image from the science of the day; the translation of the Bible by the Seventy-Two, comparisons from music, rhetoric, teaching, philosophy, and fencing; some Portuguese; even a reference to the mal francés!

…..

The lyrical poetry of Sor Juana consists of metrical combinations known as romances, endechas, redondillas, décimas, glosas, sonetos, liras, ovillejos, and silvas. A careful reading of this lyrical poetry will show that it can be divided into three parts: (A) the courtly poems, that is, poems Sor Juana wrote for the viceroy's court, for dignitaries, or for the king; (B) the love poems; and (C) thirteen sonnets.

A. The Courtly Poems

The courtly poems, which comprise about three-fourths of Sor Juana's lyrical poetry, are not distinguished verses. Some of these poems are for an archbishop, a marchesa, the viceroy, the king, a young doctor; others are based on an anagram; others are written in Latin or translate a Latin poem; others praise contemporaries of Sor Juana and ask them for verses. Other courtly poems accompany a gift Sor Juana is sending to a friend; they answer the poem of another writer; they are entries in a poetic contest; or they play with the language of Scholastic philosophy. Most of these poems are little more than clever exercises.

Occasionally the reader comes upon some good verses in the courtly poems; for example, the following lines from the romance "Si daros los buenos años," which was presented to the viceroy on his birthday:

Grey hairs must be sought
before they are painted by time:
whoever would have them finds joy,
affliction whoever awaits them.
The fool who finally walks
the premise of old age,
combs shame rather than locks,
repeats outrages rather than years.
The wise young man in short
leaves an eternal frame
for his Life, and with his fame
marks eternity.

B. The Love Poems

The second group consists of some fifty love poems, about a fifth of Sor Juana's lyrical poetry. Most of these are as undistinguished as the courtly poems, but a dozen of them are worthwhile and two are excellent. The better love poems seem to come from Sor Juana's own experience rather than from an occasion of Church or State, or from a literary fashion of the day, such as an anagram or a polite poetical debate.

The romances are the least inspired of Sor Juana's love poems and do not impart any personal warmth. They deal with themes that border on the philosophical; for example, the poem "Supuesto, discurso mío" argues the problem of love and disdain. The poetess loves Fabio, who does not return her love, and she is loved by Silvio, for whom she has no feeling. What is she to do? Is she obligated to Silvio?

It is not harsh, not tyranny
the passions being the same,
his lack of self-restraint
and his desire that I myself restrain?

To love him because he loves me
is not rightly called love,
for he loves not, who supposes
that to love he must be loved.
Love is not correspondence;

…..

And indeed, though so much truth
were wanting on my behalf,
my will belongs to Fabio,
Silvio and the world please pardon.

In the romance "Ya que para despedirme" the theme is the absence of the lover. This absence and the jealousy accompanying it are the most common themes in the romances, and they carry over into the sonnets and endechas. For example, in the endecha "Prolija memoria," the reader comes upon the lines:

Why do you air
the idle question,
whether inconstancy
be the child of absence?
I well know the frailty
of nature
whose one constancy
is to be not so.

The endechas are rather better than the romances, but they do not measure up to Sor Juana's sonnets and liras. For example, in the poem "Si acaso, Fabio mío" the reader finds these lines:

hear, in this sad dirge
the tender harmony
that soothes, a funeral rite,
the dying swan.
And ere eternal Night
with deadly opaque key
the dim light snuffs
of my fainthearted eyes,
give me the last embrace,
whose tender ties
unify bodies,
thus identify souls.
Let night hear thy sweet voice
and let it not smother
in troubled cadence,
thy words entire.
From thy countenance on mine
make in love an image
and bathe these frigid cheeks
with ardent tears.

Although these verses show more warmth than the romances, they retain a certain intellectual aloofness. In the lines "unify bodies / thus identify souls" ("siendo union de los cuerpos / identifican almas") the thought would have made a splendid verse if it had not been expressed so prosaically. Once again Sor Juana is abusing the language of philosophy.

The two best sonnets are "Esta tarde, mi bien, cuando te hablaba," and the "Detente, sombra de mi bien esquivo":

This eve, my love, when I spoke with thee
I saw by thy gesture and face
How with words I could not move thee
And I wanted thee to see my heart.
And Love, who helped my design
Conquered what seemed scant of gain
For amongst the tears that sorrow poured
My heart fell in drops undone.
No more rigor, my love, no more;
Jealous tyrants need torment thee no more,

Nor vile suspicion test thy quietude
With foolish shades, with empty clue,
Since in liquid humor thou hast seen and touched
My heart between thy hands undone.

Hold on, shade of my evasive love,
Image of the spell I most adore,
Fair illusion for which happily I die,
Sweet fiction for which painfully I live.
If for the lodestone of thy grace
My breast serves, obedient steel,
Why must thou please and enamor,
If fleeting thou willst to fool me?
But thou may not boast self-satisfied
That thy tyranny vanquished me,
For though thou leavest the close tie deceived,
Which thy fantastic form has wound,
It little matters thou foolest arms and breast
If my phantasy has captured thee in chains.

In many of the other sonnets Sor Juana unfortunately returns to the clever manner of the romances, for example:

He who ungrateful leaves me, lovingly I seek;
He who lovingly seeks me, ungratefully I leave;
Constant I adore him who disdains my love;
I disdain him who constantly seeks my love.

For the present writer, the best of Sor Juana's love poems is the one called "Amado dueño mío," which is written in liras. This poem expresses the feelings that come from the absence of the loved one. Here are some selections:

My beloved lord,
Hear a while my tired lament
which I to the wind confide
that quickly it might reach thine ear
if the dolorous plaint does not vanish
like my hope, in air.
(vv. 1-6)

If thou seest the loquacious stream
woo the meadow's flowers,
a pleasing lover that charms
and tells them of his care,
my grief will have thee know
how his current laughs fed by mine own woe.
(vv. 19-24)

If thou seest the wounded stag
down the mountain, hurried,
seeking anguished
ease in a frozen stream,
and thirsty plunge the waters,
in anguish not ease he follows me.
(vv. 37-42)

If thou seest clear the sky
such is the candor of my soul;
and if, avaricious of light
the day is veiled with gloom,
it is in inclement obscurity
the image of thine absence and my life,
(w. 49-54)

When will thy sonorous voice
wound these ears;
and when will the soul that loves thee,
drowned in joy's delights,
abandon these eyes to laughter
as it hastens from them to greet thee.
(vv. 67-72)

When shall I behold the gracious line
of thy quiet countenance
and that unspoken joy,
beyond the pale of human pen,
for all is ill defined
that does not fit experience,
(vv. 79-85)

C. The Philosophical and Historical Sonnets

The rest of Sor Juana's lyrical poetry consists of thirteen sonnets with philosophical or historical themes. The eight philosophical sonnets repeat the theme of man's return to dust; one of them combines the return to dust with the theme of carpe diem (seize the day). Here are three of these sonnets: [This sonnet concerns a portrait of Sor Juana.]

This hued deceit thou seest,
which boasting art's comeliness
with colors' false syllogism
is a delusive betrayal of sense;
yes this, where flattery has thought
to reprieve the horrors of years,
and by subduing time's arrogance
to triumph over age and oblivion,
is esteem's vain dissimulation
is a fragile flower to the wind
is a useless refuge against fate
is foolish errant diligence
is decrepit care, and understood,
is corpse, is dust, is shade, is nought.

[This sonnet is a stricture for a rose, and for those like a rose.]

Rose divine in tender bloom,
thou art in thy fragrant grace
beauty's teacher, born to the purple,
a white snow tenet of comeliness.
Model of the human form
example of charm's emptiness
in whose being nature has joined
the happy cradle and wan sepulchre.
How haughty is thy pomp, how presumptuous,
how proud, thou scornest the threat of death
and later, faint and withdrawn,
of thy withered self givest the despondent sign,
for in foolish life and wise demise
thou teachest dying and living showest deceit.

[This sonnet says that Death is better than exposure to the outrages of old age.]

Celia watched a meadow rose
happily boasting empty splendor,
while with carmine salve and scarlet
it bathed its soft made countenance;
and she said—Enjoy with no fear of Fate
thy buoyant years' quick course
for tomorrow's death cannot quit
what today thou hast possessed;
and though death will come now soon
and thy scented life will away,
thou shalt not mind thy dying, so beautiful, so gay:
see how experience teaches thee
thou art fortunate dying in bloom
not knowing old age's vehemence.

There are five historic-mythological sonnets, which concern women from antiquity. Two of them praise the gallant Lucretia, a favorite of Sor Juana, who fought so bravely to preserve her purity against the lecherous Tarquino. The best of these sonnets is about Pyramus and Thisbe.

Pyramus and Thisbe appear in the Metamorphoses of Ovid. They were legendary lovers of Babylon who spoke to each other through an opening in a wall between their houses. One night they planned to meet by a white mulberry tree. Thisbe arrived first at the tree but fled when she saw a lioness. She left a blood-smeared garment, which Pyramus found. Thinking her dead, he took his own life with a sword, and she, on returning, did the same by plunging the weapon into her breast. Pyramus blood caused the white mulberries to turn red, and Thisbe's, mixed with his, caused them to turn purple.

Here is Sor Juana's sonnet on their tragic love:

Of a mournful mulberry the black shade,
of a thousand horrors and confusions full,
in whose hollow trunk today there still resounds
the echo that sorrowfully invokes the name of Thisbe;
this shade covered the green-hued carpet
where Pyramus in love opened the vein
of his heart, and This be in her pain
made the mark that still astounds the world.
But seeing Love in so great affliction,
Death took pity on them
and joined their breast in one tight bond.
Alas, poor and unhappy is she
who offers not her breast to her own Pyramus
not even for a sword's hard blade.
…..

A writer's attitude towards nature is important since it throws light on the ultimate meaning of his literature. The writings of Sor Juana Inès reveal that her basic attitude towards nature comes from Scholasticism, the doctrine of the medieval school and Golden Age Spain. Sor Juana may have exalted nature in The Dream and in some of her other verses, for example the passage in which Echo tempts Narcissus with her possessions, but it is Scholasticism that permeates everything she wrote.

Nature in Scholastic philosophy has a strict order of inanimate matter, vegetable life, sensitive life, and rational life. These various levels of being come under the Aristotelian doctrine of hylomorphism, according to which all bodies consist of two essential principles, matter and form. In her loa to Friar Diego Velazquez, Sor Juana has a figure called Nature say: "since I am Nature/ in common, to whose wise/ always operative idea/ the sweet union/ of matter and form is due…. In short I am she/ who makes the vegetal grow/ the rational discourse/ the sensitive to feel."

The language of hylomorphism appears in The Divine Narcissus. Here is an example: In the era before Christ's coming, Gentilism (the pagan world) has an argument with Synagogue (the world that knows divine revelation). Gen tilism has many beautiful myths and stories to tell, but Synagogue has the truth. It would be nice if they could come to some sort of an agreement. Gentilism says that she will provide the matter for a sacramental play if Synagogue will supply the form or meaning. She concludes her speech to Synagogue: "I do not understand you well, but since you propose that I give you the matter so that you may inform it with another soul, another meaning my eyes do not recognize, I shall give you from my literature the poetic beauty of the story of Narcissus." ("So that you may inform it with another soul": according to hylomorphism, the form of a living being is its soul.)

According to Scholasticism there is a strict order within every part of nature. All material beings are composed of matter and form, that is, informed matter. Forms, however, differ in dignity and the resultant beings fall into a hierarchy:

Man—rational form (spiritual soul)

Animals—sensitive form (material soul)

Plants—vegetable form (material soul)

Minerals—a non-vital form.

[Sor Juana] brings up this doctrine in The Dream. Furthermore, Sor Juana frequently uses the word "order" to describe nature. In the third loa for the birthday of the king she writes: "For he [the king] who from the common order / is exempt, / does not need years / to be wise." Sor Juana is saying here that owing to the order of nature all men must have sense perception and experience if they are to acquire knowledge; that is, they must grow old in years to become wise. The glorious king, however, does not need to grow in years to acquire knowledge and wisdom since he is above nature. Sor Juana is exercising a poetic license in order to praise the king. She does not mean to be taken literally.

Sor Juana's attitude towards nature has an effect on her attitude towards the social order. Society has a strict hierarchy. This explains Sor Juana's, profound respect for the monarchy in all the loas.

Scholastic theology also sees an order in nature, but it allows for God's taking exception to that order. In the first loa, to Charles II, the figure called Love says that the various figures in the poem must speak according to their grade and must keep "the natural order the powerful Hand of God put on us when He took us out of Chaos." Love is talking here about Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, the four elements who must praise King Charles in their natural order. This order in nature is extremely important to Sor Juana.

Nature is the creation of God and its main purpose is to reflect the Beauty of the Creator, to follow Him. He is nature's polestar:

If you can in Narcissus [he has not yet become Christ in the play]
so much perfection suppose,
for you say his beauty is
of hearts the lodestone
and that nymphs and shepherds follow him
and not these alone
but birds and beasts
mountains, dales
streams and fountains
meadows, trees and flowers;
with how much greater truth
is this high perfection
seen in God
for whose Beauty the Spheres
in mirrors' guise
behold themselves unworthy;
and for Whom all creatures
(though there were not cause
of so many gifts
and marvellous favors)
for His Beauty alone
would owe Him adoration
and Whom Nature
(that's my name) raptly
seeks as its Center,
follows as its Star?

Nature glorifies God and gives Beauty back.

The order of nature does not stand by itself but has a relation to grace that has changed several times in the past. In the beginning nature and grace were wedded so that nature was benign, but the devil trapped man into offending God and many special graces were removed.

This separation of grace and nature caused man to be unhappy, reduced him to misery, and caused nature to cease being benign. There was, for example, the Deluge. God is not a passive witness to nature and its relation with grace. He can if He will arrest the operations of nature or go beyond them, as He did when He brought about the virgin birth. God also refused to admit the separation of grace and nature in the instance of the Immaculate Conception, which is alluded to when Narcissus looks into the fountain (Mary) and marvels at the untarnished beauty there. God also takes exception to nature when he allows miracles. In the sacramental play Joseph 's Scepter there is a miracle above nature when the boy Joseph foretells the future fat and lean years of Egypt. No natural knowledge can account for this prophecy, which is made possible only by special grace.

Sor Juana may have exalted nature in The Dream and a few other passages of her works, but her verses constantly show that for her nature comes from the Hand of God and imposes order. This is the nature of the Scholastics.

Arthur Terry (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: "Human and Divine Love in the Poetry of Sor Juana Inès de la Cruz," in Studies in Spanish Literature of the Golden Age, Tamesis Books, 1973, pp. 297-313.

[In the following essay, Terry analyzes Juana Inès de la Cruz's treatment of divine and romantic love in her verse.]

The "sincerity" or otherwise of Sor Juana's love poems no longer seems a crucial question; in the words of Octavio Paz [in Las peras del olmo, 1957]: "Poco importa que esos amores hayan sido ajenos ο propios, vividos ο sonados: ella los hizo suyos por gracia de la poesía". This should make it easier to see her work in relation to earlier seventeenth-century love poetry, and perhaps especially to that of writers like Polo de Medina and Bocángel who make a point of reproducing the kind of theoretical discussion which seems to have been common in the Academies of the time. It also enables one to do justice to her strong dramatic talent (by no means confined to her plays), by suggesting a type of experience in which imagination and intellect are continually brought to focus on the materials of real life. Nevertheless, certain problems remain: one of them is to know how seriously to take such poems—not in biographical terms, but as a way of expressing certain themes and attitudes; another, which follows from this, is to find a way of defining their relationship to other aspects of Sor Juana's writings.

Some years ago [in his Baroque Times in Old Mexico, 1959], Professor Irving A. Leonard attempted to solve the second problem by suggesting that certain of the love poems might be read allegorically. The ones he had in mind were the three consecutive sonnets on the theme of "encontradas correspondencias": "Que no me quiera Fabio, al verse amado …", "Feliciano me adora y le aborrezco …" and "Al que ingrato me deja, busco amante… ". Each of these poems turns on the same situation: the speaker loves A, who does not love her; at the same time, she is loved by B, whom she rejects. The treatment is extremely schematic: taken as a group, the poems seem to represent what Professor Elias Rivers [in Antología, 1965] has called "una 'cuestión de amor' trovadoresca", in which the poet's own feelings are perhaps not very deeply engaged. On Leonard's reading, however, they form a code which, once deciphered, can be seen to relate to a quite different situation which, for obvious reasons, could not be described directly. So A (Fabio-Feliciano) stands for the spirit of intellectual enquiry which runs counter to the demands of Sor Juana's religious vocation and Β (Silvio-Lisardo) for the love of the Church which she is unable to accept unconditionally. Unfortunately, there is no real evidence to justify such a theory; as Dario Puccini has pointed out [in Sor Juana Inès de la Cruz, 1967], there is nothing to suggest that Sor Juana's desire for knowledge affected the basic orthodoxy of her ideas, or that her moments of self-criticism ever induced her to see her difficulties in such clearcut terms. Here, once again, one is forced to dismiss the possibility of biographical interpretation; if the poems have a deeper meaning, it is hardly likely to be of this kind, and it seems better to confine one's speculations to the kind of tradition with which Sor Juana herself was familiar.

At the same time, if one attempts to read her love poems at their face value, they may appear disconcerting, especially if one tries to see them as a whole. Several of the finest, like "Si acaso, Fabio mío … " and "Detente, sombra de mi bien esquivo … " are moving and accomplished poems by any standard, and lose none of their effect when read in isolation. Others—the majority—contain a good deal of theorizing, which is not always applied to a particular situation. It is here that one might expect to find an explanation of the attitudes which are embodied in the more directly emotional poems, though, in fact, this is not always so.

This can best be illustrated by comparing two poems on the same theme, "Supuesto, discurso mío …" and "Al amor, cualquier curioso …". Like the three sonnets already mentioned, both these poems hinge on the idea of "correspondencia", that is to say, on the possibility of a mutual relationship between a pair of lovers. In the first, the problem is stated succinctly, though with a certain ambiguity:

The argumentative part of the poem begins at line 81:

All that we are told of Silvio and Fabio is that the former possesses "méritos" which, it is implied, are inferior to the latter's "perfecciones"; nor is there any suggestion that Fabio returns, or even recognizes, the speaker's love. The argument itself, though it occupies the remaining sixty lines of the poem, is clear enough. Silvio's fault is to have chosen to love the speaker: his kind of love costs him no sacrifice, and to return another person's love simply because one is loved would be a form of self-indulgence, a worshipping of one's own mirror image. In contrast to this, true love is fated, and may run contrary to mere "inclination":

The lines which begin "Ser potencia y ser objeto, / a toda razon se opone; …" support this view by an appeal to traditional logic: "To be a potentiality and at the same time the object of that potentiality would be contrary to reason, since it would be to exercise one's own operations on oneself. The object which it (i.e. the potentiality) knows is distinguished by its separateness—that is to say, by its status as an object; therefore the potentiality aims at that which is worthy to be loved, not at that which loves." And in the concluding lines, "correspondencia" is once more dismissed as alien to love's purpose:

A great deal of the effect of such a poem comes from the careful balancing of terms like "inclinación" and "destino", and from the ease with which logical commonplaces are torn from their normal context and worked into the natural flow of the verse. The same is true of 104, though here the intention is entirely theoretical, and there is no attempt to refer the argument to a specific situation. The opening statement of the theme immediately recalls the previous poem:

Yet already there is a difference: where the first poem recognized only a single form of love, the distinction is now between two kinds, neither of which is necessarily false. This distinction between irresistible love and "amor de elección" is amplified, more or less schematically, in the rest of the poem. The first is described as "amor afectivo"—passionate love. It is "más afectuoso", "más natural" and "más sensible"; it demands from the lover worship ("veneración") and "rendimiento de precisa obligación"; above all, it paralyses the will and is hostile to reason and the understanding. "Amor de eleccion", on the other hand, is rational and may extend to friendship and other natural bonds; in whatever form, it is based on the understanding, whence its superiority to the other kind: "digo que es más noble esencia / la del (amor) de conocimiento." As the title of the poem emphasizes, it is this second type of love which deserves to be reciprocated: "… amar por eleccion del arbitrio, es sólo digno de racional correspondencia".

Two qualifications need to be made if we are to grasp the full sense of the poem. In the first place, passionate love is described for the most part as a force which acts against the will of the lover, even though he may despise the object of his love. (The possibility that the lover may be helpless and at the same time consenting to his love does not arise.) In the last stanza, this is slightly modified:

This last-minute concession, however, scarcely weighs against the general tenor of the poem. The crucial thing is the rôle of the understanding, without which no love can be complete. In the second place, there is the tone which is used in judging the claims of irrational love, the dismissive wit which appears whenever the two kinds of love are contrasted:

Mas en mi ánimo altivo,
querer que estime el cuidado
de un corazón violentado,
es solicitar con veras
que agra

(The entire section is 59193 words.)

Further Reading

Biography

Paz, Octavio. Sor Juana or, the Traps of Faith, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1988, 547 p.

Definitive biographical and critical study.

Criticism

Barnstone, Willis. "Sor Juana Inès de la Cruz." In Six Masters of the Spanish Sonnet, pp. 59-85. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993.

Provides a biographical and critical study of Cruz and her work.

Dixon, Paul B. "Balances, Pyramids, Crowns, and the Geometry of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz." Hispania...

(The entire section is 424 words.)