Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)
ph_0111206536-Cruz.jpg Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is better known for her poetry and one celebrated prose work than for her dramatic output. Though Sor Juana wrote more than four hundred poems—including sonnets, romances (eight-syllable lines with assonance in even lines), redondillas (four eight-syllable line verses with an abba rhyme pattern), décimas (ten eight-syllable line verses rhymed abba-ac-cddc), and villancicos (church carols)—her fame rests on a relatively small number of poems; she is probably best known for her sonnets. Although her poems are Baroque in style, many of them are beautifully lyric and clear; they frequently treat the subjects of love and disillusionment.

Primero Sueño (first dream), her long poem of almost one thousand lines, is in imitation of Luis de Góngora y Argote’s Soledad primera (1613; First Solitude, 1964). In this dream narrative, her soul ascends to heavenly exaltation, but then descends to devote itself to scholarly pursuits and methodical knowledge. It has been described by the critic Francisco López Camara as “a hymn to the awakening of the spirit of investigation or research, and an unsuspected forerunner of the poetry of the eighteenth century Enlightenment.”

Her most famous prose work, Respuesta de la poetisa a la muy ilustre Sor Filotea de la Cruz (1700; reply of the poetess to the illustrious Sister Filotea de la Cruz), written March 1, 1691, is invaluable for the light it throws on Sor Juana’s life. In 1690, she had written a criticism of a sermon by the famous Portuguese Jesuit priest Antonio de Vieyra. The Bishop of Puebla was so impressed by it that he had it printed and then wrote her praising the work but suggesting that she limit herself to theological discussions and avoid secular matters; he signed the letter “Sor Filotea de la Cruz.” Sor Juana’s lengthy prose reply provides a wealth of biographical information concerning her material existence as well as her mentally tortured life.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Achievements

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is regarded as the most important writer of colonial Latin America. Daughter of a Basque father and Creole mother, she inherited physically from both continents. This heritage was enhanced by broad religious and secular study and development, so that she was a literary fusion of Spain and her native Mexico.

Seventeenth century Spain was the heyday of the Baroque, and it is in this vein that most of Sor Juana’s writings were couched. Yet her style is not stilted, nor even as intricate in many cases as that of her master, Góngora, nor of the dramatic author Pedro Calderón de la Barca, many of whose writings she imitated. She demonstrated extraordinary skill in handling Baroque conventions, infusing her delicate language with feminine vision and sensitivity. This sensitivity and poetic beauty won for her the title among her contemporaries of “the tenth muse”; she is considered the last great lyric poet of Spain and the first great poet of America. Many of her sonnets and shorter lyric poems are distinguished by their transparent clarity and exquisite beauty; she stands out as the supreme poet of her time in Castilian Spanish.

Sor Juana spent most of her life within the confines of the convent, although the nun had previously enjoyed courtly life in the viceroyalty of Mexico. Her yearning for knowledge and her acute interest in secular matters did not, however, discourage her devotion to the religious life; she was neither...

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Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Other literary forms

(World Poets and Poetry)

The most readable prose work of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (WAH-nah ee-NAYS day lah krews), Respuesta de la poetisa a la muy ilustre Sor Filotea de la Cruz (1700; The Answer, 1994), is an appealing autobiographical defense of her precocious interest in learning, an emotional plea for acceptance as a woman and a scholar, and an obsessive declaration of faith. Sor Juana tries to convince her superiors that, despite her lifelong curiosity about the material world, theological concerns are still the most important to her.

El divino Narciso, pr. c. 1680 (The Divine Narcissus, 1945), a religious one-act play, is a tasteful and imaginative treatment of divine love in which Narcissus, as a figure of Christ, falls in love with human nature as a reflection of himself. With this short play, the fantasy of desire that takes so many forms throughout Sor Juana’s work finds its ultimate synthesis of eros and agape.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Achievements

(World Poets and Poetry)

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a Mexican literary virtuoso who was called the tenth muse during her lifetime and who is generally considered the most important writer of colonial Spanish America. Although she wrote more than four hundred poems, twenty-three short plays, two full-length comedias, and various prose works, Sor Juana’s reputation rests on a handful of poems (about two dozen in all), The Divine Narcissus, and The Answer. Although a reassessment of her works begun in the 1950’s promises a more extensive list of her most important writings, it is likely that, with the exception of her extremely complex First Dream, the few pieces that earned her the admiration of Marcelino Menendez y Pelayo one hundred years ago will continue to be the ones that will ensure her a place of prominence in Spanish letters.

At her best, Sor Juana was able to manipulate the often unwieldy and intricate language of the Spanish Baroque, with its rich heritage from the Golden Age, into expressions of delicate, feminine vision and sensibility. Her aesthetic documentation of the search for knowledge, love, and God is the most complete personal and artistic record of any figure from the colonial period. Sor Juana’s love poetry appears to reflect frustrating and painful experiences before her entry into the convent at about the age of seventeen. Few of the poems are concerned with fulfillment or the intimate communication of personal feelings; most are, instead, variations on the themes of ambivalence and disillusionment in love. Sor Juana’s philosophical poems are linked to her amatory verse by a sense of disenchantment. An exception to her general pessimism is First Dream, in which the poet takes delight in depicting the joys and dangers of her intellectual explorations. More of Sor Juana’s writings bear witness to her theological concerns. Although some of her religious lyrics express the same kind of anguish about God’s love that she expressed about human love, she clearly attempted in her villancicos to use her poetic talent in the service of the Roman Catholic Church.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Point out some of the ways in which the themes of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz reach far beyond the scope one might expect from a seventeenth-century Mexican nun.

What themes in Sor Juana’s work have generated the interest of readers in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century?

Consider First Dream as a poem on the life of the mind.

Are the “foolish men” in the poem so titled all men or just some men? How effective is this poem more than three centuries after it was written?

Sor Juana was, and had to be, an obedient member of a religious community. In what ways was she a truly independent woman?

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Flynn, Gerard. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Boston: Twayne, 1971. A very readable book. Introduces the reader to Sor Juana and her work. The first chapter gives biographical information, and the others review her poetry and drama. A discussion of the criticism of several authors is included, as are a number of quotations from Sor Juana’s work with English translations provided by Flynn. Contains a selected bibliography of mainly Spanish-language sources.

Juana Inés de la Cruz, Sister. A Woman of Genius: The Intellectual Autobiography of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Translated with an introduction by Margaret Sayers Peden....

(The entire section is 660 words.)