The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“First Dream” (it has also been translated as “Primero Sueño,” its original title) is a long narrative poem about knowledge and the act of knowing. It is written in the classical style known as the dream poem. The poem is actually the narrative of a dream, in which fantastical images are described as if from within the subconscious. The device of the dream allows the poet certain license with controversial ideas, because dreams are not expected to be “correct.”

Although Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was born in Mexico, her writing is influenced by Spanish literary conventions. “First Dream” is, according to Sor Juana herself, the only thing she ever wrote for her own pleasure. “First Dream” consists of 975 lines. It has been translated into roughly thirty-five irregular stanzas. As the title suggests, the poem is the “first dream” of the narrator, who falls asleep and has a dream in which the “soul” is the main character. The soul then explores the nature of knowledge from its lofty position above the world.

Presumably this is the first of many dreams to come in the life of the poet. Although it was composed during the colonial period in Mexican literature, it was first published in Spain. Sor Juana lived in the New World in an age when knowledge was expanding, and the source and purpose of knowledge were readily debated among theologians and intellectuals. In this “dream,” Sor Juana tries to reconcile the world of the theologian (she was a nun) with the world of the intellectual (she was also an intellectual);...

(The entire section is 639 words.)