Green Enravishment of Human Life

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

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The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 532

“Green enravishment of human life” is a sonnet of the Italian or Petrarchan type. It consists of an octave (eight lines rhyming abbaabba) and a sestet (six lines rhyming cdecde). The sonnet lacks a title; it is identified by its first line. The octave is mainly descriptive of the theme of the poem: hope. The speaker of the poem emerges in the sestet. After describing the attitude of those who, hoping for change, ignore or distort reality, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz expresses her own positivist attitude about the world.

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Sor Juana spent several years of her life at the court of colonial Mexico. There she wrote many poems of circumstance, conventional pieces in which she praised persons of high rank and love poems that might have been written by request. Another part of her lyric poetry, however, conveys her own feelings and worldview. “Green enravishment of human life” is one of those philosophical or moral poems in which Sor Juana expresses her personal ideas. The poem is a good illustration of Sor Juana’s rationalism, an attitude that is obvious at other points in her work. For the poet, to hope is to fool oneself, and she distances herself from those who live in the expectation of future improvements or riches. An even more unfavorable description of hope can be found in another of her sonnets, “Diuturnal infirmity of hope,” in which she describes hope as cruel, deceptive, and homicidal, since it “inflicts a more protracted death.”

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In the first stanza of this sonnet, Sor Juana calls hope the “green enravishment.” This metaphor suggests the ability of hope to conquer human will. The second line takes up the notion of the irresistibility of hope and relates it to madness (“smiling frenzy of demented hope”). This association sets the tone for Sor Juana’s condemnation of such a feeling. The last lines of the first stanza further underscore the unreality of hope by connecting it with dreams, which, according to Sor Juana, usually turn out to be empty.

The second stanza adds more images that underscore the deceitfulness of hope. Hope provides only a false feeling of strength, an illusion of renewed vigor. The last two lines of this stanza mirror each other. Hope makes one who is happy expect more happiness; it makes one who lives in misery expect happiness in the future.

The poet’s skeptical attitude is already betrayed by the associations that are implicit in the octave, but her skepticism becomes explicit in the last six lines of the poem. There is a shift of tone in the third stanza. In the first two stanzas, the poem was static, with the author describing hope by means of a list of paraphrases. The third stanza begins with a direct address to hope in the second person: Let those who view reality as they wish, by looking at it through green glasses, chase your shadow, Sor Juana writes. In the last stanza, the poet places herself in opposition to those who filter reality to suit their fantasies. She considers herself to be more reasonable. Rather than chasing the shadow of hope, she considers only that which is tangible.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 432

This sonnet is exemplary in its use of conceits which were characteristic of Spanish Baroque poetry. A conceit always implies ingenuity, striking inventiveness, whether in a single original image or in a series of elaborate and witty analogies. This sonnet utilizes several unexpected pairings of terms to describe hope. Paradox and wordplay are also frequently used in Baroque poetry, and Sor Juana uses here the parallelisms, inversions, and repetitions that were favorite ways of syntactic organization in Baroque poetry.

The recurring image that runs through the poem is the traditional association of hope with the color green; this image appears in the first three stanzas. The roots of this association may lie in the rebirth of the world with the reemergence of vegetation in the spring. Sor Juana, however, undermines the positive connotations of the color green by presenting it in contexts that become increasingly negative. It accompanies “enravishment” in the first stanza, which suggests a deceitful, passing state. The falseness of hope is further stressed in the second stanza, in the seemingly paradoxical juxtaposition of images of weakness and strength: “robust old age,” “decrepit vigor” (in Spanish, verdor, greenness). In the third stanza, hope is described as making the hopeful wear “green glasses” through which they adapt the real world to suit their personal desires.

Furthermore, Sor Juana accentuates the insubstantiality of hope by associating it with nouns such as “dream,” “madness,” “imagination,” “frenzy,” and “shadow.” The “I” of the poem emerges strongest in the last three lines, and again takes up this notion of the immateriality of hope to underline the poet’s own skeptical attitude toward it. Those who hope live in a world of incorporeal desires, but she is firmly rooted in the world of corporeality. The last stanza ends with a striking image: The poet holds her eyes in her hands and only sees that which can be touched.

The poem also reflects the Baroque “spirit of geometry,” the delight in calibrated syntactical organization. The first two stanzas are structured almost identically; a list of paraphrases for hope is followed by two concluding sentences that mirror each other: “inextricable dream of them that wake/ and, as a dream, of riches destitute”; “longing for the happy ones’ today/ and for the unhappy ones’ tomorrow.” The last two stanzas also play on each other by juxtaposing the disapproved behavior (of those who live in hope) with the right attitude (Sor Juana’s realistic outlook).

The sonnet’s careful syntactic arrangement and interconnected metaphors for hope transcend pure lyric ornamentation and give the poet’s argument for reason additional weight.

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