“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.
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.”
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
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...
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