The panorama of Latin American poetry spans five hundred years, from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries. The first “Renaissance” in the New World (1492-1556) was the era of discovery, exploration, conquest, and colonization under the reign of the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabela and later Carlos V. The origins of Latin American literature are found in the chronicles of these events, narrated by Spanish soldiers or missionaries. The era of colonization during the reign of Philip II (1556-1598) was a second Renaissance and the period of the Counter-Reformation. During this time, Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga (1533-1594) wrote the first epic poem, La Araucana (1569-1589). The native saga narrated the wars between the Spanish conquistadors and the Araucano Indians of Chile. This is the first truly poetic literary work with an American theme.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
During the period of the Austrian Habsburg kings (1598-1701), this Renaissance was gradually replaced by the Baroque era. While the Golden Age of Spanish letters was declining in the Old World, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695) reigned supreme as the queen of colonial letters. She was the major poet during the colonial era. The autodidactic nun, who wrote plays and prose as well as poetry, was known as the tenth muse, la décima musa. Her poetic masterpiece, the autobiographical “Primero sueño,” combines Baroque elements with a mastery of Spanish and classical languages and her unique style. Her shorter poems, with their lyrical verse phrasing and native themes, capture popular Mexican culture. Some of her most famous sonnets are “Este que ves, engaño colorido” (what you see [is] dark deception), “¨En perseguirme, mundo, qué interesas?” (in pursuing me, world, what interests you?), “Détente, sombra de mi bien esquivo” (stop, shadow of my elusive love), and “Esta tarde, mi bien, cuando te hablaba” (this afternoon, love, when I spoke to you). Her most recognized redondillas (or “roundelays,” stanzas of four octosyllabic lines rhyming abba) are “Este amoroso tormento” (this tormented love) and “Hombres necios” (“Foolish Men”). Her charm and brilliance won her many wealthy and royal patrons. While she initially accepted their admiration, she died a recluse after rejecting her literary career and denouncing her precocious fame and vain pursuits.