(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

This anthology illustrates the range of poetry that Sor Juana cultivated, including occasional verse (for special occasions and poetry contests), love poetry, religious verses (especially villancicos), and humorous poetry. Critics have found it impossible to date most of this work since the originals have been lost and her style does not evolve. From the beginning, Sor Juana’s verse shows the wit, polish, and learning expected in the Baroque period. Her work demonstrates a sense of form and proportion as well as a control of classical references and the metaphorical imagery of her time: exotic material, gems, fragrances, and creatures, often with symbolic meaning. The Baroque use of paradox, hyperbole, antithesis, repetition, and scholarly logic and argument characterize her work. In accordance with the conventions of the time, her poems are not personal revelations but rather a demonstration of poetic skill. With the forms dictated by convention, her individual talent emerges through the ingenious use of well-known images or in her particular tone or emphasis.

A number of her poems touch on conventional aspects of love, including the idealization of the beloved, the pain of separation and rejection, the feelings of distant and pure love, and the irrational effects of love. Some critics have observed that Sor Juana’s perspective at times seems more masculine than feminine, that poetry addressed to a woman is often more intense than that addressed to shadowy male figures named Silvio or Fabio. One explanation notes that Sor Juana’s early life lacked strong male figures; however, a more probable explanation is that the poetic tradition she was following was exclusively masculine—there was no appropriate feminine language to celebrate love. As an intellectual, she availed herself of the conventional...

(The entire section is 748 words.)