The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“This afternoon, my love,” from the group of poems “De Amor y de Discreción” (“Of Love and Discretion”), is a classical sonnet. It is composed of an envelope-rhymed octave followed by an ababab sestet—embodying, according to the rules of the sonnet, “the statement and the resolution of a single theme,” here given in the caption “She Answers Suspicions in the Rhetoric of Tears.” This description establishes that a woman in love is pleading with a jealous lover.

Although all her love poems were commissioned, and it is therefore impossible to tell whose poetic “voice” is speaking to the reader, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz prefers to speak in the first-person singular (the “she” of the caption refers to herself in an ironic distancing effect) but to emphasize the second person, the one to whom the speech is addressed. By utilizing this strategy, the poem pretends to deal with a particular case but in fact deals with the universal significance of that case.

Sor Juana was the most learned person in New Spain, but she was highly conscious of the limits of intellect and reasoning. She may here, following her elder contemporary, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, be asserting the superiority of the “reason of the heart” over the “reason of the mind,” but one cannot be quite sure. As she does frequently, she starts out in this poem resigned to the powerlessness of arguments to overcome irrational...

(The entire section is 489 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Quintessentially Baroque, this poem contains in a nutshell the spirit of the period: its penchant for theatricality, trompe-l’oeil techniques, and playful forms masking metaphysical anxiety. Using linguistic devices, Sor Juana produces a seemingly light-hearted disclaimer of her own—supposing that the poetic voice is her own—sentimental involvement.

Having spent her later adolescence at the court of the viceroy of New Spain before entering first a Carmelite then a Hieronymite convent, Sor Juana was superbly versed in European literature and philosophy, including ancient Greek, and she was a master of Baroque literary forms. Her Spanish thus suffers little in translation; she is a catalyst of “intertextuality.” This poem brings to mind the archetypal Baroque poet, John Donne, with whose work Sor Juana may have been familiar.

Forms—particularly the illusion-creating devices and mirror effects of Baroque poetry—are hardly dissociable from their content, especially in Sor Juana’s work, since formal and stylistic prestidigitation was so well suited to Sor Juana’s temperament, which was both profoundly serious and coquettishly playful.

Her love poems are modern in the sense that they are, as it were, “written under erasure”; that is, she is pulling the rug from under her own statements, leaving the erasure and the not-quite-erased statement side by side to form an indécidable (something that is...

(The entire section is 553 words.)