The Poem

This poem appears in anthologies under three titles. It is most commonly referred to as “Este, que ves, engaño colorido,” or “This painted lie you see,” which is the poem’s first line. The original title, however, which is sometimes dropped, even in Spanish editions of the poem, is more complex. The purpose of the poem is explained in this title, which Alan Trueblood has translated as “She Disavows the Flattery Visible in a Portrait of Herself, Which She Calls Bias.” The poem is sometimes simply called Sonnet 145.

The poem, which focuses on a single painting, is written in a standard Petrarchan sonnet form: its fourteen lines are divided into two quatrains and two tercets. In Spanish, each line is composed of eleven syllables; this is known as a hendeca-syllabic line.

The first four lines, or quatrain, rhyme abba in Spanish and function as a complete clause. The poem immediately addresses a person, a “you,” who is looking at the painting that is the subject of the poem. The painting, which is a flattering portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz herself, is nothing more than a “painted lie” or a “cunning deceit of the senses” because the “exquisite beauty of art” functions, in fact, through “false syllogisms of color.” The poet seems to be suggesting that art lies.

The second quatrain, following the same rhyme scheme, continues the description of the painting and further explains the...

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Forms and Devices

Sor Juana draws the reader into this frightening poem by means of a simple direct address: “This colored deception that you see.” In Spanish, she uses the familiar form of the word you——and personalizes her invitation for the reader to see the world as she sees it. By removing herself from the poem, she convinces her readers that the thoughts in the poem are their own.

Many sonnets, including some by William Shakespeare, use an abrupt shift or turn in meaning, usually in the closing couplet or tercet, to surprise the reader. In Sor Juana’s sonnet, the idea of the poem is apparent from the opening quatrain, and it does not change; what alters is the syntax, or sentence construction, in the poem. The first and second quatrains, which are joined in their use of the same rhyme scheme and rhyming syllables, are composed of extremely complicated, almost convoluted clauses that slow the reader down. It is almost as if the reader were being forced to look closely at what lies behind the subtle beauty of the portrait. Once that has taken place, Sor Juana rushes the reader, in the final tercets, which are also joined by the repetition of their rhyming sounds, to the inevitable conclusion of the poem. All of the baroque descriptions culminate in the simplicity of her final line: This portrait of the artist reveals the vanity of worshiping the flesh, since everything ends in and “is dust, is shadow, is nothing.”

The syntax...

(The entire section is 552 words.)