Essay Non-Fiction posted July 3, 2010

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A little Spanish homework

Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz

by Sasha

November 12, 1648 – April 17, 1695
My Spanish classes have turned into a daily adventure into the marvelous world of history, culture, literature, and yes, believe it or not, poetry.  At the end of each class Jorge gives me a name of a writer, politician, singer, or artist then tells me to go home look him or her up on the computer and write a small essay (in Spanish, of course) on what I have learned.  Last week he gave me the name Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz.  Little did I know the effect this woman's writing would have on me.  This was a very grueling and time consuming assignment because I have enough difficulty with poems written in English let alone in a foreign language.  I experienced great difficulty in translating this poem and after many hours of assistance from Jorge, I am proud to say I think I got an A on my assignment.   The background information provided below, is a combination of many sources such as Wikipedia, the University of Cambridge Latin American Studies, the Sor Juana project, and a lot from my teacher, Jorge, who is an avid reader of poetry, historian, and an all-around smart guy.
I wanted you to know a little about this incredible woman before I post one of her amazing sonnets.
Sor (Sister) Juana Inez de la Cruz, born Juana Inez de Asbaje y Ramirez de Santillana, was a self-taught scholar, poet of the Baroque school, and a nun of New Spain. Although she lived in a colonial era when Mexico was part of the Spanish Empire, she is considered a Mexican writer and stands proudly at the beginning of the history of Mexican literature.
Sor Juana was the illegitimate child of a Spanish Captain, Pedro Manuel de Asbaje and a Criollo woman, Isabel Rameriz.  Sor Juana's father was absent most of her life.  She learned to read at a very early age and by all accounts had a voracious appetite for knowledge.  As a child, she secretly read her grandfather's books, something at the time forbidden to girls.  By the age of thirteen she was teaching Latin to young children. She also learned the Aztec language of Nahautl and wrote short poems in that language.
Desperate to attend the university, she asked her parents' permission to disguise herself as a male student, but they refused.  Determined to get an education, she continued her studies privately.  Her literary accomplishments soon made her famous throughout New Spain.
She was greatly admired in the vice-royal court for her beauty, and declined several proposals of marriage.  She no doubt had to defend herself from the amorous advances of the married men of the court, yet even had she desired to marry she rejected the idea claiming there was little chance for her within that society, being illegitimate, and from a poor family. 
In Sor Juana's time, the convent was the only refuge in which a female could properly attend to education of her mind, spirit, body and soul. In 1669, she entered the convent of the Order of St. Jeronimo, where she remained for the rest of her life.  There she had her own library and study, and was able to hold tertulias (sitting behind bars) with men of learning from the court and University.  She wrote many poems, plays, and studied all branches of knowledge, from philosophy to natural science.
Although eulogized by many, Sor Juana was also under considerable attack by the church, admonishing her for her preoccupation with worldly affairs and for the lack of biblical subjects in her poetry and study.  Sor Juana wrote an energetic reply, the famous 'Respuesta a Sor Filotea', which has been hailed as the first feminist manifesto.  The Ecclesiastical hierarchy continued to attack her more openly, demanding that she renounce her books and all worldly study.  Although she continued to write, the pressure was so great she was forced to sell her books and musical and scientific instruments.
Sor Juana died April 17, 1695 at the age of forty-six,
when the plague hit the convent.
The following is the sonnet Jorge spent hours helping me translate:

Philip worships me and I abhor him;
Leonard hates me, and for him I yearn;
for him who would desire me not, I'm weeping,
and him who weeps for me I always spurn.
To him who'd shame me most, my soul I offer;
him who'd sacrifice for me, I shame;
I scorn him who'd exalt my reputation,
of him who'd scorn it, I exalt the name.
If I complain that one of them offends me,
the other censures me for some offense;
in either case I suffer in my task,
for each of them wreaks torture on my feelings;
the latter asking for what I don't have;
the former by not having what I ask.

Maybe I don't understand all the rules and guideline of poetry, but can say with confidence, for me, this is one hell of a terrific poem.  I must also express the pride I receive in knowing that this was written at a time when writers were men and its readers were men.  The doors of the educational institutions were entirely locked for women.  This is why it is so extraordinary that the greatest writer to emerge from Nueva Espana, the first great poet of Spanish America, should have been a woman.


I am dedicating this to adewpearl, Margaret Snowdon, words, sgalletti, Joan E., and all you other marvelous poets who have had to put up with my constant complaining about not understanding the rules. I actually think I got them this time!

The illustration I used for this is a portrait done of her at the age of 15. Her image is also on the Mexican 200 peso bill.
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