Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, everyone’s favourite late Golden Age Mexican female poet, (ask your friends and neighbours), here writes a love sonnet in the style of the times, full of paradox and wordplay. Inventiveness and playfulness were much prized and mostly carry the poems of this period rather than intensity of feeling and expression.
The poem is about love in the shadows, perhaps real, perhaps just a fantasy. Is there an actual lover, or is this all in the poet’s mind? The reader must decide … or not.
Detente, sombra de mi bien esquivo,
imagen del hechizo que más quiero,
bella ilusión por quien alegre muero,
dulce ficción por quien penosa vivo.
Si al imán de tus gracias, atractivo,
sirve mi pecho de obediente acero,
¿para qué me enamoras lisonjero
si has de burlarme luego fugitivo?
Mas blasonar no puedes, satisfecho,
de que triunfa de mí tu tiranía:
que aunque dejas burlado el lazo estrecho
que tu forma fantástica ceñía,
poco importa burlar brazos y pecho
si te labra prisión mi fantasía.
The first four lines evoke the shadow of the poet’s lover, is it real or not, she refers to it as illusion and fiction, but the effect on the poet is real, she is dying from love. Here is the paradox and verbal trickery beloved of Baroque poets.
The second four lines put the poet as an unwilling participant in this game – she is the metal while her lover is the magnet – but then why has he made her fall in love with him if he is to remain elusive.
The final six lines turn the table somewhat – he cannot proclaim his triumph in love if it is the poet’s own fantasy which is pulling the strings.
This is playful and inventive verse – the object is to create surprise and admiration for the success of the paradox, not to move with emotion – and I think Sor Juana succeeds quite well.
The Poetry Dude