Amor empieza por desasosiego,

This is a very satisfying, logically constructed, analytical sonnet by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, in which she dispassionately lays out the successive phases of a love affair and then uses it to console a friend who is suffering because he is in the final stages of the process in which jealousy and suspicion darkens any relationship. The process is very like what Marcel Proust describes in the various love affairs described in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, except here, Sor Juana effectively nails the subject in a fourteen-line sonnet, whereas Proust takes a couple of thousand pages or so.

So here is Sor Juana’s Advice to a Jealous Lover…


Amor empieza por desasosiego,

solicitud, ardores y desvelos;

crece con riesgos, lances y recelos;

susténtase de llantos y de ruego.

Doctrínanle tibiezas y despego,

conserva el ser entre engañosos velos,

hasta que con agravios o con celos

apaga con sus lágrimas su fuego.

Su principio, su medio y fin es éste:

¿pues por qué, Alcino, sientes el desvío

de Celia, que otro tiempo bien te quiso?

¿Qué razón hay de que dolor te cueste?

Pues no te engañó amor, Alcino mío,

sino que llegó el término preciso.

From <>

The first four lines succinctly describe the first three phases of a love affair – unease, caring, passion; then daring and risk-taking; then dependence as revealed by needy claims on the lover. The second stanza proceeds through the cooling of passion but the awakening of jealousy, justified or unjustified, which starts to extinguish the flames of love. This the arc of many love affairs, and Sor Juana has described it in just eight lines.

In the remainder of the poem, Sor Juana addresses a lover, reminding him that the course of love is always like this, with a beginning a middle and an end – so why should Alcino, the lover, be upset by this completely natural course of events? There is no blame to be attached to either Alcino or his lover, Celia. So there is no point in suffering as a result – all that has happened is that this love affair has reached its natural end.

Sound and balanced advice indeed, but any lover would likely not be receptive to it until much later.

The Poetry Dude

Con el dolor de la mortal herida,

Back to the late 1600s in Mexico for today’s poem from Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, It is a sonnet on the subject of the emotional disturbances of being in love, so presumably it is one of the poems that got her into trouble with her religious superiors. The title, “On a sensible reflection”, describes the end point of the poet’s emotional journey, but most of the poem describes the heartache and confusion leading up to the moment of illumination.

De Una Reflexion Cuerda

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Con el dolor de la mortal herida,
de un agravio de amor me lamentaba,
y por ver si la muerte se llegaba
procuraba que fuese más crecida.

Toda en el mal el alma divertida,
pena por pena su dolor sumaba,
y en cada circunstancia ponderaba
que sobraban mil muertes a una vida.

Y cuando, al golpe de uno y otro tiro
rendido el corazón, daba penoso
señas de dar el último suspiro,

no sé con qué destino prodigioso
volví a mi acuerdo y dije: ¿qué me admiro?
¿Quién en amor ha sido más dichoso?

From <;

So the poem kicks off with the poet feeling mortally wounded by some lover’s tiff and wants nothing more than death to ease the pain. Her soul is overwhelmed with pain and suffering, such that she feels like her one life is nothing more than a thousand deaths. Her last breath must be coming soon, and her heart is giving out (such are the joys of being in love for a Baroque poet).

And then in the final three lines she comes to her senses, through some prodigious act of destiny and realises that nobody is as lucky in love as she. This is the sensible reflection of the title.

The Poetry Dude

Este, que ves, engaño colorido,

A nice combination of poetry and visual art today as we can read a poem by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz about a painting of her, while at the same time looking at an image of that painting, seeing what she saw over 300 years ago. Her reaction to the portrait is personal and philosophical – the painting is a distortion of the truth, it does not reflect what she looks like, or feels that she looks like. Above all, by showing her in the prime of life, as an attractive woman, it hides the fact that her beauty will fade, time will take its toll on her appearance and the inevitable approach of death is ignored. In a sense, her poem is the addition of a memento mori feature lacking in the painting, even though it was quite common at this time for portraits of the rich and famous to have such a feature, like a skull on the table, or something like that.

Este, que ves, engaño colorido,
que del arte ostentando los primores,
con falsos silogismos de colores
es cauteloso engaño del sentido:

éste, en quien la lisonja ha pretendido
excusar de los años los horrores,
y venciendo del tiempo los rigores,
triunfar de la vejez y del olvido,

es un vano artificio del cuidado,
es una flor al viento delicada,
es un resguardo inútil para el hado:

es una necia diligencia errada,
es un afán caduco y, bien mirado,
es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada.

—Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

From <;

Fully half the lines of this sonnet begin with “es”, it is, enumerating the things about the portrait which are deceiving or illusionary. None of them praise the artist or the quality of the work, all draw attention to the vanity of the intent and the gap between what is on the canvas and the reality experienced by the poet herself.

After setting out in the first four lines the fundamentally deceiving nature of the portrait, the rest of the poem goes through the ways in which it denies or hides the passage of time and the effects of aging. The final six lines, all beginning with “es” to build a cumulative reinforcement of the message culminate in a final line which is a tribute to the final line of Gongora’s famous sonnet, “mientras por competir con tu cabello”. Compare Gongora, “En tierra, en humo, en polvo, en sombra, en nada”, with Sor Juana, “es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada.”



The Poetry Dude

Detente, sombra de mi bien esquivo,

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.

From <;

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

Rosa divina, que en gentil cultura

Returning to spring-like themes, here is a nice sonnet from Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz on the majestic, but fleeting, beauty of a rose and the lessons we should learn from its glorious flowering and subsequent demise.

A una Rosa

Rosa divina, que en gentil cultura
Eres con tu fragante sutileza
Magisterio purpúreo en la belleza,
Enseñanza nevada a la hermosura.

Amago de la humana arquitectura,
Ejemplo de la vana gentileza,
En cuyo ser unió naturaleza
La cuna alegre y triste sepultura.

¡Cuán altiva en tu pompa, presumida
soberbia, el riesgo de morir desdeñas,
y luego desmayada y encogida.

De tu caduco ser das mustias señas!
Con que con docta muerte y necia vida,
Viviendo engañas y muriendo enseñas.

From <;

In the first four lines the rose is resplendent, with its glorious colours and subtle fragrance, an epitome of all things beautiful. The warning comes in the second four lines where we learn that it is rather like human vanity, all-conquering one day but dead and buried the next. In its glorious flowering the rose is majestic, haughty, proud, scornful of any possibility of death, but then, too soon, it has died and lies dried out and decaying. The poet’s intent is for this to be a lesson in humility for all her human readers. But I just like the description of the beauty of the rose.

The Poetry Dude

Este amoroso tormento 

Today’s poem, by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz seems to me to be a nice riposte to yesterday’s posting from Clement Marot. In yesterday’s poem, Marot lamented his fate at the hands of a young woman who spurns his amorous advances and declares he will never love again. Here, Sor Juana’s poem gives insight into the hesitations, uncertainties and anxieties of the woman who thinks she might be in love. All this explains why a woman might resist the courting of a man, for fear of making a mistake, and gives Marot an explanation for his rejection, from over 100 years later, and from the other side of the Atlantic ocean, where Sor Juana served in the court of the Viceroy of Mexico before taking religious vows.

The Lovers Torment (universal and contagious)….


Este amoroso tormento
que en mi corazón se ve,
se que lo siento y no se
la causa porque lo siento

Siento una grave agonía
por lograr un devaneo,
que empieza como deseo
y para en melancolía.

y cuando con mas terneza
mi infeliz estado lloro
se que estoy triste e ignoro
la causa de mi tristeza.

Siento un anhelo tirano
por la ocasión a que aspiro,
y cuando cerca la miro
yo misma aparto la mano.

Porque si acaso se ofrece,
después de tanto desvelo
la desazona el recelo
o el susto la desvanece.

Y si alguna vez sin susto
consigo tal posesión
(cualquiera) leve ocasión
me malogra todo el gusto.

Siento mal del mismo bien
con receloso temor
y me obliga el mismo amor
tal vez a mostrar desdén.

From <;

Torture, agony, melancholy, sadness, tyranny and fear are some of the attributes of being in love, according to Sor Juana. And, since these lead to scorn, in the final line, rejection of love is an obvious conclusion. I think this poem is not just a Baroque exercize in wordplay, reconciling opposites and embracing paradox, bit there is also a deeper psychological truth which does, indeed, resonate with anyone who has been in love. Successful lovers push past this phase, but many fall by the wayside as perpetrators or victims, as Marot’s poem from yesterday shows.

The Poetry Dude

Que no me quiera Fabio al verse amado

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz writes a poem here which is a fairly novel twist on a commonplace poetic theme of love. I don’t know if this particular poem comes from early or late in her life, but if it was a late poem, it would be thry type of subject that would have got her into trouble with her religious hierarchy after she entered a convent.

It is a sonnet, and is given a title which adds considerably to the space needed on the page, and which sets out the lover’s dilemma which is explored in the poem.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz


Que no me quiera Fabio al verse amado
es dolor sin igual, en mi sentido;
mas que me quiera Silvio aborrecido
es menor mal, mas no menor enfado.

¿Qué sufrimiento no estará cansado,
si siempre le resuenan al oído,
tras la vana arrogancia de un querido,
el cansado gemir de un desdeñado?

Si de Silvio me cansa el rendimiento,
a Fabio canso con estar rendida:
si de éste busco el agradecimiento,

a mí me busca el otro agradecida:
por activa y pasiva es mi tormento,
pues padezco en querer y ser querida.

From <;

The poet contrasts her relationship with two men, Fabio and Silvio, presumably archetypes for the attitudes described, and asks which type of relationship causes most pain – for the poet to love someone (Fabio) who doesn’t return her love, or to be loved by someone (Silvio) who she doesn’t love. Tricky situation indeed and it must have given rise to many a Hollywood romantic comedy.

The second stanza shows the consequences of this situation – the poet has to listen to both the disdainful arrogance of the man who doesn’t love her and also the pained complaints of the man she doesn’t love.

The theme is continued in the final two stanzas, and finishes with the elegant linguistic paradox in the last line, “pues padezco en querer y ser querido”, “so I suffer by loving and being loved”. You can imagine the round of applause the poet received when finishing her recital on this note.

The Poetry Dude