Her life was an example of faith and force. Her temperament was so strong it has outlived her time and.. will outlive ours, There are people who say things that are eternal… she is one of then. She died after ministering to other nuns stricken during a plague, on 17 April 1695.
An early translation of Sor Juana’s work into English is Ten Sonnets from Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, 1651-1695: Mexico’s Tenth Muse, published in Taxco, Guerrero, in 1943. The translator was Elizabeth Prall Anderson who settled in Taxco. One musical work attributed to Sor Juana survives from the archive at Guatemala Cathedral. This is a 4 part villancico, Madre, la de los primores.
Arguably the most important book devoted to Sor Juana, written by Octavio Paz, Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, 1989), is a work contemplating Sor Juana’s poetry and life in the context of the history of New Spain, particularly focusing on the difficulties women then faced while trying to thrive in academic and artistic fields. Paz describes how he had been drawn to her work by the enigmas of Sor Juana’s personality and life paths. “Why did she become a nun? How could she renounce her lifelong passion for writing and learning?” Paz knew that such questions could be answered only in the context of the world in which she lived, and so he begins his study with a portrayal of the cultural, political, and ideological forces of New Spain, wherein the subjugation of women was absolute.
In his book, Paz makes a thorough analysis of Sor Juana’s poetry and traces some of her influences to the Spanish writers of the Golden Age and the Hermetic tradition, mainly derived from the works of a noted Jesuit scholar of her era, Athanasius Kircher. Paz analyses Sor Juana’s most ambitious and extensive poem, “First Dream” (“Primero Sueño”) as largely a representation of the desire of knowledge through a number of hermetic symbols, albeit transformed in her own language and skilled image-making abilities. In conclusion, Paz makes the case that Sor Juana’s works were the most important body of poetic work produced in the Americas until the arrival of 19th-century figures such as Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.
The Dream, a long philosophical and descriptive silva (a poetic form combining verses of 7 and 11 syllables), “deals with the shadow of night beneath which a person falls asleep in the midst of quietness and silence, where night and day animals participate, either dozing or sleeping, all urged to silence and rest by Harpocrates. The person’s body ceases its ordinary operations, which are described in physiological and symbolical terms, ending with the activity of the imagination as an image-reflecting apparatus: the Pharos. From this moment, her soul, in a dream, sees itself free at the summit of her own intellect; in other words, at the apex of a own pyramid-like mount, which aims at God and is luminous. Dazzled, the soul’s intellect faces its own shipwreck, caused mainly by trying to understand the overwhelming abundance of the universe, until reason undertakes that enterprise, beginning with each individual creation, and processing them one by one, helped by the Aristotelic method of ten categories.
Until tomorrow: I do not study for knowing more, but for ignoring less.