Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz


Out of spirited resentment, she assesses the choice of a state that lasts until death

To contemplate the perils of the sea
Would end all voyages. If made aware
Of all potential dangers, none would dare
Challenge the bull’s defiant bravery.

No skilled equestrian, if he could see
His bold, unbridled stallion or mare
At full force, charging down the thoroughfare,
Would hope to harness such fierce energy.

While one who has enough intrepid nerve
To shrug off risk and seek Apollo’s lair,
Then, boldened by desire to govern fate,

Conducts the sun-bathed rig beyond earth’s curve—
Will try it all, be all, go everywhere,
Not choose some life-long rut or changeless state.



She suspects disguised cruelty in the comfort Hope brings

Unending ailment, Hope, your curse abides;
and I’ve remained enthralled year after year.
You keep a balance between faith and fear,
the scales forever even on both sides —

to which, held in an ever-pending lull,
just at the verge of tipping, your deceit
allows no mounting or decrease in weight,
but gives despair and promise equal pull.

Who stripped you of your true name, murderer?
Essentially, yours is a greater crime:
you dally with the soul, suspending her

between two fortunes, wretched and sublime–
not so that life will linger or endure,
rather to let death take its own sweet time.



Rosy Obsession…

Rosy obsession of humanity,
intricate dreams all daydreamers pursue,
and all vain dreams of treasure’s golden hue,
demented Hope, gilded insanity;

world without end, springlike longevity,
feeble imaginings of verdant dew,
the now expected by the happy few,
the never of the hapless majority:

they chase your night in search of your pink dawn
who fit their spectacles with rosy lies
and color things as they would have them be;

while I know better what my fate will spawn
and in each hand I keep each of my eyes,
so what I touch is all that I can see.

–Translated from the Spanish by Leslie Monsour

2 thoughts on “Translation by Leslie Monsour

  1. What gorgeous, faithful, sensitive translations! They capture all of the nuances, all of the impossible contradictions of Sor Juana, and–most important–her tone of cool, intelligent fury kept in bounds by the discipline of her art. Brava, Leslie Monsour!

    1. What an extremely gratifying comment this is, Rhina; and coming from you, a master translator of Sor Juana’s sonnets, it means a very great deal to me, indeed. Mil gracias!

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