Un Retrato, That’s All I Have For You


Sometimes, I am sad for no reason at all, and I sit with a glass of Merlot, with lingering ideas of currants chasing my thoughts, and I wonder what is happening to my soul. I am fixated by images: I have one inside my mind right now, and I wonder why there is no story to go along with the image. More often than not, an image is all I have.

Today, I am imagining Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz entertaining in her convent salon. Who is this Sor Juana, you ask? Let me give you a hint. When I make an exchange of money in Juárez, I tend to walk away with an image of her. Yes, that’s right; she is the beautiful nun who adorns the 200 peso note. She is a beautiful nun, poet, philosopher, astronomer, and Baroque thinker at large. And she, of all people, knows the deception inherent in images.

Sor Juana’s convent is like a palace with ornate furnishings and apartments fit for royalty. Or, at the very least, the salon for entertaining royalty is furnished with wine and sweat meats and reflects the wealth of the church. What is the reality, though? Rather than giving a history lesson, I will leave you with Sor Juana’s own poem. You can’t read Spanish, you say? Here is a link to a translation of the poem. The original Spanish can also be found at this site. What you need to understand, though, is that some of the meaning is lost when attempting to retain traditional forms in translations. Some of the acerbicity of her words is mellowed by the repeated use of “’tis” in the translation I’ve linked to.

A Su Retrato


(Procura desmentir los elogios que a un retrato de
la poetisa inscribió la verdad, que llama pasión)

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 5
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, 10
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.
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