Who is this Muse, this Nun, this Poet?

Sor Juana was a 17th C Mexican nun, who was an intellectual and a poet, perhaps the greatest intellectual and poet in Mexican history.  Although she has no connection to New Mexico that I’m aware of (the dwelling place of my heart), you must remember that the current border between Mexico and the United States didn’t exist at the time of Sor Juana.  Therefore, New Mexico was just as much a Spanish colony in her day as Mexico was.

While Sor Juana was cloistered in her convent, studying and writing, New Mexico was experiencing turmoil.  In 1680, the Pueblo Indians revolted against the Spaniards, who fled to El Paso del Norte, but Sor Juana happily, in the same year, befriended the latest vicereina, who encouraged Sor Juana in her writing.  It was, in fact, a prolific year for Sor Juana, because the vicereina inspired her.  What better friend could she have chosen?  Encouragement and inspiration are of great importance to an aspiring author, but having a friend with political clout provides publicity, as well as protection against the Inquisition.

For me, Sor Juana is very much a part of my Southwestern experience.  I had never heard of her before I moved here, to be honest.  It was only after I enrolled in UNM and took Spanish classes that I learned of this amazing woman.  Not only did she write poetry with precision, but she was well-educated in philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy.

Plus, she bridged so many gaps for me.  Before I went back to school, I had scattered passions.  I had always loved studying Spanish and writing poetry and reading British books of all sorts, including Jane Austen.  When I studied Sor Juana and the other lovely Jane, they provided a frame work on which I could build a house of interests: the English met the Spanish, the Old World met the New World, the turn of the 18th C met the turn of the 19th C, which gave me an entire century in between, ripe for study; and early conservative feminists spoke to me through the words of those Janes.


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