Category Archives: 17th C poetry

Poetry Tuesday: La Musa Que Inspira Sonetos or The Muse that Inspires Sonnets

There is danger in writing poetry. There is danger in venturing into the world, armed with verse. There is danger in displaying the poetry of the heart to the world. In that regard, Sor Juana was a hero and a warrior.

For my part, I view Sor Juana as either my muse, or the bearer of the muse that in turn inspires me. Were the sonnets to flow in perfection from my fingers as they did from her ink-dipped quill, I would be trembling with delight. Instead, I’m still waiting, holding my breath–holding that inspiration inside until it pours out.

Below is one of her sonnets that is all about risk. Sometimes, analyzing risk is paralyzing. I will post her sonnet, and then a translation by Margaret Sayers Peden*. Translations are tricky, and I often find that remaining true to the syllabic and rhyme may cause a loss of meaning. Sayers Peden’s translation is not at all bad, and you will understand the gist of the poem.

Soneto 149

Encarece de animosidad la elección de estado durable hasta la muerte

Si los riesgos del mar considerara,
ninguno se embarcara; si antes viera
bien su peligro, nadie se atreviera
ni al bravo toro osado provocara.

Si del fogoso bruto ponderara
la furia desbocada en la carrera
el jinete prudente, nunca hubiera
quien con discreta mano lo enfrenara.

Pero si hubiera alguno tan osado
que, no obstante el peligro, al mismo Apolo
quisiese gobernar con atrevida

mano el rápido carro en luz bañado,
todo lo hiciera, y no tomara sólo
estado que ha de ser toda la vida.

Sonnet 149

Spiritedly, She Considers the Choice of a State Enduring Unto Death

Were the perils of the ocean fully weighed,
no man would voyage, or, could he but read
the hidden dangers, knowingly proceed
or dare to bait the bull to frenzied rage.

Were prudent rider overly dismayed,
should he contemplate the fury of his steed
or ponder where its headlong course might lead,
there’d be no reining hand to be obeyed.

But were there one so daring, one so bold
that, heedless of the danger, he might place,
upon Apollo’s reins, emboldened hand

to guide the fleeting chariot bathed in gold,
the diversity of life he would embrace
and never choose a state to last his span.

If you would like to learn more about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the great Mexican poet and nun, click here.

Tomorrow night, I will actually post a new flash fiction story by. . . me!

*Both poems I copied out from Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Poems, Protest, and a Dream, published by Penguins Classics, 1997.


Margaret Cavendish, a Woman of Personality

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623 – 15 December 1673), was a product of her time: a follower of science, a romantic, and an academic. Yet, she had a sense of humor, as you will see in this witty poem:

Of Many Worlds in This World

Just like unto a Nest of Boxes round,
Degree of sizes within each Boxe are found.
So in the World, may many Worlds more be,
Thinner and lesse, and lesse still by degree;
Although they are not subject to our Sense,
A World may be no bigger than two-pence.
Nature is curious, and such worke may make,
That our dull Sense can never finde, but scape.
For Creatures, small as Atomes, may be there,
If every Atome a World can make, then see,
What severall Worlds might in an Eare-ring bee.
For millions of these Atomes may bee in
The Head of one small, little, single Pin.
And if thus small, then Ladies well may weare
A World of Worlds, as Pendants in each Eare.

The Duchess had an avid interest in the physical sciences, but she was willing to mock them, and she mistrusted the notion of using the five senses to understand the world. Human senses are “dull”, just as she claims in her poem. And all of those hidden worlds are mysterious, beyond our comprehension or apprehension, even with that new instrument of science called the microscope.

I love her skepticism.  I wish people in our culture had a little more of it, and would even begin to mistrust the sciences again. After all, how can pure knowledge ever be arrived at, when it is filtered through our minds and, by extension, our senses?  That was what the Duchess argued centuries ago.  She was willing to go up against the Royal Society of London, for heaven’s sake.

I love the Duchess.  Those of you who are fans of sci-fi might be interested in knowing that she quite likely wrote and published the first fantasy/sci-fi book, The Blazing World, in her own name.  At a time when most women published anonymously, she didn’t.  Of course, many criticized her ideas and mocked her persona, but that was all right.  If nothing else, she was a fantastic marketer of her own work!  I ought to take lessons from her.