Sor Juana de La Cruz

In honor of Poetry Day, I’d like to share a little information about Mexican poet Sor Juana de la Cruz.

Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana was born on November 12, 1648 near Mexico City in San Miguel Nepantla. Her mother,  Isabel Ramírez de Santillana de Cantillana, belonged to the Criolla section of the Mexican population. Her father was a Spanish Captain by the name of Pedro Manuel de Asbaje y Machuca.

She was raised on her grandfather’s hacienda in Amecameca. She was somewhat of a prodigy if the accounts are to be believed. Educating females was strictly forbidden however somehow Juana was able to write in Latin by age three, do account by age five and composed a poem on the Eucharist at age eight.

Her astonishing accomplishments didn’t stop there. As a teenager, she was versed in Greek philosophy, teaching Latin to younger children and fluent enough in Nahuatl, which she learned fom the slaves on the hacienda, to write poems in that language.

In her teens unable to attend the university because of her gender, she became a lady-in-waiting at the viceroy’s court. The Vicereine Leonor Carreto became her patroness. She declined several offers of marriage and instead entered the St. Joseph Monastery in 1667 as a postulant. She took her vows in 1669 at a different monastery, el Convento de San Jerónimo, because she desired “Vivir sola… no tener ocupación alguna obligatoria que embarazase la libertad de mi estudio, ni rumor de comunidad que impidiese el sosegado silencio de mis libros”(to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study).

As penance for her traitorous words and actions as a radical feminist who believed in educational opportunities for women, she was forced to do penance which included giving up her books, musical and scientific instruments. Sor Juana contracted the plague during her ministrations to other nuns and died on April 17, 1695.

You have to admit, some of her poems are pretty intense. You can find several translations of Sonnet #145 here. You can also find an English translation of Hombre Necios (Foolish Men) here. I don’t think I’m up to the task myself.

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