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Sor Juana: Mexico's Most Erotic Poet and Its Most Dangerous Nun

The Daily Beast
go to original
November 10, 2014

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works
by Edith Grossman
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Who was the most erotic poet of the late Renaissance and early Baroque, when the quatrain reached its courtly zenith? Was it Sir Thomas Wyatt, who penned lines sick with longing - “Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind/But as for me, hélas, I may no more” - for his former paramour Anne Boleyn? Was it Shakespeare, in mad pursuit of a lovely boy and that voluptuous Dark Lady? Or was it the poet who wrote this phrase (so erogenous, so suggestive): “I shall not play the slenderness/Of your fine, exquisite torso/For the bend of your waist is as/Troubling as a trill in the song”?

The stanza, from a redondilla addressed to a “celebrated beauty” nicknamed Feliciana, is the work of the New World’s first great lyric genius, a glittering figure in the viceregal court of 17th-century New Spain. It is also the work of a woman - actually, of a nun - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the Phoenix of Mexico and the celebrated Tenth Muse of the Siglo de Oro.

...A new sampling of Sor Juana’s poesy is just out from Norton, rendered into English by the esteemed translator Edith Grossman. From its sonnets that muse on mortality and decay to its possessive, lusty decimas, the book is infused with the chiaroscuro war between the mind and the body, enslavement and emancipation, ignorance and enlightenment. It also includes the “Respuesta” to Sor Filotea, which got Sor Juana in deep trouble with the Catholic Church and led to her signing a vow of silence in her own blood. While the tome offers no copies of the poems in the original Spanish, it does feature a handy guide to Sor Juana’s many erudite references, just in case you’ve forgotten your way around Parmenides and Boethius.

While it’s not strictly necessary to know about Sor Juana’s life in order to appreciate her opus, her story is so extraordinary that it risks eclipsing her creations.

Read the whole story at The Daily Beast

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