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Juana Ines de la Cruz

Juana InÚs de la Cruz was born in San Miguel, Nepantla, Mexico, in 1651. She was born Juana InÚs de Asbaje y Ramirez.

In 1667, Juana InÚs de la Cruz became a nun. She studied theology, literature, history, music, and science. She also wrote eloquent and expressive poetry. She is considered the best poet in seventeenth century colonial Latin America.

Phyllis, a brush's boldness
Emboldens my feather-pen:
That brush's glorious failure
Engenders hope, not fear.
Risking error in your cause
Sufficed to spur me on.
When risk becomes so precious,
What value has mere success?
So do allow this quill
To risk another flight,
Since, having offended once,
It otherwise has no leave.
You, O exquisite Phyllis,
Such a heavenly creature,
Grace's gift to the world,
Heaven's very perfection.
On your most hallowed altars
No Sheban gums are burnt,
No human blood is spilt,
No throat of beast is slit,
For even warring desires
Within the human breast
Are a sacrifice unclean,
A tie to things material,
And only when the soul
Is afire with holiness
Does sacrifice glow pure,
Is adoration mute.
I, my dearest Phyllis,
Who revere you as divine,
Who idolize your disdain,
And venerate your rigor;
I, like the hapless lover
Who, blindly circling and circling,
On reaching the glowing core,
Falls victim to the flame;
I, like the innocent child,
Who, lured by the flashing steel,
Rashly runs a finger
Along the knife-blade's edge;
Who, despite the cut he suffers,
Is ignorant of the source
And protests giving it up
More than he minds the pain;
I, like adoring Clytie,
Gaze fixed on golden Apollo,
Who would teach him how to shine--
Teach the father of brightness!
I, like air filling a vacuum,
Like fire feeding on matter,
Like rocks plummeting earthward,
Like the will set on a goal-
In short, as all things in Nature,
Moved by a will to endure,
Are drawn together by love
In closely knit embrace ...
But, Phyllis, why go on?
For yourself alone I love you.
Considering your merits,
What more is there to say?
That you're a woman far away
Is no hindrance to my love:
For the soul, as you well know,
Distance and sex don't count.
How could I fail to love you,
Once I found you divine?
Can a cause fail to bring results,
Capacity go unfulfilled?
Since you are the acme of beauty,
The height of all that's sublime--
That Time's green axle-tree
Beholds in its endless turning--
Can you wonder my love sought you out?
Why need I stress that I'm true,
When every one of your features
Betokens my enslavement?
Turn your eyes toward yourself
And you'll find in yourself and in them
Not only occasion for love
But compulsion to surrender.
Meanwhile my tender care
Bears witness I only live
To gaze at you spellbound and sigh,
To prove that for you I die.

My lady, I must implore
Forgiveness for keeping still,
If what I meant as tribute
Ran contrary to your will.
Please do not reproach me
If the course I have maintained
In the eagerness of my love
Left my silence unexplained.
I love you with so much passion,
Neither rudeness nor neglect
Can explain why I tied my tongue,
Yet left my heart unchecked.
The matter to me was simple:
Love for you was so strong,
I could see you in my soul
And talk to you all day long.
With this idea in mind,
I lived in utter delight,
Pretending my subterfuge
Found favor in your sight.
In this strange, ingenious fashion,
I allowed the hope to be mine
That I still might see as human
What I really conceived as divine.
Oh, how mad I became
In my blissful love of you, For even though feigned, your favor
Made all my madness seem true!
How unwisely my ardent love,
Which your glorious sun inflamed,
Sought to feed upon your brightness,
Though the risk of your fire was plain!
Forgive me if, thus emboldened,
I made bold with that sacred fire:
There's no sanctuary secure
When thought's transgressions conspire.
Thus it was I kept indulging
These foolhardy hopes of mine,
Enjoying within myself
A happiness sublime.
But now, at your solemn bidding,
This silence I herewith suspend,
For your summons unlocks in me
A respect no time can end.
And, although loving your beauty
Is a crime beyond repair,
Rather the crime be chastised
Than my fervor cease to dare.
With this confession in hand,
I pray, be less stern with me.
Do not condemn to distress
One who fancied bliss so free.
If you blame me for disrespect,
Remember, you gave me leave;
Thus, if obedience was wrong,
Your commanding must be my reprieve.
Let my love be ever doomed
If guilty in its intent,
For loving you is a crime
Of which I will never repent.
This much I descry in my feelings--
And more that I cannot explain;
But you, from what I've not said,
May infer what words won't contain.

I approach, and I withdraw:
Who but I could find
Absence in the eyes,
Presence in what's far?
From the scorn of Phyllis,
Now, alas, I must depart.
One is indeed unhappy
Who misses even scorn!
So caring is my love
That my present distress
Minds hard-heartedness less
Than the thought of its loss.
Leaving, I lose more
Than what is merely mine:
In Phyllis, never mine,
I lose what can't be lost.
Oh, pity the poor person
Who aroused such kind disdain
That to avoid giving pain,
It would grant no favor!
For, seeing in my future
Obligatory exile,
She disdained me the more,
That the loss might be less.
Oh, where did you discover
So neat a tactic, Phyllis:
Denying to disdain
The garb of affection?
To live unobserved
By your eyes, I now go
Where never pain of mine
Need flatter your disdain.

Silly, you men-so very adept
At wrongly faulting womankind,
Not seeing you're alone to blame
For faults you plant in woman's mind.
After you've won by urgent plea
The right to tarnish her good name,
You still expect her to behave--
You, that coaxed her into shame.
You batter her resistance down
And then, all righteousness, proclaim
That feminine frivolity,
Not your persistence, is to blame.
When it comes to bravely posturing,
Your witlessness must take the prize:
You're the child that makes a bogeyman,
And then recoils in fear and cries.
Presumptuous beyond belief,
You'd have the woman you pursue
Be Thais when you're courting her,
Lucretia once she falls to you.
For plain default of common sense,
Could any action be so queer
As oneself to cloud the mirror,
Then complain that it's not clear?
Whether you're favored or disdained,
Nothing can leave you satisfied.
You whimper if you're turned away,
You sneer if you've been gratified.
With you, no woman can hope to score;
Whichever way, she's bound to lose;
Spurning you, she's ungrateful--
succumbing, you call her lewd.
Your folly is always the same:
You apply a single rule
To the one you accuse of looseness
And the one you brand as cruel.
What happy mean could there be
For the woman who catches your eye,
If, unresponsive, she offends,
Yet whose complaisance you decry?
Still, whether it's torment or anger--
And both ways you've yourselves to blame--
God bless the woman who won't have you,
No matter how loud you complain.
It's your persistent entreaties
That change her from timid to bold.
Having made her thereby naughty,
You would have her good as gold.
So where does the greater guilt lie
For a passion that should not be:
With the man who pleads out of baseness
Or the woman debased by his plea?
Or which is more to be blamed--
Though both will have cause for chagrin:
The woman who sins for money
Or the man who pays money to sin?
So, why are you men all so stunned
At the thought you're all guilty alike?
Either like them for what you've made them
Or make of them what you can like.
If you'd give up pursuing them,
You'd discover, without a doubt,
You've a stronger case to make
Against those who seek you out.
I well know what powerful arms
You wield in pressing for evil:
Your arrogance is allied
With the world, the flesh, and the devil!

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Wu Tsao (1800)
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Charlotte Mew (1869-1929)
Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)
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