Fembio Special: Famous Women Poets
Juana Inés de la Cruz
born on November 12, 1648 in San Miguel Nepantla/ Mexico
died April 17, 1695 in Mexico City
Mexican nun, poet, polymath
375th birthday on November 12, 2023
Juana, illegitimate child of a Creole, learned to read at the age of three and, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, studied scholarly works of philosophy, astronomy and medicine.
At the age of 16, she came to the court of the Spanish vicereine, who admired and encouraged the beautiful, gifted girl. Juana wrote countless poems and plays, mostly commissioned, for court and church. Graceful, imaginative verses flowed effortlessly from her pen.
What led Juana to suddenly give up her glamorous life at court four years later to become a nun? Since she had neither money nor family, nor the inclination to marry, she chose the security and community of a Hieronymite convent in order to devote herself entirely to her studies. The most important and difficult of her poems, El Sueño (The Dream), was completed in 1685 and is a masterful demonstration of the breadth of the knowledge she acquired over the years.
Life in the convent was very pleasant. Juana had a spacious apartment, an extensive library, and equipment for scientific experiments. She had servants and could receive guests at will. She continued to cultivate an intimate friendship with the vicereine, to whom she dedicated passionate poems.
As a protégée of the viceroyalty, Juana could at first ignore church superiors who admonished her to limit her studies to religious literature. In two letters to her confessor and to the bishop of Puebla, she vigorously defended the right of women to knowledge and education. In the end, however, she became demoralized and capitulated: signing a confession of her sins and a vow to live only for God with her own blood in 1694, she was thus forced into silence. For the “Tenth Muse of Mexico” little time remained, as shortly thereafter, while caring for plague-stricken sisters in the convent she herself fell victim to the deadly disease in 1695.
The compelling biography of Sor Juana by Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz was made into a film (Yo, la peor de todas; I, the Most Unworthy of All) by Argentine director and feminist Maria Bemberg (1922-1995) in 1990, with Assumpta Serna as Sor Juana and Dominique Sanda as the Spanish vicereine.
(Translated with DeepL.com; edited by Ramona Fararo, 2023.)
Please consult the German version for additional information (pictures, sources, videos, bibliography).
Author: Ursula Schweers
“A woman succeeded in proving to all the sages of Egypt
that the power of knowledge is not limited by gender.
A wonder, even a miracle. Yet the miracle was not that she prevailed,
but that men bowed down before her.
She researches, discusses and teaches, active in the service of the Church,
because He who gave her understanding does not want her to remain ignorant.
(Sor Juana Inés, in honor of St. Catherine)
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