To Her Portrait

By: Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz

Translated by: Alex Yager

This, that you see, is merely painted deceit,
That the work of art which is boasting allure,
Made with these false syllogisms of color
Is, in a sense, a rather devious scheme.

This, in which flattery has tried to pretend
To excuse all horrors from over the years,
And conquer across time numerous ordeals,
Triumphing over both age and dementia,

Is a vain delusion of attentive care
Is a delicate flower caught in the wind,
Is a useless defense against looming fate:

Is an ignorant, errant activity
Is an outdated labor and, closely viewed,
Is a body, is dust, is a shadow, is nothing.


About the Author: 

Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz is a 17th century poet from Mexico born to parents of different races.  She wrote many poems promoting women, and became a nun in order to continue her education.  Being a female, it was difficult to obtain an education in that era, making her an important role model.


About the Translator:

Alex Yager is a senior at the University of Michigan studying Spanish and International Studies with a concentration in global environment and health.  The translation above deviates from the original with respect to meaning; however, is extremely faithful in structure to preserve the author’s rhyme scheme and rhythm to the greatest extent possible.  In the original poem, the lines each have 11 syllables and the rhyme scheme is ABBA (or ABA depending on the verse).  In the translation, the lines each have 11 syllables while assonance replaces rhyming in the same pattern.  In this case, the translator felt that the structure of the poem was more important in the experience of reading the poem than the exact meaning.

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