Culteranismo is virtually synonymous with gongorismo: the style involves extreme complexity of imagery and metaphor, with neologisms and archaisms. In many ways it is a feast of language, an excess of the signifier over the signified, and it is one aspect of ...
The Baroque: this term is widely used to describe the music and literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and denotes a style in which an exuberance of detail represents a celebration of the signifying material of the work of art, be it wood, stone, paint, word, or sound.
Poem 61 "Que pinta la proporción hermosa de la Excelentísima
Señora condesa de Paredes" provides a very good example of a
number of these concerns. The poem has a distinctive formal feature: it
is written entirely in lines that commence with esdrújulas.
These are words which are stressed on the antepenultimate syllable (three
syllables from the end), and they are a relatively rare word form in Spanish
(the technical word for them in English is "proparoxytone"). Examples are
but let's look at how Sor Juana uses them (these are the first four stanzas
of an eighteen-stanza poem -- do not worry about the complex meaning of
the words at this stage, just read it for its sound and let the images
wash over you):
Lámina sirva el cielo al retrato,
|Lámina sirva el cielo al retrato,
Lísida, de su angélica forma:
cálamos forme el sol de sus luces;
sílabas las estrellas compongan.
Cárceles tu madeja fabrica:
Dédalo que sutilmente forma
vínculos de dorados Ofires,
Tíbares de prisiones gustosas.
[. . .]
Cátedras del abril, tus mejillas,
clásicas dan a mayo, estudiosas:
métodos a jazmines nevados,
fórmula rubicunda a las rosas.
Lágrimas del aurora congela,
búcaro de fragancias, tu boca:
rúbrica con carmines escrita,
cláusula de coral y de aljófar.
|May Heaven serve as plate for the engraving
portraying, Lysis, your angelic figure;
may the sun turn its beams into quills,
may all the stars compose their syllables.
Your skein of locks is as a prison-house,
a Cretan labyrinth that twists and curls
in webbings of golden Ophirs,
in Tibbars of fair prison-cells.
[. . .]
Your cheeks are April's lecture halls,
with classic lessons to impart to May:
recipes for making jasmine snowy,
formulas for redness in the rose.
In your mouth Aurora's chill tears
are kept in a many-scented vase;
its rubric is written in carmine,
its clause penned in coral and pearl.
Translated by Alan Trueblood
Just looking at the vocabulary of the poem, there are many words to do with form, method, style, writing -- some eighteen in all (e.g., retrato, forma, cálamos [=quills], sílabas, compongan, triforme, transforma, fórmula, cláusula, etc.). These suggest that the poem is as much about the act of portraying Lysis as it is about the countess herself.
Perhaps even more interesting than this emphasis on form is the imagery of labyrinths and prisons that runs throughout the poem. Words associated with prison and fixing are: cárceles, dédalo (labyrinth), prisiones, confinantes, congela, aprisiona, Tántalo (Tantalus, imprisoned in Hades), clausura. It is as if the very attempt to fix the image of Lysis in words represented a kind of imprisonment, with the beloved caught both in the labyrinths of poetical language and in the prisonhouse of desire.
While I have looked at this poem in terms of its play with form, issues of gender are also subtly hinted at. Addressing the beloved as Lísida (Lysis) clearly places the poem within the rhetorical conventions of Golden Age love poetry, but those conventions now threaten to become a subtle prison. It is the woman who is trapped within an incarcerating linguistic system, fixed and represented, but somehow lost behind the elaborate symbolic system. Moreover, the lines which absurdly compare the beloved's cheeks with a University Classics lesson are not just rhetorical play: Sor Juana was acutely aware that women were excluded from the lecture halls of the University (she declared in her famous letter that from an early age she had been aware of this as an injustice). To force the comparison between female beauty and the seats of learning from which women were excluded is to create a jarring image which must call into question the conventional assignments of femininity and aesthetics, masculinity and knowledge, as well as call into question the very modes of representation that depend on such a system.
Poem 126 is a simpler, but very intense, version of the ideas
presented in the previous poem:
En un anillo retrató a la señora condesa de Paredes; dice por qué
Este retrato que ha hecho
You should now be able to do for yourselves similar analyses for poems 127, 102, and 195.