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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.


Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
Translation by Alan S. Trueblood

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