file000592821988after Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

January is on the wane
leaving behind early dark and champagne hopes
for the genus Rosa. Wild or tame, they’re lovely.

Garden roses need pruning, solicitous cultivation ~
Layer shorter under taller, drape on trellises
and over pergolas, the promise of color and fragrance,
climbers retelling their stories in ballet up stone walls,
an heirloom lace of tea roses, a voluptuous panorama
rhymed with shrubs and rock roses in poetic repetition.
Feminine pulchritude: their majesties in royal reds
or sometimes subdued in pink or purple gentility,
a cadmium-yellow civil sensibility, their haute couture.

Is it the thorned rose we love or the way it mirrors us
in our own beauty and flaw and our flow into decrepitude?
They remind of our mortality with blooms, ebbs, and bows
to fate, a noble death to rise again in season, after Lazarus.
Divinely fulsome, the genus Rosa, sun-lighted, reflexed ~
And January? January is ever on the wane.

© 2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
Photo courtesy of morgueFile

Portrait by Fray Miguel de Herrera (1700-1789)
Portrait by Fray Miguel de Herrera (1700-1789)

The work that was the jumping off point for my poem is one by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1551-1695), who lived during the time when what is now Mexico was a part of the Spanish empire. Sor Juana was an ambitious writer, self-taught, and a Baroque poet. She belonged to the Order of St. Jerome. I am enamored of her work and find her life interesting. She was brilliant, independent and nonconforming.

Sor Juana was hungry for learning and was self-educated. From childhood, she set her own demanding educational goals. Unfortunately, the parochial male powers could not put the power of her mind together with her femininity. She suffered for that.

These three famous quotes of hers are telling:

“I don’t study to know more, but to ignore less.”

“One can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper.”

“…for there seemed to be no cause for a head to be adorned with hair and naked of learning…”

For those who might be interested, here is her poem Rosa in Spanish and in English.

Rosa divina que en gentil cultura
eres, con tu fragrante sutileza,
magisterio purpureo en la belleza,
enseñanza nevada a la hermosura.
Amago de la humana arquitectura,
ejemplo de la vana gentileza,
en cuyo ser unió naturaleza
la cuna alegre y triste sepultura.
¡Cuán altiva en tu pompa, presumida,
soberbia, el riesgo de morir desdeñas,
y luego desmayada y encogida
de tu caduco ser das mustias señas,
con que con docta muerte y necia vida,
viviendo engañas y muriendo enseñas!

Rose, heaven’s flower versed in grace,
from your subtle censers you dispense
on beauty, scarlet homilies,
snowy lessons in loveliness.
Frail emblem of our human framing,
prophetess of cultivation’s ruin,
in whose chambers nature beds
the cradle’s joys in sepulchral gloom.
So haughty in your youth, presumptuous bloom,
so archly death’s approaches you disdained.
Yet even as blossoms soon fade and fray
to the tattered copes of our noon’s collapse –
so through life’s low masquerades and death’s high craft,
your living veils all your dying unmasks.

– Juana Inés de la Cruz

Illustration and poem in the public domain. Source of translation unknown.

4 thoughts on “Roses and Their Homilies

  1. “One can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper.” I love this. I appreciate the analogy as well. It did make me smile. Introducing her book, In Full Bloom, Stories of Women in Their Prime, my friend Sharon Creeden says there are two kinds of women–Roses, and Not Roses (one isn’t preferable to the other, just different.) A wonderful post, Jamie.

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  2. Jamie, as someone who loves roses for their beauty, scent, and all of their associations, I have to say I adore your poem! Thank you, too, for teaching me about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and her spunky attitude. 🙂 I like her poem, as well – I always find it interesting how beautiful poetry in other languages often translates so well into English. True poets, then, really understand their word choices, so that they sound good in any language (my opinion).

    Liked by 1 person

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