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~~a glosa~~

To perceive you so exalted
does not impede my boldness;
that there resides no certain deity
upon the arrogant sole of thought.

—“My Divine Lysis”, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

I’ve made a habit of living
in beautiful places
of the mind, eschewing
bored walks in favour
of weathered planks along
a beach. I have been faulted,
as have you, for over-stretching
what is plausible and then go slack,
however much I wanted
to perceive you so exalted.

For a time, it seemed,
we held each other’s fondest
hopes like plover’s eggs,
my palm in yours, so trusting.
Life outgrows itself. I grew,
but you took coldness
as your guide, descending
to a squalor that, by living low
proves wrongly that I love you less
does not impede my boldness

in these words I write
expecting you might stumble
in this season to a glorified
and kinder reason.
Sweet decay of all that’s ill-
conceived by gravity
will one day rise again
in freshening your pessimistic arc
some god will tip and know with levity
that there resides no certain deity

for certainty, as every dancing
angel knows is diamond tipped,
a needle, while your camel’s eye
toward bleak and arid one day
must allow for rain and joy and hopes
for humankind. That’s all we’ve got
for now, my love. Fare well. I long
for you to hear the bells I ring,
conceding what you’ve wrought
upon the arrogant sole of thought.


Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695) was an outspoken mystic and scholar who lived in New Spain, present-day Mexico. The form of this poem, a glosa, honours a quatrain excerpted from her work. Glosas were popular in medieval Spain, and I’ve been in love with them for about eight years now. I wrote an entire book of glosas, which you can find here if you’re interested.

A note on her title: Lysis is defined as disintegration and decline. Assigning divinity to what might be perceived as negative speaks volumes, I believe, for de la Cruz’s worldview. Here is the selected quatrain in its original:

Que mirarte tan alta,
no impide a mi denuedo;
que no hay deidad segura
al altivo volar del pensamiento.

Merry Christmas, all!


© Elaine Stirling, 2018
Translation of Sor Juana de la Cruz, “La Divina Lysis” by Elaine Stirling
Image of Leuty Lighthouse: photographer unknown