Green Enchantment (Verde Embeleso) by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

This entry is part 2 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Watch on Vimeo.

Green enchantment of every human life,
mad hope, delirious golden fever,
convoluted sleep of the sleepless
where dream and treasure are equally elusive;

soul of this world, leafy senescence,
decrepit fantasy of green
that the happy call today
and the unhappy, tomorrow:

let those who wear green glasses
and see everything just as their desire paints it
chase your shadow in search of a new morning.

For my part, I’ll give fate the greater latitude,
keep eyes in both my hands
and look no farther than I can touch.

My translation of the sonnet “Verde embeleso de la vida humana” (1688) by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. I first shared it in a blog post back in 2007: “Through green glasses.” Rather than simply re-posting it, I decided to add value by making a videopoem, and roped in my Via Negativa co-author Luisa Igloria to contribute a reading for the soundtrack. The norm for videopoems of translated texts is to put the original language in the soundtrack and the translation in subtitles, but I decided to reverse that here, just as an experiment. I wanted to make the poem feel less foreign to an English-language audience.

I thought of the poem only after I filmed the meadow footage featured in the video. (That’s my parents’ front lawn. Dad always waits to mow until after the dandelions and ajuga are done blooming; they share my general preference for weeds over boring grass.) I love films with long, stationary or slowly panning shots in which the world is simply going about its business, and the original plan for this videopoem was to have that, the titling, and nothing else. But mid-way through the editing process, I woke up early one morning with the idea of adding crowds of people as an overlay. One thing led to another, I found some crazy-ass 1960s TV ads in the Prelinger Archives, and by last night I finally had something I was happy with. For the music, I used a public-domain guitar interpretation of Albéniz from Wikimedia, reasoning that something from the 19th century would help bridge the gap between the 17th and 21st centuries. For the same reason, I used a contemporary-looking font with serifs.

To my mind, a videopoem that doesn’t reinterpret the text in a manner different from what its author intended isn’t a real videopoem. But as Lorca much later showed, verde (green) is one of those words with an almost unlimited number of connotations. So this is more than a translation; it’s a complete re-imagining. Then again, human nature hasn’t changed in the last 400 years, and deciding to live in the moment rather than living in hope is, if anything, wiser than ever.

Series Navigation← The Other (El Otro) by Rosario CastellanosThe discovery of things I’ve never seen: five poems by Oswald de Andrade →


2 Replies to “Green Enchantment (Verde Embeleso) by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz”

  1. I love this, Dave, and it has special meaning for me because whenever we’re in Mexico City we eat at the culinary school that is now housed in Sor Juana’s old convent, and spend a few minutes in the convent church. She is everywhere down there, on everything from stamps to school workbooks,and greatly revered, while being a poet I had never heard of before becoming interested in Mexico.

    1. Cool. Of course, poets in general are more revered in Latin American culture. Imagine if we tried to put Walt Whitman on the 100-dollar bill, the way Mexico put Nezahaulcoyotl on the 100-peso note. Everybody would be like, “but he was just a poet! He didn’t do anything important!”

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