the self, the world

by sister juana ines de la cruz



For a little while, sad Thought,

let’s pretend I’ve a happy lot.

You may actually convince me,

though now I’m convinced I do not.


In feeling apprehension

they say the trouble lies:

if you’ll only feel you’re happy,

you needn’t be otherwise.


Let my intelligence serve,

for once, as a source of comfort.

Must wit forever remain

an enemy to profit?


The world is full of opinions

of what is or is not true;

whatever is black for one

will be white in another’s view


What one man finds attractive

will make another recoil;

while what brings one man relief,

another rejects as toil.


The man who is sad condemns

the cheerful man as inane,

while the cheerful are greatly amused

when they hear the sad complain.


Those two old thinkers of Greece

were always of opposite cheer:

what split the one with laughter

reduced the other to tears.


The centuries since their time

have echoed their difference of view,

but no one can ever decide

which opinion is false, which true.



If my wits are mine alone,

why must they always be

inept at doing me good,

adroit at harming me?


Reason, just like a sword,

can be wielded at either end:

the blade, to wound to the death;

the hilt, to provide defense.


If, well aware of the danger,

you insist on using the blade,

how can you blame the sword

for a choice you yourself have made?


It’s no wisdom to use one’s mind

for subtle but hollow display:

true wisdom simply consists

in choosing the sounder way.


To deal in portents of trouble

and ominous speculation

will only compound disaster

with a burden of expectation.


When it dwells on imagined troubles,

the mind is all tribulation;

later on, it will find real danger

less frightening than anticipation.


How happy in his unknowing

is the man unlettered yet wise,

who finds relief from suffering

in what no knowledge supplies.


The boldest flights of wit

will be buffeted by the wind;

though aspiring to thrones of fire,

in tombs of tears they will end.


Learning is one more vice.

Unless deterred, its ambition,

when the learned least expect,

will lead them straight to perdition.


If its course is not deflected,

on subtleties learning feeds,

impertinently inquisitive,

indifferent to genuine needs.



What mad ambition drives us

to forget ourselves, to our grief?

What use is all our learning,

when human life is so brief?


What we need is a seminar

with no other aim than showing

not the ways of human learning

but the comforts of not knowing.


Exempt from need for caution,

taking pleasure in all things,

we’d scoff at whatever threats

the stars’ influence brings.


Thought, let’s learn not to know,

since so plainly it appears

that whatever we add to our minds

we take away from our years.


translation by alan s. trueblood


editors:  spitball fury & frank freedom


About Rawclyde!

I have employed a few pen names throughout the years. Rawclyde with an exclamation mark (!) is the one too sticky to go away...
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