the self, the world

by sister juana ines de la cruz

1648-1695

~

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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