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    a banquet table covered with delicious food

    Poem: “When You Pursue Me, World”

    In this new English translation, a seventeenth-century Mexican poet and nun prizes learning over luxuries.

    By Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Rhina P. Espaillat

    December 6, 2022
    • Cody Bro

      It's fascinating to me how a 17th century poem can speak to modern conditions. I really enjoy the opening line” “When you pursue me, world, why do you do it?”. I think the world pursues us all the time, it pursues us for profit. The poet de la Cruz prefers seeking truth, but the world tells us we shouldn’t bother because all the answers can be googled in the palm of our hands. Why bother wondering when we can learn any answer at the stroke of a key. I think it's even harder today to escape the pursuit of the world when corporations have entire divisions devoted to capturing and maintaining our mindless attention in order to generate more revenue. Humans have always sought worldly treasure, but now more than ever the world fuels that drive over the other drive humans have sought: truth.

    When You Pursue Me, World

    In which the poet complains of her fate, notes her aversion to luxuries, and justifies her pleasure in the Muses.

    When you pursue me, world, why do you do it?
    How do I harm you, when my sole intent
    is to make learning my prize ornament,
    not learn to prize ornament and pursue it?

    I have no treasure, and I do not rue it,
    since all my life I have been most content
    rendering mind—by learning—opulent,
    not minding opulence, rendering tribute to it.

    I have no taste for beauties that decay
    and are the spoil of ages as they flee,
    nor do those riches please me that betray;

    best of all truths I hold this truth to be:
    cast all the vanities of life away,
    and not your life away on vanity.

    Translation, Rhina P. Espaillat

    a banquet table covered with delicious food

    Adriaen van Utrecht, Banquet Still Life, 1664

    En perseguirme, mundo, qué interesas?

    ¿En perseguirme, mundo, qué interesas?
    ¿En qué te ofendo, cuando sólo intento
    poner bellezas en mi entendimiento
    y no mi entendimiento en las bellezas?

    Yo no estimo tesoros ni riquezas,
    y así, siempre me causa más contento
    poner riquezas en mi entendimiento
    que no mi entendimiento en las riquezas.

    Yo no estimo hermosura que vencida
    es despojo civil de las edades
    ni riqueza me agrada fementida,

    teniendo por mejor en mis verdades
    consumir vanidades de la vida
    que consumir la vida en vanidades.

    Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648–1695)

    Contributed By Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

    Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648–1695) was a Hieronymite nun and renowned writer, philosopher, composer and poet of the Mexican Baroque.

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    Contributed By RhinaEspaillat Rhina P. Espaillat

    Rhina P. Espaillat, a bilingual poet, is winner of numerous prizes including the T. S. Eliot Prize, the Richard Wilbur Award, and (twice) the Howard Nemerov Sonnet award.

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