Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Sor Juana, the Poet: The Sonnets

Created March 1, 2011

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

What is Sor Juana Wearing?

Credit: Portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrera (painted in 1750), courtesy of Wiki Commons | Retrato de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz de Miguel Cabrera (pintado en 1750), cortesía de Wiki Commons

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

-- Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz from the Cervantes Virtual Library

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a major literary figure and the first great Latin American poet, is a product of el Siglo de Oro Español (Spanish Golden Age). El Siglo de Oro is one of the richest periods of literary production for Spain and the Spanish-speaking New World, and one in which form is more important than content, with a copious use of literary devices and the use of a complex, Latinized type of Spanish. These are qualities particularly seen in the sonnet, the chief verse form of this period.

In this lesson students will analyze two of Sor Juana’s sonnets: “A su retrato” and “En perseguirme, Mundo, ¿qué interesas?” in their original language of publication. The major characteristics of Spanish Golden Age poetry will be identified by analyzing the language, the structure, and the poetic devices used. Particular attention will be paid to the style el gongorismo (named after the great Spanish Golden Age poet Luis de Góngora y Argote), characterized by an “extreme Baroque,” including the Latinizing of language through an altered syntax, Latin terms, classical references, copious use of poetic devices, and the use of difficult vocabulary.

(For Spanish version of lesson click here.)

Guiding Questions

  • Why is Sor Juana considered one of the most important poets of the Baroque movement and the first great poet of Latin America?
  • What characteristics of the Baroque and of el gongorismo can be identified in the sonnets of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz?

(For Spanish version of lesson click here.)

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

  • Understand how the historical and cultural contexts influence literary creation
  • Identify and effectively analyze sonnets of the Spanish Golden Age in Spanish
  • Listen and comprehend; read and analytically write about poetry in Spanish.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the structure of the Petrarchan sonnet by going to the sonnet section of the English 88 poetry site of the University of Pennsylvania. Essential terminology to analyze poetry in Spanish can be found in EDSITEment’s Glosario poético básico (Basic Poetic Glossary). Note especially characteristic verse forms of this period, namely, versos endecasílabos with Italianate rhyme scheme, rima consonante, and versos de arte mayor, which the Spanish Golden Age poets used in the sonnets in contrast to versos de arte menor.
  • Using the EDSITEment-reviewed English language site Silva Rhetoricae from Brigham Young University, review the poetic device of chiasmus (quiasmo).  See also the University of Toronto’s Representative Poetry Online for the literary concepts ubi sunt and carpe diem. (Worksheets for Activities 3 and 4 will guide students to identify these themes and literary tropes in the sonnets.)
  • The last activity of this lesson plan will direct students to work with the EDSITEment-created interactive “What Is Sor Juana Wearing?” This activity will give students the opportunity to interactively and independently learn more about Sor Juana and, particularly, about her life as a nun. This interactive will quiz students as they study the different parts of Sor Juana’s habit, and her surroundings in the featured painting. The students will be then asked to write a brief essay to underline what they learned. Note that students will require computer and Internet access to complete this activity.

In Activities 1 and 2, students will gain familiarity with the sonnet form and the musical quality of the poetry of the Spanish Golden Age through listening-comprehension and writing activities. The analyses of the two sonnets in Activities 3 and 4, and their corresponding worksheets will provide practice for students to write about poetry by exploring and understanding the characteristics of el gongorismo as a literary tendency of the Spanish Baroque. The first two activities are designed to precede the second two. For Activity 4, the teacher must familiarize students with the problems Sor Juana had with the ecclesiastical authorities (due to her gender and her intellectual pursuits) in order for them to be able to complete the essay writing assignments. Note: Internet access is necessary to use the sonnets put to music in Activities 1 and 2, with corresponding worksheets.

(For Spanish version of lesson click here.)

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Escucha la música: “A su retrato”

This audio-comprehension activity is meant for students to discuss and analyze the content or theme of the sonnet “A su retrato.” Students recall significant words from each line of the sonnet, listen to the sonnet in song, and fill in the blanks of the sonnet on the worksheet. The follow-up essay further tests students on their understanding of the meaning of the sonnet by specifically asking them to discuss whether or not this is a pessimistic sonnet, using examples, and how the words they added support this. The students will also be asked to discuss any Latin themes they find in the sonnet (i.e. memento homo, ubi sunt, and tempus fugit, which can be found in the glossary). This activity is an important preparation for Activity 3, which will guide students through an in-depth analysis of the form and content of this sonnet. Ensure that you have a way to play audio from the Internet for the listening comprehension worksheet (in Spanish) for the sonnet “A su retrato.” If desired, create one transparency of the worksheet. Play the sonnet at: http://russellmcluff.com/music.html, by clicking on the “music” tab. First, listen as a group to the song, then distribute the worksheets among the students. Play the song again, instructing students to fill in the blanks of the missing words of the sonnet individually or as a group, if working with a transparency or white board. Clear up any new vocabulary for the students or assign this as homework. The essay assignment of the worksheet may function as homework, or for an allotted period of class time. Students can be further tested through the EDSITEment-created interactive, the Sonnet Unscrambler, on the sonnet “A su retrato.”

Activity 2. Escucha la música: “En perseguirme, Mundo, ¿qué interesas?”

This audio-comprehension activity is meant for students to discuss and analyze the content or theme of the sonnet “En perseguirme, Mundo, ¿qué interesas?” Students recall significant words from each line of the sonnet, listen to the sonnet in song, and fill in the blanks of the worksheet (in Spanish) for the sonnet “En perseguirme, Mundo, ¿qué interesas?”. The follow-up essay question further tests students on their understanding of the structure and meaning of the sonnet. This activity is important preparation for Activity 4, below, which will guide students through an in-depth analysis of the form and content of this sonnet. The activity will direct students to write an essay on the meaning of the missing words of the listening-comprehension exercise. They will also be asked to discuss literary devices they initially noticed in the poem — in particular those which might have involved the filled-in words. Ensure that you have a way to play audio from the Internet for the class in order to do the activities of the listening-comprehension worksheet for the sonnet “En perseguirme, Mundo, ¿qué interesas?”.  If desired, create a transparency of the worksheet. Play the sonnet at: http://russellmcluff.com/music.html, by clicking on the “music” tab. Proceed as in Activity 1.

Activity 3. Deconstruyendo un soneto: “A su retrato”

Using the worksheet (in Spanish) included in this lesson for the sonnet “A su retrato,” students analyze the structure and form of the sonnet and learn the importance of “form,” so characteristic of el gongorismo. The worksheet for this activity asks students to analyze, in depth, the structure and meaning of the sonnet, “A su retrato,” and the sonnet written by Góngora, “Mientras por competir por tu cabello” that inspired it. Students will also write brief essays on the poetic devices and Baroque elements found in both sonnets, comparing and contrasting them. This worksheet includes a chart for the students to analyze the internal structure of the sonnet “Mientras por competir por tu cabello” by Góngora.

Activity 4. Deconstruyendo un soneto: “En perseguirme, Mundo, ¿qué interesas?”

Using the worksheet included in this lesson for the sonnet “En perseguirme, Mundo, ¿qué interesas?” (in Spanish) analyze the structure and form of the sonnet. Work together with the students, ensuring that they can identify in this sonnet elements of the Baroque and el gongorismo. The worksheet can be used as a transparency to analyze the poem while students do so on their own worksheets. Activity 2 will have prepared students to write two essays analyzing this sonnet, its tone, literary devices used (paying close attention to los quiasmos), and meaning, as it relates to Sor Juana’s life. Ensure that the students receive enough background for the second essay question regarding the life of Sor Juana and her problems with the ecclesiastical authorities.

Activity 5. What Is Sor Juana Wearing?

Using the EDSITEment-created interactive, “What Is Sor Juana Wearing?”, direct students to go through all the different parts of the habit that Sor Juana is wearing and the highlighted details of her surroundings with their mouse. Ensure that the students read all the information carefully, and ask them to answer all the questions and to take notes. When the students have completed the activity, they should have their work printed (their answers to the questions and their notes).  To finish, you can ask students to write a brief response about what they learned.

Assessment

  • Have students build a portfolio of the lesson activities on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, including the work they did on the worksheets.
  • Have them write a one or two page essay analyzing one of the sonnets studied in the lesson.
  • Students should be given the following instructions to structure their analysis: make an opening statement (What is this poem about?); Consider and talk about the poetic voice (who is speaking and to whom?); Comment on the tone of the poetic voice (is it positive or negative? Is it angry or cheerful?); Discuss at least three different literary devices with specific examples; Is the poem in the third or first person? What impact does this have? Discuss the effect this poem has on you (What does it transmit to you? Is it effective or not?). Conclude your essay with a closing statement, talking about what you think of the poem’s message.

(For Spanish version of lesson click here.)

Extending The Lesson

Translation Exercise: Avoiding the use of an English-Spanish dictionary, have small groups of students select one of the two sonnets by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz studied in class or other sonnets by Sor Juana, which can be accessed through the bilingual Sweet Briar College Golden Age poetry website. Ask the groups to translate into English the selected sonnet. The groups can present the final products to the rest of the class. These translations can further be put on a bulletin board of the classroom, along with the original sonnets in Spanish, creating a small poetry or Sor Juana’s corner. You can discuss with the students how the rhyme and meter are very difficult to imitate because of linguistic differences. Additionally, students can be asked to attempt their own composition following the complex Golden Age poetic style, writing a few verses in Spanish of eleven syllables, with perfect rhyme. (For Spanish version of lesson click here.)

Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Biography
  • Foreign Language > Modern > Spanish
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
  • Literature and Language Arts
Skills
  • Cultural analysis
  • Literary analysis

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