The Name of the Rose

When I was 23 years old, I took a walk by the river near my father’s house on an early summer day. While walking behind our neighbor’s yards, my eyes fell on a single red rose, the only one of its kind behind the fence. Stunned by its singular beauty, I stopped for a only moment, before I shuddered and hurried to continue on my way.

I quickly rushed away, scared my neighbor would see me and confront me. I walked away as fast as I could manage, but not because I was afraid he’d be upset at my intrusion on his land, that was only an incidental afterthought.

Without wanting to, I imagined the man would come down to where I stood, smile, and hold out to me the severed bloom, this innocent wounded beauty.

“What’s wrong with that?” I questioned myself. “You should be thinking of how fortunate you’d be instead.”

But my allegiances had spontaneously established themselves.

I now only had sympathy for the rose.

rosa-encarnada

Not long afterwards, I discovered the poetry of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. I accepted it as a gift, and I felt thankful that she had written what I’d been too timid to even admit to myself.

So in gratitude to her, I chose to translate a poem of hers which spoke the words I’d never even allowed to become conscious. 

Proof of the Apparent Danger that, Once Possessed, Beauty is then Abandoned

Rose incarnate flaunts proudly to the meadow,
bathed in cochineal and carmine:
luscious, in lush open fields;
but no, for being beautiful
you will also be sorry.
Do you see, the first white light rushing
towards the Dawn?
So the risk becomes more imposing
as much as one’s beauty grows more impressive.
Don’t believe it makes you invincible:
If, misguided, you consent,
to be cut by an insolent hand
for the seduction of beauty and fragrance,
When guilty cheeks can no longer blush
you will also be sorry.
You see that charm which collects
assurance with his courtesies?
Then don’t esteem beauty
more potent than lust.
Run from the calculated caress;
if, imprudent and ingenuous,
you convince yourself that you are loved,
you’ll find yourself coming;
who, in coming to be possessed,
will also be sorry.
Surrender your beauty to nobody,
for it’s a crime that your perfection
should serve as conquest for his vanity.
Take pleasure in ordinary eminence,
without finding yourself the servant
of one who, once conquered,
won’t properly respect you;
you who, singularly had,
will also be sorry.

Anyway, even today, I think of the rose with compassion. I don’t  believe we’re really that different, after all.

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