You Silly Men!

Thirty-five years ago a friend in Mexico City confided that my version of Sor Juana’s notorious remonstrance against the hypocrisy of men, Hombres necios, was exactly what this 17th century nun would have written today in English, if she were alive. Not so sure about that but I found translating it to be a wonderful experience working out how much rhyme can be wrung out of English


You silly men impugn the Dame
with innuendo out of mind
yet remain so blind —
you cause the things you blame.

You insist that women’s
wile is nothing but a slight,
make believe that she’s upright,
then deplore her sins.

Sieges laid and won
you put to her frivolity
and boast about the levity
of her you wish a nun.

Is she not a boogey-man
you brandish like a boy,
this woman you enjoy
then flee as fast you can?

You stupid men think that life
is but prudery or smut:
you want her — she’s a slut;
you have her– she’s your wife.

What temper could be queerer
or prone to greater error
than breathing on a mirror
you grumble is not clear?

Upon rebuff and grace
you men set the same store.
You scorn her if you score
but beg for her embrace.

Repute no woman earns,
prudent though she be.
If she lets you, she’s too free;
she’s frigid if she spurns.

Impartial but unfair,
stupidly you tax
the one who is too lax
with she who brings despair.

What should be the demeanor
of the one who wants you?
She’s chaste: you say she haunts you.
She’s not: you demean her.

Between the lust and loathing
you speak so smugly of,
luckier she who does not love
than she who lifts her clothing.

For first your flirting lures
into a sordid snare,
then piously you damn with prayer
the pleasure love procures.

Who deserves our clemency
once the bar is breached,
she who was beseeched,
or he who begged on bended knee?

Whose guilt is at the origin
though both have gone astray,
the one who sins for pay,
or he who pays to sin?

Why does it astound
you we resent your taunts?
Figure out your wants
or love what you have found.

If you would cease to woo,
yours would be the right
to reprove the appetite
of whoever came to you.

By every trick you enmesh
us in the web of your conceit.
Fie!  In you we women meet
World and Devil in the flesh.


My favourite video version of the Spanish is at

The text in Spanish:

Highly recommended, Octavio Paz’s bio of Sor Juana: