“The shadow of night mounted the earth, aspiring to reach heaven, whose distant starts scorned its bellicosity. It could not even penetrate to the far—the convex—side of the sphere of the moon and had to be content with fouling the zone of air surrounding the earth. There at least it imposed silence, allowing at most the muffled calls of night birds, such as the owl—Nycimene—who perversely consumes the olive oil that feeds holy lamps in churches. It also allowed the cry of the bats, once sisters punished for being disrespectful to Bacchus and now so afraid of the light that they envelop themselves in denser darkness within the darkness of night. Along with the screech owl—Ascalaphus—these birds droned on in a sluggish, discordant, sleep-inducing chorus that made Night’s summons to inviolate silence and repose easy for every creature of land and sea, not excluding the kingfisher—Halcyon—to obey.
In their inaccessible mountain caves the animals of the wild, the ferocious as well as the timid, were reduced by Nature to a common state of slumber, even the open-eyed lion, king of beasts, was only feigning wakefulness, with the sensitive stag—Actaeion—through his sleep caught the faintest sounds and nervously twitched his ears. In their well-hidden nests the birds were likewise slumbering—all but the eagle, who takes seriously his royal obligations as king of them all and adopts a special posture in order to stay awake. This never-ending obligation of vigilance may explain the circularity characterized by no beginning or end, of the crown worn by the king.
The time of silence was drawing to a close, the night was half over, and the limbs, worn out from their daily tasks, were sunk in deep sleep. They were fatigued not only by bodily exertion but exhausted by pleasure—for even a pleasant object constantly before the senses tires them, whence Nature is always shifting weight from one side of the scale to the other, as her needle logs all the activity of the complex clockwork of the universe. The slumber of the limbs had thus released the senses temporarily from what must be considered labor however much loved, and the senses had succumbed to sleep, which, as Death’s image, always eventually wins out over humble and powerful alike, over pope and peasant, over the emperor whose palace the Danube mirrors, and the poor rustic.
The soul, free of her daytime task of governing the body, and half detached from it, pays limbs and bones the wages in the form of the heat that characterizes all things living, from the plant upward. The body, like a corpse with a soul, shows, like a clock, languid but well-regulated signs of life in the pulsing arteries.
The human clock, the heart, and its ally, the lungs, give unimpeachable testimony of ongoing life. The latter, like a bellows or a magnet for the wind, by expanding and contracting the neck, draw in warm cool air, but this last, in retaliation for being expelled, keeps carrying off traces of heat, whose cumulative loss will one day result in death. These senses, by their silence, dispute the evidence of heart and lung that life persists; so does the silent tongue.”
Read by J. Handwerg
Juana Inés de la Cruz, “First Dream.” A Sor Juana Anthology. Translated by Alan S. Trueblood. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1988.