This poem was written in 1943 by Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos. In this piece, she elaborates on the differences between her public and private identities.
In the poem, Julia de Burgos fights against herself—her inner self is the poetic voice that criticizes how her public self (“you” in this sense—the poem is written in the second person point of view) how she is submissive to the restrictions imposed by the society in which she lives. The private figure Julia, on the other hand, is free and lives as she wants whether society approves or not. As a result, she feels superior and more moral than the other Julia that bends to the wishes of others.
Public Julia cares a lot about social pressures and prejudice, and lets others control her and how she acts in her life. She is not authentic and she wears a mask that hides her true self from her. Seeing the way Public Julia acts, the poetic voice declares that the public figure represents the complete opposite of who she really is.
This piece was written in 1943 and reflects the themes of feminismo and la vanguardia which were gaining popularity at the time. “La vanguardia”, or avant-garde, refers to new and experimental ideas and movements within the arts.
During this time period, art became increasingly politicized, including literature. This was a result of the social and political turmoil across the world, but especially in Latin America—throughout the 1900s, the region faced multiple civil wars and uprisings, as well as widespread hunger and nuclear danger. As a result, there are many existential themes in the works of this era—as writers questioned the world around them, many also questioned themselves and their roles in society.
Julia de Burgos was a teacher who fought for the rights of women, workers, and those who belonged to black culture. Her works were very important in the feminist movement. She was a vocal advocate for Puerto Rican independence as well, and her poetry often reflected her political views and her experiences as a woman of color in the United States.
In this poem, which she named “A Julia de Burgos” as a letter to herself, she criticizes how she bends the norms of society outwardly in order to gain favor with the people around her.
This poem is written with versos alejandrinos y rima suelto—Alexandrian verses (with each verse having 12 syllables) and loose rhyme.
The voz poetica, or poetic voice in this poem, is “the real” Julia de Burgos—the one that lives as she wants to, without caring about how society expects her to behave. The poem reflects the anger that her inner self has towards how she acts on the outside and is addressed towards the side of her that society sees. In this way, she establishes a difference between the writer of the poem and the one who it is addressed to.
The title of the poem is symbolic and literal at the same time: Julia de Burgos is writing a letter to herself but draws a boundary between the Julia that is writing the letter and the Julia that the letter is addressed to. This poem, while personal to Julia, also represents the battle that exists within each one of us—between our physical self, subject to the constraints of society, and our internal self, that lives as freely as we like.
Be aware of the following literary devices used in this poem:
Anáfora y apostrofe: “Tu” is repeated in 10 out of 14 stanzas—this emphasizes that the author wrote and addressed the poem to herself, as it is addressed towards herself from the outside perspective.
Alusion: The voz poética, which is the inner real personality of Julia de Burgos, compares herself to Rocinante, the horse of Don Quixote, in how she has the freedom to think for herself and make her own decisions. Julia de Burgos does this to emphasize the differences in how she is on the inside and outside, since outwardly she is forced to follow the rules of society.
Repeticion: "Tú" and "yo" are repeated throughout the poem-- In this way, Julia de Burgos uses binarismos, or binarisms, to underline the difference between the poetic voice and the public figure.
Prosopopeya: When Julia says “A mí me riza el viento / a mí me pinta el sol”, she states literally that the wind ruffles her and the sun paints her. The use of such personification emphasizes how free the author Julia is compared to the public figure Julia, and contrasts the simplicity of the former with the superficiality of the latter.
In this poem, Julia de Burgos shows us 2 sides to her: the Julia that is a prisoner of social rules, and the Julia that is free when she writes. In this way, Julia depicts the differences between su imagen publica y su imagen privada: her public image and her private image.
"La que se alza en mis versos no es tu voz" - "The one that rises in my verses is not your voice"
With this line, Julia draws a boundary and sets her real self apart from the one subject to the pain of living amongst her society.
"La construccion del genero", which literally translates to "the construction of gender", refers to how Modernist poets and those who strove to push boundaries with their work sought to redefine gender roles. Throughout this poem, Julia de Burgos does this by illustrating her ideal way of living, which she is unable to do in her real life.
"Tú eres dama casera, resignada, sumisa" - "You are a housewife, resigned, submissive"
"En ti mandan tu esposo, tus padres, tus parientes..." - "In you rule your husband, your parents, your relatives..."
The above two quotes show how in her everyday life, Julia is restricted by the people around her and how they expect her to live. Puerto Rican society in 1943 demanded her to be a housewife subject to the demands of the people around her without any voice of her own, which Julia found quite restricting.
Julia de Burgos made great contributions to Latin American literature and worked to promote an image of the new Puerto Rican woman that broke many oppressive social standards of the time. In the same vein, this Modernist poem works to reconcile the differences between the archaic idea of a submissive woman, versus a woman that is allowed to have her own identity.