Gabriela Mistral

 

"En la tierra seremos reinas,

y de verídico reinar, y siendo grandes nuestros

reinos, llegaremeos todas al mar."

-"Todas íbamos a ser reinas," TALA
 
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 Her Life 

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       Originally known as Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga, Gabriela Mistral may not be one of the most well-known Latin-American poets of the twentieth century, but her passionate poetry and distinctive voice gained her the honor of becoming the first Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945.
 
    Born in Vicuña, Chile, in 1889, she became an elementary schoolteacher and later continued her educational career as a college professor.  It was during this time and after the suicide of a romantic love interest that Mistral began to write poetry that would characterize her emotions and suffering.  Her three “Sonetos de la muerte” won her a Chilean award in 1914 and from then on, after establishing her poetic reputation, she would sign her work with the combined pseudonym of two of her favorite poets, Gabriele D’Annunzio and Frederic Mistral.

    A member of the cultural committee of the League of Nations and Chilean consul to Madrid, Lisbon, Nice, and Naples, Mistral combined her educational ministry with her poetic talent to influence those she visited.  In 1922 she was able to further her influence in Mexico, where upon the invitation of Jose Vasconcelos, she helped enhance the Mexican government’s attempts at educational reform.
 
    Education and reform were constant focuses of Mistral throughout her life, and it is quite possible that through her travels and exposure as an educator, her poetry became well known and valued by those with whom she came in contact.  Having lived through two world wars, Gabriela Mistral’s poetry occasionally slipped through the cracks of the cultural realm while the rest of the world paid more attention to political issues and literary works.  This fact may have influenced the long-term popularity of Mistral’s work, but her poetry remains full of emotion and sentiment, portraying her thoughts about suffering, love, and nostalgia in a distinct and passionately intimate manner.
   


Her Work 

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THEMES
PURPOSES and STYLISTIC CHARACTERISTICS
THEMES
 
    Mistral’s themes are repeated and unvaried throughout her work, but perhaps this continuity adds to the distinction and originality of her work.  Mistral’s attention to the theme of love, which resembles the same theme in the love poems of Neruda, appears in “Sonetos de la muerte” in 1914, a collection of love poems remembering the dead that spread her fame throughout Latin America.  In 1922, Mistral published her first notable collection of poems, Desolación, including “Dolor,” detailing the suicide of her former lover and plainly stating the theme of suffering which appears consistently in her work.  Another work entitled Ternura (1924) reflects the repercussions of her lover’s death and her failure to marry by incorporating the themes of maternal sentiments and tenderness toward childhood.   The theme of maternity further develeops in Mistral’s collection of poems entitled Tala, published in 1938.  Although her 1954 work Lagar entails broader themes surrounding the existence of humanity, most of her work focuses on a continued attention to death and the impoverished, as well as a nostalgic appreciation for childhood and maternal emotions.
  
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PURPOSES AND STYLISTIC CHARACTERISTICS

    Perhaps Mistral’s passionate tone is the characteristic that best defines her style and expresses her themes and purposes as a poet.  Mistral places less emphasis on appealing to academic interests and instead invokes sentimental emotions in her readers.  With an almost obsessive approach, Mistral’s personal tone, painstakingly selected words and passionate voice expose her feelings of suffering and maternal longing.

    Her work distinguishes itself from that of other poets because as a woman, Mistral is able to feel and convey maternal emotions from a different, more accurate point of view than her male peers.  She exhibits more maturity than her peers, and therefore the sentiment in her work is more introspective and less outwardly expressive than that of Neruda.  But nevertheless, her passion regarding the subject matter is equally as fervent.  Mistral’s purposes of escaping from her difficult past and cleansing herself from her suffering become apparent to the reader, but by making her objectives clear Mistral leaves little for the reader to discover individually.  She is therefore regarded as a flat character, without displaying the complexities of other, more famous Latin American authors.  Her serene, relaxed passion and maturity may be one of the reasons why Mistral’s fame never reached the height of other Laureates, but at the same time it is this passion that conveys her themes to the reader and distinguishes Mistral as a memorable Chilean and Latin American poet.
  

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Tala 

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     It is within her 1938 collection of poems, Tala (Destruction), that the reader discovers the most intense and illuminated examples of the passionate tone so characteristic of Gabriela Mistral’s style.  Mistral details and laments the destruction of land and tangible things as well as the destruction of her own beliefs, hopes, and well-being through themes common to her work including death, childhood, maternity, and the suffering land of Latin America.  Mistral’s nostalgic longings and and indirect allusions to her own internal suffering invoke the senses and emotions of the reader in eight distinct sections of poetry within this remarkable collection.
 
    The first section of Tala entitled “Muerte de mi madre” contains the poem “Lápida Filial,” which recounts Mistral’s sadness surrounding the death of her mother, described as she visits her mother’s gravesite.  In this poem, Mistral exhibits a great appreciation for maternal love with descriptions of “amados pechos que me nutrieron,” “parados ojos que me miraron,” and “mano pequeña que me tocaba,” in ways that no other person could have ever done for her.  She commands her mother to “resucitad, resucitad,” longing for her to come back and provide her with those special qualities unique to a mother.  However, Mistral’s maturity leaves her fully aware that her mother’s death is certain and her return is impossible.  All she can hope for is that “Cristo os reconozca y a otro país deis alegría,” meaning that she wishes for her mother to be chosen as one of God’s saints in heaven along with the heavenly host of other motherly saints, as seen in the biblical reference to “la vasta y santa sinfonía de viejas madres: la Macabea, Ana, Isabel, Lía, y Raquel!”  Equating her own mother with the motherly saints of the Bible, Mistral shows the true respect she holds for her mother as well as the longing she has for a maternal influence (Mistral, Tala, 13).
 
    Another section of Tala, “Alucinación,” displays the feelings of confusion and further suffering Mistral encompasses as she envisions, or “hallucinates,” what is occurring in the world surrounding her.  Titles in this section such as “Fantasma,” “Sombra,” and “Gracia” invoke sentiments of fear, solitude, and also religious feeling with light and dark imagery, religious allusions, and ghostly, magical depictions.  Once again, she references death in many of these poems, such as in “Dos Angeles,” a poem that compares “la muerte y la vida” with the two angels that Mistral claims to have: “el Angel que da el gozo y el que da la agonía.” She also makes a religious allusion in saying that “Sólo una vez volaron con las alas unidas: el día del amor, el de la Epifanía.”  The only day the two angels fly together is on the day of Epiphany, when the worldly come to know the heavenly (Tala, 35).
 
    Another magical reference to death surfaces in her portrayal of “Paraíso” as a “prado en que no habla nada” y “en que nada tiembla.”   The color gold is referenced continually with the words “el dorado,” y “dos ovillos de oro,”  describing the two souls who interact in heaven.  It seems that in this hallucination, one of the souls is God and the other is Mistral herself.  She listens to him talk, “un cuerpo glorioso que oye y un cuerpo glorioso que habla,” and can feel his breath, “un aliento que va al aliento y una cara que tiembla de él.”  Mistral remembers the “triste tiempo,” the time when both souls were alive, in comparison to the envision of heaven.  She explains that Time, personified as the giver of life, found both of the bodies living a sad, distressed life.  Changing the tone from one of amazement and oblivion in the description of heavenly life to a more depressing tone describing the worldly time effectively shows Mistral’s disgust with temporal life and longing for comforts similar to those one would find in paradise (Tala, 36).
 
    In the section entitled “Saudade,” a Latin American variation of the word, "soledades," Mistral reveals her immense internal sadness due to her own solitude.  This sadness, stemming from her solitary life without marriage or children, characterizes many of the poems in this section and furthermore, in all of Tala.  Perhaps the poem that best displays her inner grief is "Todos íbamos a ser reinas," which shows her desire to return to her childhood and her feelings of remorse knowing that her dreams as a young girl will not be fulfilled.  To portray this grief, Mistral utilizes the innocence of youth as she nostalgically remembers her childhood dream of becoming imaginary queens "de cuatro reinos sobre el mar: Rosalia con Efigenia y Lucila con Soledad" (93).

    Throughout the poem, Mistral's verses mimic statements likely to be made by young girls predicting their romantic futures—who they will marry, where they will live, and what their children will be like—in order to explain the impossiblilty of her own expectations as a woman.  The young girls, or queens, in this poem will be drunk with their luxury and will dress accordingly, "con las trenzas de los siete anos, y batas claras de percal…" (94).  Mistral had expected to marry and draws similarities to this wish with the declaration by the girls that "cuatro esposos desposarían…eran reyes y cantadores como David, rey de Judá" (94).  The girls' wish to marry men of high status further extends Mistral's hidden suffering because it shows that she believes her expectations, like those of the girls, are extremely outrageous and never will be fulfilled.  In reality, her dreams have yet to be realized; in fact, her dreams have been shattered because her only lover committed suicide and her chances to marry and have children are practically nonexistent.  The theme of innocence manifests as the girls dream of and expect a perfect world in their future.  However, at the same time Mistral incorporates the theme of nostalgia, wishing that she, too, could be looking at the world from a young girl's eyes, instead of lamenting her unfulfilled aspirations.

    Mistral continually references the sea throughout the poem: the queens rule over "cuatro reinos sobre el mar," (93) and as a conclusion to several stanzas, "y llegaríamos hasta el mar," and "alcanzarían hasta el mar" (94).  The imaginary characters always find themselves heading toward the sea, which may be a reference to death or impossibility, because the sea is endless and may never answer the girls' dreams.  In predicting the futures of the newly-declared queens, Mistral explains that "Rosalía besó marino ya desposado con el mar," and that "Soledad crió siete hermanos…y sus ojos quedaron negros de no haber visto nunca el mar" (95).  Both of these queens realize soon enough that their vision of the world is only a fantasy and that reality is not as magical as they had planned.  Only Lucila, "que hablaba a río, a montaña y cañaveral…recibió reino de verdad" (95) because she did not depend on marrying a man like Rosalía or on raising children like Soledad.  Mistral knows the bitterness that accompanies a life of solitude, and therefore ends her nostalgic poem with the statement that "las que vienen cantarán;" (96) that children in the Valle de Elqui will continue to dream to be queens of the land, and that eventually, everyone will arrive at the sea, an unknown destiny.
 
    The themes of nostalgia, death, suffering, and the innocence of childhood so typical of Gabriela Mistral come together in the exceptional collection Tala, which exposes the author's true sentiments of grief and concerning the world around her and, more importantly, her own identity.  The poems of Tala reveal an introspective nostalgia and pain Mistral feels due to the lack of marriage and children in her life.  Throughout Tala, the repercussions of Mistral's unanswered aspirations present themselves in a manner so intense and passionate that after completing the eight sections of the work, the reader can sense Mistral's incredible suffering from the destruction of her world, her hopes, and herself.

 
 

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Bibliography 

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 "Biography of Gabriela Mistral." The Nobel Foundation Page.
http://www.nobel.se/laureates/literature-1945-1-bio.html

"Biografía: Gabriela Mistral." Netscape.
http://www.dibam.renib.cl/isc628.htm

"Mistral, Gabriela" Britannica Online.
 http://www.eb.com:180/cgi-bin/g?DocF=micro/397/22.html
       [Accessed 26 March 1998].

Mistral, Gabriela. Tala. Editorial Losada: Buenos Aires, 1946.
 

  



Selected Works 
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 Sonetos de la muerte
Desolación
Ternura
Tala
Lagar
Poema de Chile