"En la tierra seremos reinas,
y de verídico reinar, y siendo grandes
reinos, llegaremeos todas al mar."
-"Todas íbamos a ser reinas,"
Chilean poet and educator
Passionate and mature
sense of style
Recipient of Nobel Prize:
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
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
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.
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
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,
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.
"Biography of Gabriela
Mistral." The Nobel Foundation Page.
Gabriela Mistral." Netscape.
[Accessed 26 March 1998].
Tala. Editorial Losada: Buenos Aires, 1946.
Sonetos de la
Poema de Chile