Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Most critical to the poems collected in Tala, translated as “felling” or “harvesting,” are the themes of sorrow and recovery, loss of faith and redemption. In its metaphysical thematic schema, Mistral’s poem reveals life as a pilgrimage leading to death as a final liberation from the misery of the human world. She searches for universal principles that guide humans through life’s sorrows and fears. Abstract universal concepts are conveyed by particular symbols. The symbolic language is a precise tool that transforms simple experiences into divine transcendence. Through it, Mistral expresses the heights and depths of human experience.

The ambience of Puerto Rico attracted Mistral, and the poem intends to convey its exotic tropical atmosphere as well as its purity and simplicity uncontaminated by civilization. The narrative is transformed by poetic language that echoes the movement of the surf’s ebb and flow. While the poet sings her praise to Puerto Rico and its natural beauty, her love and awe for the Caribbean islands is overshadowed in the final stanza by a sense of alienation and spiritual duality. The bounty and splendor of nature leads the speaker to a false epiphany. In it, she discovers spiritual emptiness. The song of praise that characterizes the first three stanzas falls into mourning in the fourth stanza as the speaker abandons her hilltop alleluia and departs empty-handed in silence. The speaker laments: “And in my breast and through my veins/ falls my blood, struck with anguish and fear.” Despite a temporary flight from her human suffering, she must return to examine and overcome her anguish and fear. Otherwise, a true and enduring spiritual transformation is unattainable.