Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral

by Lucila Godoy Alcayaga

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I was reading poems by Gabriela Mistral, and it made me wonder what Mistral feels about love and losing her love. How can we analyze her poem “The Useless Wait”? What is so important here? What is so painful about love?

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Gabriela Mistral’s poem “The Useless Wait” speaks to the sorrow of loss of love, specifically grief after the death of a loved one.

The speaker in “The Useless Wait” tells the reader about the fate of their lover in several passages within the poem, most notably the first and final lines. In the former, the speaker says their lover’s “light foot / had turned to ash.” In the latter, they are even more explicit: “I cannot bring to life again / your ghost in my open empty arms.” Within the poem, we have further evidence of tragedy. The speaker tells us,

they had made you deaf
to my outcry;
I forgot your silence
your livid pallor ...
you no longer walk abroad
My naked foot must travel on,
yours is forever still.

Thus the poem is both interspersed with and surrounded by revelations of death. This is further emphasized by the language of the poem. Consider the imagery of the sun crumbling, empty trees creaking in the autumn wind, night, madness, and spreading pools of black pitch.

The poem is also dominated by the theme of traveling. The speaker, remembering the happy times with their lover, sets out to retrace the steps they had once taken to meet their lost love. They had forgotten that the lover “no longer walk[s] abroad.” The poem uses the same literary device to emphasize this theme as it did to establish the lover’s death. The poem is bookended with imagery of paths, of the lover’s “light feet” and the speaker’s “naked ones,” and of setting out on journeys—the former into death and the “supreme question,” the latter into memory and grief.

One of the great risks of love is the pain one may experience when that love is lost. This loss can come in many forms, but one of the most terrible is death. That is the pain Mistral addresses in “The Useless Wait”—the pain of knowing that one must continue forward after the death of the one they loved, accompanied only by the memories of happiness lost.

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