Introduction

"From her maternal hand this poet offers us her potion, which has the savor of earth and which quenches the thirst of the heart." These words are from the citation that offered Gabriela Mistral the Nobel Prize for Literature for the year 1945. The same speech also noted that "Gabriela Mistral shared her maternal love with the children whom she taught." "Fear" was published in Mistral's second collection of poetry, Tenura (Tenderness). The poems in this book are referred to as children's poems, even though they have decidedly mature themes, and they have, in the years since it was first published in 1924, become standards of elementary-school education in Chile and throughout Latin America.

In a section at the end of the book called "Colophon by Way of Explaining," Mistral discussed why she chose to write a book about mothers and children. She wrote, "The woman who has never nursed, who does not feel the weight of her child against her body, who never puts anyone to sleep day or night, how can she possibly hum a berceuse (lullaby)?" Ironically, though she dedicated her life to children through her profession as an educator, Mistral herself never married and never had a child. Her ideas about the bond between mothers and children, which have come to mean so much to generations of mothers who are thrilled to at last find their feelings expressed in print, came to the author second-hand, through observation of the hundreds of children that she worked with as a teacher and her experience in growing up in a household of teachers. As is apparent by the popular and critical acclaim lavished upon her work about motherhood, Mistral was able to touch upon the very real emotions of the experience even though she did not live the experience herself.