The Goblet

by Lucila Godoy Alcayaga

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The Poem

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Gabriela Mistral’s “The Goblet” consists of four stanzas alternating in odd and even lines. The title has also been translated as “The Drink,” evoking the elemental nature of water. Its lyrical quality evokes sensory images of the Caribbean islands and lulls the reader into its calm until the final stanza, in which ecstatic energy is transformed into anguish and alienation. The poet describes how she has traveled from island to island with her water-filled goblet, carefully protecting it so as not to spill a drop. If she had lost one drop, she would have lost the grace that it had granted her. If she had spilled all its contents, she would have been left in misery.

The poem continues its journey through the tropical islands. In the second stanza, the poet explains that she did not come to the islands to search for human constructs or civilizations, to visit and praise society’s creations, or to establish a family. She seeks to immerse herself in nature and to be granted its grace. The third stanza describes her journey, which takes on the form of a quest or pilgrimage to a holy shrine. The narrator climbs the mountains in order to deliver her goblet. She describes a state of ecstasy, in which she is bathed in sunlight. She is balanced between hillcrests as she rocks between valleys. After offering up her goblet, her arms swing freely as if they were stray clouds. She is immersed in nature’s beauty and majesty.

The final stanza abruptly changes the poem’s rhythm and tone. The speaker confesses that her epiphany was a false “alleluia.” She sees herself as a pathetic, spiritless wanderer, empty-handed and empty-hearted; “anguish and fear” replace joy and elation. She recognizes her alienation from the human and natural as well as the spiritual world. The poem that begins in joy ends in sorrow.

Forms and Devices

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Mistral’s structure emphasizes the fluidity of language over the formal construct. The poet employs an interruption of the rhyme in one line of each stanza. The rhyme scheme in the original Spanish version is more fluid and consistent with the verse pattern established in the first stanza. Mistral devoted her attention to ideas and their linguistic expression rather than to the formal construction of her poem.

The ballad form contains eight-syllable lines with an assonant rhyme in the even lines. The odd lines are unrhymed. The pattern of the meter is similar to popular Spanish lyrical forms. Two four-line stanzas alternate with a five-line stanza and a final six-line stanza. Other sections contain some irregular unrhymed lines that resemble prose.

Symbols and metaphors appear throughout the poem. The goblet itself is reminiscent of the Holy Grail, which inspires the seeker to search for perfection and reunion in order to restore a paradise lost to peace and harmony. It may also symbolize an offertory cup such as that used in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Her gift of water offered up to the heavens in the first stanza alludes to the transmutation of the chalice of wine into the blood of Christ. It stands in stark contrast to the blood that falls from her chest and through her veins in the final two lines of the fourth stanza. The narrator embarks upon a personal quest in which she seeks communion with nature and a spiritual transformation.

In the first and third stanzas, the seeker transcends human frailties and limitations, completely immersed in the transformational symbols of the natural world leading her to spiritual enlightenment. Water serves as the dominant symbol of purification, baptism and initiation into the...

(This entire section contains 834 words.)

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spiritual realm, and transformation from flesh into spirit. The goblet’s gift to the poet is water. If she had lost it, she would have been in despair. Its life-giving and transformational properties would have abandoned her. In the final stanza, she lowers her eyes to empty hands, realizing, “I walk slowly, without my diamond of water.” She is silenced by her spiritual poverty. In her emptiness, she admits, “I carry no treasure.” Water is a jewel, a treasure that creates and sustains life. After acknowledging the loss of this precious gift, she falls into the depths of human suffering.

In the second stanza, she cuts herself off from the human world only to find in the fourth stanza that she is dragged back into it. The repetition of her denial is adamant. She declares, “I did not pause to greet cities” or any other human achievements, from a humble family to the Great Pyramid. In her denial of human connections and endeavors, she alienates herself from society as she seeks to elevate herself to a spiritual plain.

Actions not taken in the second stanza find their counterpoint in the third stanza. She does not greet cities, but she welcomes the sun on her throat as she greets it from a greater height than the “flight of towers” in the second stanza. She does not fling her arms out wide in praise of the Great Pyramid but opens her arms like free clouds at play amid the mountaintops. She does not build a home for “a circle of sons” in the second stanza. Rather, she rocks between hillcrests and admires valleys beneath her. The closed family circle is replaced with the open valleys that mirror her open arms, always reaching toward the sky’s portal to heaven.

The second stanza lists symbols of human creation tied to the earth: cities, towers, home, and sons. However, the third stanza elevates the goblet-bearer to spiritual union with the elements by bringing its gift of water to air at its purest elevation, cleansed by the sun’s fire as she is supported by the summits of hills, the earth’s purest rock that touches the sky. The sun’s fire also purifies the poet’s words as she praises her heaven: “the new sun/ on my throat.” This metaphysical transformation of abstract elements into comprehensible objects enables the reader to share in the poet’s experience.

The fourth stanza serves as a cruel denouement to the spiritual epiphany of the third stanza. Lowered eyes and fallen blood metaphorically transform her from her high emotional state, represented by open arms, upward climbing, and triumph at the summit. After acknowledging her ephemeral flight, she wallows in misery and self-pity. Most poignant is the first line’s sharp contrast in style and tone: “It was a lie, my alleluia. Look at me.” Her words are more prosaic and describe the very human state of alienation, sorrow, and fear. Her eyes are lowered, her hands are empty, and she walks slowly and silently in a profound state of depression. In the final line, the blood that falls in her veins is “struck with anguish and fear.” It replaces the goblet of water, or the chalice of Christ’s blood that had sustained her spirit.