The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.