(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Gabriela Mistral’s work is part of that of a generation of women poets in Spanish America at the beginning of the twentieth century. In an era when women’s writing was still not taken as seriously by the literary establishment as men’s writing, Mistral, along with some of her contemporaries such as Delmira Agustini, Alfonsina Storni, and Juana de Ibarbourou, broke with tradition and wrote boldly about their experience from a woman’s point of view. Mistral’s poetry, of all the poets of her generation, is uniquely marked by her personal experience. While a young woman living in a small town in Chile, Mistral fell in love with a young man, Romelio Ureta. Although they were in love, they did not marry, and, tragically, Romelio Ureta later took his own life. Much of the poetry that Mistral was subsequently to write would be inspired by the loss of Ureta’s love. In particular, “Prayer” and “Poem of the Son” focus on the anguish caused by that loss. Mistral never married and never had children, yet marriage and children figure prominently in her work. It is as if she were re-creating in literature what she was deprived of experiencing in life. The cradle songs, for example, describe in loving detail the intimate spiritual and physical bond between a mother and her child. The person addressed in the cradle poems is often the child. In the poem “Close to Me” the last two lines run: “Do not slip from my arms:/ sleep close to me.” Mistral never held her own child to her breast in this way in her personal life. What is most striking about the cradle poems is their ability to bring the external world into the poem. In “Night,” for example, the world is described as stopping once the child goes to sleep: “Because you sleep, my little one,/ the sunset will no longer glow.” “Poem for Mothers” takes on the voice of the pregnant mother who feels the fetus growing in her womb: “Because of the sleeping...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Arce de Vasquez, Margot. Gabriela Mistral: The Poet and Her Work. New York: New York University Press, 1964.

Rosenbaum, Sidonia Carmen. Modern Women Poets of Spanish America: The Precursors— Delmira Agustini, Gabriela Mistral, Alfonsina Storni, Juana de Ibarbourou. New York: Hispanic Institute of the United States, 1945.

Taylor, Martin C. Gabriela Mistral’s Religious Sensibility. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.