The “Sonnets of Death” are Mistral’s most famous poems. They are also the poems that established her reputation in her native Chile. In 1914, she submitted them to a national poetry contest and won first prize. She was forced out of anonymity and into the literary life of her country.
The poems grew out of Mistral’s love affair with Romelio Ureta, a young man she met in her early years as a rural schoolteacher. The relationship broke off when Ureta became engaged to another woman. Before the marriage, however, he took his own life. The three sonnets trace Mistral’s attempt to sort out and reconcile the grief, remorse, disappointment, anger, and guilt that Ureta’s abandonment and death raised in her.
The sonnets contain the intense, direct feelings, the natural imagery, and the search for some permanent state of harmony that are the distinctive characteristics of Mistral’s poetry. In the first sonnet, for instance, the poet imagines visiting the cemetery and taking from a frozen niche the burial urn containing the ashes of her lover. Rather than causing sadness, however, the occasion elicits a gleeful sense of triumph. She will scatter rose dust over the dead man’s remains, and she will leave the graveyard singing songs of beautiful vengeance. The source of this unexpected happiness is revealed in the final two lines of the poem. The poet now is certain of the constancy of her lover, for she is sure the rival woman will not...
(The entire section is 462 words.)