Sonnets of Death

by Lucila Godoy Alcayaga

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 324

"Sonnets of Death" by Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, who wrote under the pen name Gabriela Mistral, has two main characters: the narrator or speaker and her deceased lover. The poem was the first to gain her fame, winning a national literary competition when Mistral was twenty-five.

The narrator, an unnamed woman, is usually interpreted as Mistral herself. The narrator is mourning and angry over the loss of the unnamed deceased, her lover or partner, and wishes for revenge upon death itself.

The other central character is the deceased, whose funeral it is. Most scholars believe this figure is based on Romelio Ureta, a lover of Mistral's who committed suicide. There is some debate about this, however, as some scholars believe Mistral was a lesbian. The verses also twice describe the deceased as a he and a him, though more often an it. The closest clue is the description of him as a plantel. In most translations, this is the owner of a plantation, but it can also mean the owner of a plant nursery. There are other allusions to flowers in the poem that agree with this.

One could consider a third character to be death, which takes the deceased from the narrator's life. Death is described as the adversary or opponent of the narrator. The narrator even wishes for vengeance against death. Mistral similarly describes death as an adversary in her short story "The Rival."

The men are minor characters in the poems. The "Sonnets of Death" can be viewed as three interconnected poems. The men are those who do things to the deceased—in other words, those who work at the funeral parlor. The narrator views them as detached but still abusive to her lover's remains, if only by viewing them impersonally.

God or Christ is also a minor character in the poem, one the narrator asks to restore life to the deceased. But he never makes any direct appearance in the poem.

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