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All of her lyrical voices represent the different aspects of her own personality and have been understood by critics and readers alike as the autobiographical voices of a woman whose life was marked by an intense awareness of the world and of human destiny. The poetic word in its beauty and emotional intensity had for her the power to transform and transcend human spiritual weakness, bringing consolation to the soul in search of understanding. Her poetry is thus charged with a sense of ritual and prayer.

Although she mostly uses regular meter and rhyme, her verses are sometimes difficult to recite because of their harshness, resulting from intentional breaks of the prosodic rules. This apparent deficiency is purposely used by the poet to produce an intended effect—the reader's uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty and harshness that corresponds to the tormented attitude of the lyrical voice and to the passionate character of the poet's worldview.

Even when Mistral's verses have the simple musicality of a cradlesong, they vibrate with controlled emotion and hidden tension. In her prose writing Mistral also twists and entangles the language in unusual expressive ways as if the common, direct style were not appropriate to her subject matter and her intensely emotive interpretation of it. Although she is mostly known for her poetry, she was an accomplished and prolific prose writer whose contributions to several major Latin American newspapers on issues of interest to her contemporaries had an ample readership.

Several selections of her prose works and many editions of her poetry published over the years do not fully account for her enormous contribution to Latin American culture and her significance as an original spiritual poet and public intellectual. Her complete works are still to be published in comprehensive and complete critical editions easily available to the public.

She grew up in Monte Grande, a humble village in the same valley, surrounded by modest fruit orchards and rugged deserted hills. She was raised by her mother and by an older sister fifteen years her senior, who was her first teacher. Her father, a primary-school teacher with a penchant for adventure and easy living, abandoned his family when Lucila was a three-year-old girl; she saw him only on rare occasions, when he visited his wife and children before disappearing forever.

This evasive father, who wrote little poems for his daughter and sang to her with his guitar, had a strong emotional influence on the poet.

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From him she obtained, as she used to comment, the love of poetry and the nomadic spirit of the perpetual traveler. Her mother was a central force in Mistral's sentimental attachment to family and homeland and a strong influence on her desire to succeed. Not less influential was the figure of her paternal grandmother, whose readings of the Bible marked the child forever. An exceedingly religious person, her grandmother—who Mistral liked to think had Sephardic ancestors—encouraged the young girl to learn and recite by heart passages from the Bible, in particular the Psalms of David.

These few Alexandrine verses are a good, albeit brief, example of Mistral's style, tone, and inspiration: the poetic discourse and its appreciation in reading are both represented by extremely physical and violent images that refer to a spiritual conception of human destiny and the troubling mysteries of life: the scream of "el sumo florentino," a reference to Dante, and the pierced bones of the reader impressed by the biblical text. Under the loving care of her mother and older sister, she learned how to know and love nature, to enjoy it in solitary contemplation.

The mountains and the river of her infancy, the wind and the sky, the animals and plants of her secluded homeland became Mistral's cherished possessions; she always kept them in her memory as the true and only world, an almost fabulous land lost in time and space, a land of joy from which she had been exiled when she was still a child. In the quiet and beauty of that mountainous landscape the girl developed her passionate spirituality and her poetic talents.

As she evoked in old age, she also learned to like the stories told by the old people in a language that kept many of its old cadences, still alive in the vocabulary and constructions of a people still attached to the land and its past. In Poema de Chile she affirms that the language and imagination of that world of the past and of the countryside always inspired her own choice of vocabulary, images, rhythms, and rhymes:. Me conozco sus cerros uno por uno. I know its hills one by one. I was happy until I left Monte Grande, and then I was never happy again.

This sense of having been exiled from an ideal place and time characterizes much of Mistral's worldview and helps explain her pervasive sadness and her obsessive search for love and transcendence. Her love of the material world was probably also because of her childhood years spent in direct contact with nature, and to an emotional manifestation of her desire to immerse herself in the world. Mistral refers to this anecdote on several occasions, suggesting the profound and lasting effect the experience had on her. Throughout her life she maintained a sense of being hurt by others, in particular by people in her own country.

This impression could be justified by several other circumstances in her life when the poet felt, probably justifiably, that she was being treated unjustly: for instance, in she tried to attend the Normal School in La Serena and was denied admission because of her writings, which were seen by the school authorities as the work of a troublemaker with pantheist ideas contrary to the Christian values required of an educator. She prepared herself, on her own, for a teaching career and for the life of a writer and intellectual.

She also continued to write. Some time later, in , she obtained her coveted teaching certification even though she had not followed a regular course of studies. By studying on her own and passing the examination, she proved to herself and to others that she was academically well prepared and ready to fulfill professionally the responsibilities of an educator. She always commented bitterly, however, that she never had the opportunity to receive the formal education of other Latin American intellectuals.

A series of different job destinations took her to distant and opposite regions within the varied territory of her country, as she quickly moved up in the national education system. These various jobs gave her the opportunity to know her country better than many who stayed in their regions of origin or settled in Santiago to be near the center of intellectual activity.

This direct knowledge of her country, its geography, and its peoples became the basis for her increasing interest in national values, which coincided with the intellectual and political concerns of Latin America as a whole. In this quiet farming town she enjoyed for a few years a period of quiet dedication to studying, teaching, and writing, as she was protected from distractions by the principal of her school. They appeared in March and April , giving Mistral her first publication outside of Chile. Pedro Aguirre Cerda, an influential politician and educator he served as president of Chile from to , met her at that time and became her protector.

This position was one of great responsibility, as Mistral was in charge of reorganizing a conflictive institution in a town with a large and dominant group of foreign immigrants practically cut off from the rest of the country.

In this faraway city in a land of long winter nights and persistent winds, she wrote a series of three poems, "Paisajes de la Patagonia" Patagonian Landscapes , inspired by her experience at the end of the world, separated from family and friends. They are the tormented expression of someone lost in despair.


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The stark landscape and the harsh weather of the region are mostly symbolic materializations of her spiritual outlook on human destiny. The poem captures the sense of exile and abandonment the poet felt at the time, as conveyed in its slow rhythm and in its concrete images drawn with a vocabulary suggestive of pain and stress:. As she had done before when working in the poor, small schools of her northern region, she doubled her duties by organizing evening classes for workers who had no other means of educating themselves.

She was always concerned about the needs of the poor and the disenfranchised, and every time she could do something about them, she acted, disregarding personal gain. This attitude toward suffering permeates her poetry with a deep feeling of love and compassion. She was there for a year. Pablo Neruda , who at the time was a budding teenage poet studying in the Liceo de Hombres, or high school for boys, met her and received her advice and encouragement to pursue his literary aspirations.

Now she was in the capital, in the center of the national literary and cultural activity, ready to participate fully in the life of letters. A year later, however, she left the country to begin her long life as a self-exiled expatriate. She published mainly in newspapers, periodicals, anthologies, and educational publications, showing no interest in producing a book.

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Her name became widely familiar because several of her works were included in a primary-school reader that was used all over her country and around Latin America. At about this time her spiritual needs attracted her to the spiritualist movements inspired by oriental religions that were gaining attention in those days among Western artists and intellectuals. She was for a while an active member of the Chilean Theosophical Association and adopted Buddhism as her religion.

This inclination for oriental forms of religious thinking and practices was in keeping with her intense desire to lead an inner life of meditation and became a defining characteristic of Mistral's spiritual life and religious inclinations, even though years later she returned to Catholicism. She never ceased to use the meditation techniques learned from Buddhism, and even though she declared herself Catholic, she kept some of her Buddhist beliefs and practices as part of her personal religious views and attitudes.

As a means to explain these three poems about a lost love, most critics tell of the suicide in of Romelio Ureta, a young man who had been Mistral's friend and first love several years before. Although the suicide of her former friend had little or nothing to do with their relationship, it added to the poems a strong biographical motivation that enhanced their emotional effect, creating in the public the image of Mistral as a tragic figure in the tradition of a romanticized conception of the poet.

With "Los sonetos de la muerte" Mistral became in the public view a clearly defined poetic voice, one that was seen as belonging to a tragic, passionate woman, marked by loneliness, sadness, and relentless possessiveness and jealousy:.

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The scene represents a woman who, hearing from the road the cry of a baby at a nearby hut, enters the humble house to find a boy alone in a cradle with no one to care for him; she takes him in her arms and consoles him by singing to him, becoming for a moment a succoring mother:. It is difficult not to interpret this scene as representative of what poetry meant for Mistral, the writer who would be recognized by the reading public mostly for her cradlesongs. By she had adopted her Mistral pseudonym, which she ultimately used as her own name.

As Mistral she was recognized as the poet of a new dissonant feminine voice who expressed the previously unheard feelings of mothers and lonely women. Explaining her choice of name, she has said:. In whichever case, Mistral was pointing with her pen name to personal ideals about her own identity as a poet. She acknowledged wanting for herself the fiery spiritual strength of the archangel and the strong, earthly, and spiritual power of the wind. Coincidentally, the same year, Universidad de Chile The Chilean National University granted Mistral the professional title of teacher of Spanish in recognition of her professional and literary contributions.

This short visit to Cuba was the first one of a long series of similar visits to many countries in the ensuing years. In fulfilling her assigned task, Mistral came to know Mexico, its people, regions, customs, and culture in a profound and personal way. This knowledge gave her a new perspective about Latin America and its Indian roots, leading her into a growing interest and appreciation of all things autochthonous. From Mexico she sent to El Mercurio The Mercury in Santiago a series of newspaper articles on her observations in the country she had come to love as her own.

These pieces represent her first enthusiastic reaction to her encounter with a foreign land. They are the beginning of a lifelong dedication to journalistic writing devoted to sensitizing the Latin American public to the realities of their own world. These articles were collected and published posthumously in as Croquis mexicano Mexican Sketch.

In Mexico, Mistral also edited Lecturas para mujeres Readings for Women , an anthology of poetry and prose selections from classic and contemporary writers--including nineteen of her own texts--published in as a text to be used at the Escuela Hogar "Gabriela Mistral" Home School "Gabriela Mistral" , named after her in recognition of her contribution to Mexican educational reform. While the invitation by the Mexican government was indicative of Mistral's growing reputation as an educator on the continent, more than a recognition of her literary talents, the spontaneous decision of a group of teachers to publish her collected poems represented unequivocal proof of her literary preeminence.

As such, the book is an aggregate of poems rather than a collection conceived as an artistic unit.

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Divided into broad thematic sections, the book includes almost eighty poems grouped under five headings that represent the basic preoccupations in Mistral's poetry. Under the first section, "Vida" Life , are grouped twenty-two compositions of varied subjects related to life's preoccupations, including death, religion, friendship, motherhood and sterility, poetic inspiration, and readings.