Writer, pedagogue and diplomat, Lucila de María del Perpetuo Socorro Godoy Alcayaga was born on April 7, 1889, in the Chilean city of Vicuña. Of humble origins, her father abandoned her when she was three years old. However, after her publication in 1908 of the poem “Del past”, in the newspaper The Coquimboadopted the pseudonym with which she would later become internationally known, Gabriela Mistral, a combination of two of her favorite poets: Gabriele D’Annunzio and Frédéric Mistral.
Digital Library of Chile.
At the age of 15, he was already working as a school assistant. She later became a teacher, collaborated in different literary publications and, in those years, she also began her poetic activity. Thus, the first collections of her poems arrived: sonnets of death (1914) and desolation (1920). With these two, she began to have some notoriety and win some distinctions, such as the Floral Games Award: a recognition organized by the Student Federation of the University of Chile. Meanwhile, I continued collaborating with different publications. Among them, the magazine Elegancesdirected by the Nicaraguan writer Rubén Darío from Paris.
From a young age she began to train as a true intellectual and, above all, to be class-conscious, something she fought for throughout her life. “Her reading of the Bible, of authors such as Vargas Vila, Martí, Tagore, Junqueiro, Darío, Maritain, of the Spanish and Russian classics, influenced her personality. The fact of being a pacifist, libertarian and feminist caused her problems. She came out in defense of Sandino, when the United States threatened to invade Nicaragua; she fought for human rights, women’s suffrage and equality with men, and asked the female sector to be instructed not to be considered an object of society,” shared the poet Chilean, Sergio Macías, author of the book Gabriela Mistral or Portrait of a pilgrim.
For her part, specialist Caroline Bojarski, from the University Lumiere Lyon French, commented: “From then on his poems were read throughout the country and throughout the world, to such an extent that the first edition of his book Desolación was North American, when it was published in New York by the Instituto de las Españas in 1922. The Chilean edition was published in 1923 in Santiago. This first book is a cry from the heart. As in practically all of his verses, we can find in it many of his most intimate feelings. The loss of her first love Romelio, who committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, leaving only a letter in the inside pocket of her jacket, is a trauma for Gabriela”.
Digital Library of Chile.
He added: “The main themes are passion, jealousy, death and faith. In Desolation he questions the Lord several times, asking him where those who commit suicide go, or if he could retain his love, so that he could continue by his side. In the Sonnets of Death he says: ‘Return him to my arms or cut him down in bloom’, and then ‘I don’t know about love, that I had no mercy? You who are going to judge me, you understand, Lord!’. This first book is in the modernist style, also cultivated by Rubén Darío. There are Alexandrian sonnets, dodecasyllables, hendecasyllables (…). In addition to the biblical references, there is another element that will always be present in Gabriela’s work: nature”.
Suicide was a very close event in the life of the poet. Rómulo Ureta, an official with whom she had an intense relationship, took her own life in 1909. From then on, she, Gabriela, was very affected. Something that she would repeat: Carlos Miguel Godoy Vallejos, it is said, was her half brother on her father’s side. When his mother died in 1929, Carlos Miguel had a son, but he repeated the same story as his and Gabriela’s father. He decided to abandon it and give it to her half-sister. Gabriela accepted it; she was called “Yin Yin” and she took care of him as her adopted son. At eighteen, “Yin Yin” took his own life. He experienced this same blow again with some of his colleagues and friends that he would meet later, such as the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig and his wife, who committed suicide out of fear of Nazism and the destruction of Europe.
Mistral, in addition to literature, had another great passion: education. Already with a remarkable recognition of her in her country, in 1922, the Secretary of Education of Mexico and writer, José Vasconcelos, invited her to participate in educational reforms and the creation of Mexican popular libraries. Mistral did not hesitate to travel. At that time, it is said that the then Chilean president Arturo Alessandri commented that “there were other Chilean women more intelligent and worthy of being invited to such work.” Vasconcelos, for his part, responded by telegram: “More convinced than ever that the best of Chile is in Mexico.”
Mistral, while collaborating in the educational reform of José Vasconcelos and before traveling through Europe and the United States, published readings for women (1923). Then, already in Barcelona, the anthology was printed the best poems. At the same time, he continued with his teaching work, which he continued to alternate with diplomatic positions: during the 1930s, he taught in the United States at the Bernard College, Vassar College Y Middlebury College; he worked at the Universities of Puerto Rico, Havana and Panama; in 1933 she was appointed Chilean consul in Madrid.
Five years later, he published through the magazine South of Victoria Ocampo in Buenos Aires, fellinga book of poetry dedicated to Spanish children who were victims of the Civil War.
By 1945, at the age of 56, the author had already published seven books. The strength of her poems made her receive the Nobel Prize for Literature on December 10 of that year. According to the Swedish academy, “her lyrical work of her, inspired by powerful emotions, has turned her name into a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world.” And others came, such as the Serra de las Américas Award from the Academy of American Franciscan History of Washington (1950) and the National Prize for Literature of Chile (1951). In 1953 she is appointed consul in New York and also a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly.
“With the money that the Swedish academy awards as a prize, Mistral bought a house in Santa Monica, California, while he was completing his fifth cycle of life in the United States, as consul in Los Angeles. It was during this period of life that he met Doris Dana, an American writer who, after visiting an exhibition of Mistral’s work at the Barnard Collegesent him a text in which he spoke of Thomas Mann, a writer whom they both admired”, Sofía Viramontes commented for the magazine leopard. And she shared: “From that moment both writers began a relationship, mostly long distance, but kept alive through correspondence that was published in a posthumous book, called Wandering girl. Letters to Doris Dana”.
Gabriela Mistral with the also writer, Doris Dana. Photo: rockandpop.cl
By 1954, Mistral published what would be his last book, Winery. In this regard, Bojarski explained: “The topics addressed are those of the death of her beloved adoptive son Yin-Yin, whose suicide is for her an extremely difficult event to overcome, but also war, nature, the earth (the valley of the Elqui, the Yucatan), childhood and madness. In these poems about madness, Gabriela reveals her inability to conform to the norms established by the society of her time. She makes portraits of women that represent her being and the personal struggle that she carries out to continue living. In 1991, it was published as a posthumous book Winery IIin which we also find poems taken from the archives and edited for the centenary of his death”.
On January 10, 1957, after suffering and fighting for a long time with pancreatic cancer, Gabriela Mistral died at the Hemsptead Hospital in New York. Later, many other titles appeared that gathered part of her prose, rounds, songs, prayers and poems of hers. Currently, the Archive of the Writer of the National Library of Chile has the most important documentary collection of her work: 563 pieces, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and other documents.
Sources: memoriachilena.gob.cl / uchile.cl / leopard
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Gabriela Mistral, an emblem of letters, education and sexual freedom