Lullabies to survive maternal death: why read Gabriela Mistral in schools

Gabriela Mistral as a child, together with her paternal grandmother, Isabel Villanueva. Wikimedia Commons

fellingfirst published in Buenos Aires by Editorial Sur in 1938is considered a milestone in the literary work of the Chilean poet Gabriela Mistraland it is one of his most mature works, in addition to one of the most important works of Chilean and Latin American poetry.

Following modernism, many poets turned to plain, even colloquial, language to communicate broader archetypal experiences. In the case at hand, Mistral’s poetry springs from the frustrations of love and motherhood, from childhood and life itself. The poet uses traditional meters and forms, and her vocabulary is an ennobled modality of ordinary speech. In this way, she manages to broaden the horizon of Latin American poetry and introduce new themes in the genre, such as the feeling of fulfillment that single women have.

the quality of desolationa book to which in later editions he added numerous poems, felling Y Winery they made, in [1945the Swedish Academy will finally award her the Nobel Prize for Literaturewhich he received on December 10 of that year.

But what is it felling?

The name with which Gabriela Mistral titles the collection of poems –tala– obeys a word used in theosophical philosophy –to which the author approached on many occasions– that means place, surface, terrain, groundplain, background, state or condition.

She applies it in a figurative sense, as the intimate nature, the essential part, the cause and the background of all things. Logging –according to this philosophy– would be a state of the intellect. The further one descends into such a state, the less spiritual the person becomes.. This connects with his Christian training which, although very adapted to his particular way of understanding the mysticism of the soul, actually has more weight in the poetry collection than theosophy.

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felling it starts with the memory of the death of his mother and it is developed through diverse religious, philosophical or conceptual symbols, which presents a poetry of personal memorial. Also includes children’s thoughts, lullabies and poems for children. In the middle she inserts her reflections as an adult and her frustration with life and her feelings. It is a biographical walk that covers the events that most impacted her life.

A priori it is not easy to find a sequential thread in felling, but the symbology structures it around the memory and figure of the mother, loneliness, suicide, the presence of theological elements… In the poem “Locas litanies”, the author invents a special form of prayer where she begs that all mothers be welcomed into the bosom of Christ. The cryptic symbology appears continuously strung in the simplicity of an apparent spontaneous verse.

Suicide appears in the book as a tribute to Jose Asuncion Silva, Colombian poet who killed himself at the age of 30. This type of death will recur in Mistral’s life, since his son-nephew, YinYinHe would commit suicide at the age of 18. It is a constant theme in his life and his work and, together with the absence of their dead mother, they reflect experiences that remain. The turbulent and destabilizing circumstances leave their mark and serve the author to draw a poetic world as a kind of resilient recognition of her own history.

Reason for this book is an appendix in which Gabriela Mistral explained the structure of felling, although it is not necessary. To read the poems, you just have to let yourself go, as if we were in the current of a river, from the moment her mother launches her to life, through her childhood memory of the city of Elqui, the imprint of her native country, the people she met along the way, her circumstances…

"felling" part of the memory of the author's mother and has overtones of children's stories.
“Tala” starts from the memory of the author’s mother and has overtones of children’s stories.

Mistral developed a poetics that starts from childhood and moves away from the self-pity of the twilight child-poet and from the subversive violence of the futurists. He recreates himself rather in the wake of romantic mythology than associates childhood with nature and celebrates the child’s ability to marvel at the unknown. The gift, the surprise, represent that discovery before life in an intimate way, a personal and singular encounter, an invocation to the place of identity and origin of the poet.

Gabriela Mistral did not devote any theoretical development to her idea of ​​childhood. Instead, she showed the greatest value of her playing with concepts and feelings transformed into mature poetics. How did you achieve that particular way of telling a life story? He wanted it to emerge through the intersection of fragmentary children’s stories, portraits of real or allegorical children, and metapoetic aphorisms.. The maternal start is not only a stage of life that arouses sorrow and fascination. She also embodies a certain attitude towards the world and even a value system that ends up representing for her the true principle of literary creation.

The Conversation

In opposition to the artificiality and anesthesia of modern man, childhood represents the positive pole within the work of Gabriela Mistral. Due to its proximity to patterns of children’s literature, it could well be integrated more and better into curricular reading plans. Her verses, without a doubt, can be a unique learning loom for students.

There are countries that I remember

How I remember my childhood.

They are countries of sea or river,

of pastures, of vegas and waters.(…)

I want to return to little lands;

take me to a soft country of waters.

In great pastures grow old

and make the river fable and fable.

Have a fountain for my mother

and in the siesta go out to look for her,

and in jars come down from a rock

a sweet, sharp and rough water.

This note was originally published on The Conversation.

♦ Born in Chile in 1889 and died in the United States in 1957.

♦ She was a poet, diplomat, teacher and pedagogue.

♦ In 1945 she won the Nobel Prize for Literature: no Ibero-American woman had achieved it up to that time.


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Lullabies to survive maternal death: why read Gabriela Mistral in schools