Jimmy's Reviews > Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral

Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral by Gabriela Mistral
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's review
Jan 10, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: female, chile, poetry, year-1950s
Read from January 09 to 10, 2012

I hear
the couplet of fat
as it grows in the night
like a dune.
from "Midnight"

This Chilean poet has been on my radar for a while now, and I actually bought a different book of prose-poem translations a while ago, but was never able to really get into it. The other more-available translation is this Selected Poems by Ursula K. Le Guin (which I do not own yet, but will be seeking out). I've been hearing so many good things about Gabriela Mistral but there's always that risk with translated poetry of being completely underwhelmed, and not knowing if it's the translation or the poems themselves. When I started reading this volume, translated by Langston Hughes, I realized immediately that it was not the poet's fault that I never connected with her before.

From the eyes of wild beasts gentle tears will flow,
and the mountains You forged of stone will understand
and weep through their white eyelids of snow:
the whole earth will learn of forgiveness at Your hand.
from "Prayer"

Gabriela Mistral writes from an intense simplicity of expression, image, and emotion and I think Langston Hughes really understood that. Her poems really shine through in these translations. He pays much attention to the music and energy of her line.

In the thicket they look like fire;
when they rise, like silver darting.
And they go by even before they go,
cutting through your wonder.
from "Larks"

She moves from physical to metaphysical in a few syllables. She inverts cliches gracefully, without breaking a sweat or calling attention to it. Often her poems seem modest, small, and sweet, while hinting at something deeper.

and she became as water
that from a wounded deer turns bloody.
from "The Flower of the Air"

One quirk about this volume, though: the title "Selected Poems" suggests these are her best poems covering a broad range of topics. They may be her best poems, but they're not very broad ranging--over half of them deal with pregnancy, motherhood, and children. Many are lullabies. So it seems more like a selection of poems curated on one topic. I think (from browsing the Google Books preview) that the Ursula K. Le Guin translation may have a more broad range of poems on various topics.

This son of mine is more beautiful
than the world on which he steals a look.
from "Charm"

Now I am nothing but a veil; all my body is a veil beneath which a child sleeps.
from "To My Husband"

I feel my breasts growing,
rising like water in a wide pool, noiselessly. And their
great sponginess casts a shadow like a promise across my belly.
Who in all the valley could be poorer than I if my breasts never grew moist?
Like those jars that women put out to catch the dew of night,
I place my breasts before God.

That's not a complaint though, because before this I had only read a handful of poems about motherhood (mostly by my friend Sarah Vap). It was really nice to see this seldom explored topic given its due all the way back in the 1920's (which was when Mistral published her first poems).

A breath that vanishes in a breath
and a face that trembles because of it
in a meadow where nothing trembles.
from "Paradise"
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message 1: by Jesse (new)

Jesse I had never heard of Mistral before when I happened to pick up Madwomen: The "Locas mujeres" Poems of Gabriela Mistral, a Bilingual Edition from my library. The rating I gave it underestimates the memories I have of it now.

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