Lucila Godoy Alcayaga (1889 – 1957), known by her pseudonym Gabriela Mistral, was a Chilean poet-diplomat, educator and humanist.
In 1945 she became the first Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature, "for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world". Some central themes in her poems are nature, betrayal, love, a mother's love, sorrow and recovery, travel, and Latin American identity as formed from a mixture of Native American and European influences. Her portrait also appears on the 5,000 Chilean peso bank note.
Mistral's meteoric rise in Chile's national school system plays out against the complex politics of Chile in the first two decades of the 20th century. In her adolescence, the need for teachers was so great, and the number of trained teachers was so small, especially in the rural areas, that anyone who was willing could find work as a teacher. Access to good schools was difficult, however, and the young woman lacked the political and social connections necessary to attend the Normal School: She was turned down, without explanation, in 1907. She later identified the obstacle to her entry as the school's chaplain, Father Ignacio Munizaga, who was aware of her publications in the local newspapers, her advocacy of liberalizing education and giving greater access to the schools to all social classes.
Although her formal education had ended by 1900, she was able to get work as a teacher thanks to her older sister, Emelina, who had likewise begun as a teacher's aide and was responsible for much of the poet's early education. The poet was able to rise from one post to another because of her publications in local and national newspapers and magazines. Her willingness to move was also a factor. Between the years 1906 and 1912 she had taught, successively, in three schools near La Serena, then in Barrancas, then Traiguén in 1910, and in Antofagasta in the desert north, in 1911. By 1912 she had moved to work in a liceo, or high school, in Los Andes, where she stayed for six years and often visited Santiago. In 1918 Pedro Aguirre Cerda, then Minister of Education and a future president of Chile, promoted her appointment to direct a liceo in Punta Arenas. She moved on to Temuco in 1920, then to Santiago, where in 1921, she defeated a candidate connected with the Radical Party, Josefina Dey del Castillo, to be named director of Santiago's Liceo #6, the country's newest and most prestigious girls' school. Controversies over the nomination of Gabriela Mistral to the highly coveted post in Santiago were among the factors that made her decide to accept an invitation to work in Mexico in 1922, with that country's Minister of Education, José Vasconcelos. He had her join in the nation's plan to reform libraries and schools, to start a national education system. That year she published Desolación in New York, which further promoted the international acclaim she had already been receiving thanks to her journalism and public speaking. A year later she published Lecturas para Mujeres (Readings for Women), a text in prose and verse that celebrates Latin America from the broad, Americanist perspective developed in the wake of the Mexican Revolution.
Following almost two years in Mexico she traveled from Laredo, Texas, to Washington D.C., where she addressed the Pan American Union, went on to New York, then toured Europe: In Madrid she published Ternura (Tenderness), a collection of lullabies and rondas written for an audience of children, parents, and other poets. In early 1925 she returned to Chile, where she formally retired from the nation's education system, and received a pension. It wasn't a moment too soon: The legislature had just agreed to the demands of the teachers union, headed by Mistral's lifelong rival, Amanda Labarca Hubertson, that only university-trained teachers should be given posts in the schools. The University of Chile had granted her the academic title of Spanish Professor in 1923, although her formal education ended before she was 12 years old. Her autodidacticism was remarkable, a testimony to the flourishing culture of newspapers, magazines, and books in provincial Chile, as well as to her personal determination and verbal genius.
The poet Pablo Neruda, Chile's second Nobel Prize recipient, was one of her students.
Mistral's work is characterized by including gray tones in her literature, sadness and bitterness are recurrent feelings on it. These are evoked in her writings as the reflection of a hard childhood which was plagued by deprivation coupled with a lack of affection in her home. However, Gabriela Mistral also shows through in her writings a great affection for children, since in her youth she became a teacher in a rural school. Religion was also reflected in her literature as it had great influence of Catholicism in her life, however, she always reflected a more neutral stance regarding the conception of religion, so we can find in their literature gray tones combined with feelings of love and piety, making her into one of the worthiest representatives of Latin American literature of twentieth century.
Mistral had diabetes and heart problems. Eventually she died of pancreatic cancer in Hempstead Hospital in New York City on 10 January 1957, being 67 years of age, with Doris Dana by her side.
The treasure at the heart of the rose
is your own heart's treasure.
Scatter it as the rose does:
your pain becomes hers to measure.
Scatter it in a song,
or in one great love's desire.
Do not resist the rose
lest you burn in its fire
I AM NOT ALONE
The night, it is deserted
from the mountains to the sea.
But I, the one who rocks you,
I am not alone!
The sky, it is deserted
for the moon falls to the sea.
But I, the one who holds you,
I am not alone !
The world, it is deserted.
All flesh is sad you see.
But I, the one who hugs you,
I am not alone!
THE SAD MOTHER
Sleep, sleep, my beloved,
without worry, without fear,
although my soul does not sleep,
although I do not rest.
Sleep, sleep, and in the night
may your whispers be softer
than a leaf of grass,
or the silken fleece of lambs.
May my flesh slumber in you,
my worry, my trembling.
In you, may my eyes close
and my heart sleep.
DECALOGUE OF THE ARTIST
I. You shall love beauty, which is the shadow of God
over the Universe.
II.There is no godless art. Although you love not the
Creator, you shall bear witness to Him creating His likeness.
III.You shall create beauty not to excite the senses
but to give sustenance to the soul.
IV. You shall never use beauty as a pretext for luxury
and vanity but as a spiritual devotion.
V. You shall not seek beauty at carnival or fair
or offer your work there, for beauty is virginal
and is not to be found at carnival or fair.
VI. Beauty shall rise from your heart in song,
and you shall be the first to be purified.
VII.The beauty you create shall be known
as compassion and shall console the hearts of men.
VIII.You shall bring forth your work as a mother
brings forth her child: out of the blood of your heart.
IX. Beauty shall not be an opiate that puts you
to sleep but a strong wine that fires you to action,
for if you fail to be a true man or a true woman,
you will fail to be an artist.
X. Each act of creation shall leave you humble,
for it is never as great as your dream and always
inferior to that most marvelous dream of God
which is Nature.
THE STRANGER (La Extranjera)
She speaks in her way of her savage seas
With unknown algae and unknown sands;
She prays to a formless, weightless God,
Aged, as if dying.
In our garden now so strange,
She has planted cactus and alien grass.
The desert zephyr fills her with its breath
And she has loved with a fierce, white passion
She never speaks of, for if she were to tell
It would be like the face of unknown stars.
Among us she may live for eighty years,
Yet always as if newly come,
Speaking a tongue that plants and whines
Only by tiny creatures understood.
And she will die here in our midst
One night of utmost suffering,
With only her fate as a pillow,
And death, silent and strang.