Gabriela Mistral: School Teacher, Diplomat, Nobel Prize Winner


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Ignacio M. Doubrechatt, writing for Cuba Headlines, looks at the relationship between the 1945 Nobel Prize winner, Gabriela Mistral, and the island of Cuba

When the Nobel Prize Award ceremonies resumed on December 10, 1945, —just a few months after the end of World War II— in Stockholm, Sweden, a Chilean woman, Gabriela Mistral, was presented with it. Her features spoke with the marked and ancestral accent of the Mapuche people, the original inhabitants of that southern land, and she would be known and recognized as poet Gabriela Mistral, although her real name was Lucila Godoy.

It was the first Nobel Literature Prize for Latin America and the Caribbean and also the only one given so far to a female Spanish-speaking writer.

That school teacher had traveled a long way and she would also take on diplomatic responsibilities while representing Chile as consul in other countries in Europe and the Americas.
 However, she owes her fame and prestige to her poetry —not only the one she wrote in solitude and heartbroken for the death of love, which adult readers devour, but also her songs and lullabies that children keep as a cherished possession. 

Between trips, while she was preparing to update the education system of her country, Gabriela Mistral arrived for the first time in Cuba in July 1922; and despite the brevity of the visit, she found time to meet with writers and artists, to whom she said she had known the Caribbean nation through José Martí’s writings.

She visited Cuba several times and she developed close ties of affection with the great voices of local poetry such as then young authors Fina García Marruz, Serafina Núñez, Dulce Maria Loynaz and Mirta Aguirre.

She also met with intellectuals of the caliber of anthropologist Don Fernando Ortiz and essayist Juan Marinello, to whom she expressed her assessments of Jose Marti’s poetry and, particularly, of his ‘Versos Sencillos’ (Simple Verses), on which she gave a lecture in Havana that has been regarded as the most acute and subtle interpretation of this work.

During one of Gabriela Mistral’s trips, days before World War II began, the poet also addressed other issues like fascism and voiced her faith and passionate defense of peace.

Her collection of poems Tala was sold to Cuban readers and the money collected was a contribution to the cause of the Spanish Republic, amid the vicissitudes of the Spanish Civil War.
 On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of José Martí’s birth, in January 1953, she visited the Caribbean country for the last time at the invitation of Cuban scholar Don Fernando Ortiz, to pay tribute to the Hero of Cuban independence. 
Years later, the writer died in New York.


For the original report go to

The Bones of the Dead

The bones of the dead
     dust on subtle frost
on their lovers mouths,
     unkissing, unkissed....

The bones of the dead are stronger
     than the flesh of those who live.
Disjoined, yet they form chains
     in which we lie captive.

translation by Ursula Le Guin

El placer de servir

Toda la naturaleza es un anhelo de servicio:
sirve la nube, sirve el viento, sirve el surco.

Donde haya un árbol que plantar, plántalo tú,
donde haya un error que enmendar, enmiéndalo tú.

Sé el que apartó la piedra del campo,
el odio entre los corazones,
y las dificultades del problema.

Hay la alegría de ser sano y de ser justo,
pero hay, sobre todo, la hermosa,
la inmensa alegría de servir.

Qué triste sería el mundo si todo en él estuviera hecho,
si no hubiera un rosal que plantar,
una empresa que emprender.

Que no te llamen solamente los trabajos fáciles.
Es tan bello hacer lo que otros esquivan.

Pero no caigas en el error de que sólo
se hace mérito con los grandes trabajos.
Hay pequeños servicios que son buenos servicios:
adornar una mesa,
ordenar unos libros,
peinar una niña.
Aquél es el que critica, éste es el que destruye.
Tú, sé el que sirve.

El servir no es faena sólo de seres inferiores.
Dios, que da el fruto y la luz, sirve.
Pudiera llamársele asi: "El que sirve."

Y tiene sus ojos en nuestras manos
y nos pregunta cada día:
Serviste hoy? A quién? Al árbol,
a tu amigo o a tu madre?

The Pleasure of Serving

All of nature is a yearning for service:
The cloud serves, and the wind, and the furrow.

Where there is a tree to plant, you be the one.
Where there is a mistake to undo, let it be you.

You be the one to remove the rock from the field,
The hate from human hearts,
And the difficulties from the problem.

There is joy in being wise and just,
But above all there is the beautiful,
The immense happiness of serving.

How sad the world would be if all was already done.
If there was no rosebush to plant,
No enterprise to undertake.

Do not limit yourself to easy tasks.
It's so beautiful to do what others dodge.

But don't fall prey to the error that only
Great tasks done can be counted as accomplishments.
There are small acts of service that are good ones:
Decoratively setting a table,
Putting some books in order,
Combing a little girl's hair.
That one over there is the one that criticizes,
This other one is the one that destroys.
You be the one that serves.

Serving is not a labor just for inferior beings.
God, who gives fruit and light, serves.
His name could be rendered thus:  He Who Serves.

And he has his eyes on our hands,
And he asks us at the close of day:
"Did you render service today? To whom?
To a tree, to your friend, to your mother?"

Translation by Eduardo Pérez Salazar