Gabriela Mistral: Biography, Poems & Books

Instructor: Natarielle Powell
She uses a fake name. She was abandoned by her father at three years old, and she won a Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. Read on to learn more about Gabriela Mistral.

Gabriela Mistral
Gabriela Mistral

Early Life

Gabriela Mistral is a beautiful name, isn't it? Actually, the name, Gabriela Mistral, is a pseudonym, or false name. Her real name is Lucila Godoy Alcayaga.

Gabriela Mistral was born on April 7, 1889 in a small town in Chile. She was raised by her mother, her grandmother, and her older sister. Gabriela's father abandoned her mother and the family when Gabriela was just three years old. She only saw him a few times during her childhood. Although their encounters were brief, they were definitely memorable. He would write Gabriela poetry and sing her songs while he played the guitar. These experiences stuck with her and started her passion for poetry and writing.

Gabriela's grandmother also greatly influenced her writing. As a child, her grandmother would read to her and teach her Bible stories. Her grandmother would have her learn and recite the Psalms of David from the Bible. Later in life, she would reflect on these verses in her poetry.

Teaching Here and Teaching There

Mistral's older sister was her first teacher. This instruction left a lasting impression, much like Gabriela's father reading and writing her poetry. When she became of age, she decided to follow in her sister's footsteps and became a schoolteacher.

She taught elementary school and high school for several years before her poetry became her only career. Even after her success in writing, she traveled to the United States to teach Spanish literature at Columbia University. She also taught at Vassar College, Middlebury College, and the University of Puerto Rico.

Mistral's Poetry

When you read Gabriela Mistral's poetry, you can recognize the strong influence that the Bible, her grandmother, and her father had on her life. This is true for many authors. They write what they have lived and what they know. She writes about various topics: abandonment, joy, compassion, fear, love, and much more. Several of her poems suggest a war between two things like, love and hate, pain and pleasure, life and death, and hope and fear.

Her collection of poems about the grief she felt after the death of a loved one, called Sonetos de la muerte (Sonnets of Death), was published in 1914. After it was released, Gabriela became very popular in Chile and other parts of Latin America. The collection that really made her stand out was Desolación (Despair). It was published in 1922 and is a collection of nearly 80 poems.

Mistral's Inner Child Speaks through Poetry

In Mistral's other volumes of poetry, Ternura (Tenderness) and Tala (Felling), she focuses on children, as well as nature and maternity. Ternura includes short stories as well. Mistral is an excellent storyteller. Here is one of her children's poems called La Pina (The Pineapple) featured in Ternura. It has been translated into English.

La Pina

'Come near, don't be afraid

Of the pineapple and her swords . . .

Because they live in the field

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