queen of the water

gabriela mistral (1889 - 1957) in san michele di pagana

by domenico ermirio

november 2015

people in riviera

There are countries I remember
as I remember my childhood.
They're lands of sea or river,
of pastures, lowlands, waters.
My village on the Rhone,
rich in river and cicadas;
Antilles of green-black palm trees
that from mid-ocean calls me;
Ligurian rock of Portofino,
sea of Italy, sea of Italy!
(from Water - Tala, 1938)

"Wandering Jew", nomad, rambling, restless traveller who wants to stay away from her Homeland, the Chile. This is in few words, the kind of life of Gabriela Mistral, at least after she wins the Nobel Prize in 1945. A big difference from her youth, when she spoke to the river, to the mountain… She calls Lucila Godoy Alcayaga: with fifteen she works as a teacher in the country schools close to Montegrande, the village where she lives among the mountains. She is a real campesina and knows how is peasant's life, full of work and furnished with simplicity. This is the harsh side of her poetry which, after the first appearances on some newspapers and magazines, reaches the success at the 1914's "Juegos Floreales" in Santiago. She presents there the "Sonetos de la muerte", three dark lyrics sometimes bloody and really intense, but above all TRUE. They are inspired by a personal experience: the tragic end of a beloved man. Somehow she feels herself involved in this tragedy, though she has absolutely nothing to do with. After this, she will never want to marry or to dedicate her life to another man: this is perhaps the only real love story of Lucila. But on the other side she transforms this sad event in three splendid poems that represent the first step of a big career. Lucila becomes Gabriela, famous and successful woman. She teaches in higher level schools and she meets the cultural and political environment of Chile. She is called to represent Chilean culture around the world; she dedicates to school reforms, to her poetry (four books published between 1922 and 1954 collect almost all her poems) and she travels. She visits South and Central America, the United States and Europe. Between 1922 and the Second World War she receives many tasks from the government and she is appointed Honorary Consul. She travels and lives in many States among which: Mexico, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Uruguay, Antilles, France, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy. Soon Latin America loves and gives her its crown: in every place she comes, she is claimed as a queen, but like a real one she is always humble and simple, that's why she is so beloved. The whole South Continent (included Portuguese language Lands) wants her as its candidate to the Nobel. In 1945, the first time for a South-American citizen, Gabriela Mistral receives the Nobel Prize for Literature. She becomes the symbol of the modern latin poetry which is considered now in a different way from the European cultural elite. For the next ten years she doesn't come back home: she knows that the time of country life is gone and that now she couldn't live in her Homeland as a simple campesina. She searches around the world places where she could live in harmony and piece with nature, speaking again with the water and the trees. There she could buy or rent an house and stay for more than an hurried month. Three are the main of them: Petropolis (Brazil), Santa Barbara (California, United States), Rapallo (Tigullio, Italy). Here she stays from the '48 to the '51, renting "Il Boschetto", a nice house in San Michele di Pagana. It's a plain white building with a nice garden around. The view is splendid: in every moment she can look at the sea and in the wreath of waves to sing. She has been in Liguria before the War (the period when she wrote "Water") and she loves it as loves Italy. After Rapallo's years she stay in Trento and Naples. Italy is for her an happy place, and of course it's a land of sea. Everywhere she is searching for water, her favorite element, almost constantly used in her poems. In that white house in San Michele, the sea is like a faithful and dear friend: you can look at him whenever you want but also if you're not thinking to him, you can always listen to his voice. He is there from thousands years and the bay lives in time with the waves. Today at the entrance of the house, one broken stone remembers the great poetess who loved the sea and its beauty - on that shore she always walks, until the others fall asleep.

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