Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral was the first Latin American author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, so you’d think her poems would be easy to find, since, you, know, she’s pretty darn awesome.
I comb bookshelves on a fairly regular basis, and in, say, the ten years that I’ve been on the lookout for one of her books, I’ve never found one.
But the interwebs is a blessing, despite its many flaws, and on Powells.com I found a true gem: a third printing of a 1957 volume of Mistral’s poetry translated by Langston Hughes. THE Langston Hughes. Doubly awesome.
The book’s shortcoming is that it doesn’t include the poems in the original Spanish, but after ten years, I’ll take it. Of course, those ten years took most of my fluency in Spanish with them, but c’est la vie. Sorry. Es la vida. If you’d like a side-by-side translation, you might check out Ursula K. LeGuin’s newer edition, also on Powell’s.
These past few weeks we’ve been watching our son make an speedy transition from babydom into boyhood, and I’m feeling a little nostalgic, so out of the many lovely poems in this volume, I’m learning “Cradle Song” or “Meciendo” in Spanish, which means “rocking.” It’s sweet without becoming treacly, and, as you’d expect, it’s quite rhythmic and repetitive. Underneath the poem runs a current of power and tragedy, which presages, I think, Mistral’s later, dark work. “Meciendo” comes from her early volume Desolacion.
I’m going to try to learn the poem in Spanish. As far as I can tell, Hughes’s translation is less literal than Le Guin’s, but each has its own advantages. I might try my own translation — I’ll post an update next week.