Locas mujeres/Madwomenpoems by Gabriela Mistral.
A Bilingual Edition, Edited and Translated by Randall Couch.
The University of Chicago Press, 2008.
vailable for the first time in English, these poems from the Locas mujeres section of Lagar, one of Gabriela Mistral's final works, are a pleasure to read, both in the original Spanish and in this inspired English translation by Randall Couch. A beautiful, hard-bound edition by the University of Chicago Press, with poems facing each other and verses numbered in the English translation, this volume makes it easy for the bilingual reader to jump back and forth between the original poem and the translation to elucidate the meaning of a particularly sophisticated word or to tease out the meaning of an unfamiliar phrasing in the Spanish. For the English reader, these poems stand on their own. They are as stunning in English as they are in Spanish. Couch explains his approach to the translation and his attempt to find equivalent techniques for Mistral's syntactic practice, techniques that include a penchant for compression, parallel grouping and repetition. He also notes that these poems do not follow one particular, uniform meter, but are rather a collage or quilt of metrical fragments. In many instances, Couch has retained these metrical ghosts: "...I am conscious of admitting, in a modest way, an emphasis of the source language perceptibly "foreignizing" to the target language--a practice theorized most cogently by Lawrence Venuti." An example of this would be: "...and this silence is even stronger than the shout/if it leaves us like this, with our faces white." Although in my view, such an effect did not get in the way and was in fact enjoyable.
This carefully edited volume includes an introduction, end-notes commenting on the various versions available for each poem and on the care the translator took when picking the latest version authorized by Mistral, herself a notorious and obsessive self-editor, as well as a selected bibliography in English and Spanish.
Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957), pen name of Lucila María del Perpetuo Socorro Godoy Alcayaga, was born in the Elqui valley of Chile's Norte Chico region. Her childhood was marked by her father's absence. She later on also suffered two tragic events that would leave a deep imprint on her and, consequently, her work--the suicide of her fiancé when she was just 20 years old; and the suicide of her adopted nephew, who may have been her biological son, when he was 17, after ingesting arsenic. Best known as the 1945 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature (the first one received by a Latin American, and the only Latin American woman ever to receive this distinction in Literature), Gabriela Mistral was also an educator and a diplomat. She traveled and lived all over the world, in self-imposed exile, including Mexico, New York, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Brazil, etc. She died of pancreatic cancer in Long Island, in January 1957. Her body was repatriated to Chile for three days of national mourning.
The poems comprised in Locas mujeres/Madwomen, are a section of Lagar, which translates as "winepress," the more complex and least "popular" of her books. She is better known for her carefully observed poems of nature, mothers, and children. These intensely personal and universal poems from her mature period will resonate with a broad audience. Mistral was clearly ahead of her time, publishing this collection in 1954, but even today this reader was pleased with her modernist sensibilities, her sparse, unadorned, yet lyrical language. E.g. "Tal cidra y vino a la vejez fui deseada,/deseada fui como la azul cascada fina/que ataranta los ojos del sediento." Rendered in English as: "Like cider and aged wine I was desired,/desired like the sheer blue cascade/that dazzles the eyes of the thirsty." These poems about women, a series of dramatic monologues about both mythical and earthly women, read as contemporary, vital, and necessary poems. Like the winepress, extracting grape juice to produce aromatic wines, these poems are best tasted on the tongue, in two languages, while read out loud.