A virtual, almost obsessive connection was what the Chilean writer Gabriela Mistral appeared to have with José Martí, for whom she felt profound literary admiration and respect.
This connection was felt to such an extent, that the distinguished Cuban writer Dulce María Loynaz, Gabriela Mistral’s host in Havana, went so far as to tell the Nobel Prize winner for Literature that Cubans would one day refer to her as Martí’s spiritual lover.
Dulce María Loynaz, a discrete but brilliant winner of the Cervantes Prize for Literature in 1992, welcomed great writers into her Havana residence in El Vedado; the likes of Federico García Lorca and Juan Ramón Jiménez, as well as Mistral, for what was known as meetings between “the aristocracy of knowledge”.
Mistral’s admiration for Martí; an unlikely friendship that would ultimately become in some way reality, reached the point that the Chilean author herself confessed during her visit to Cuba in 1953 that a Cuban woman had shouted at her, “That woman is in love with the Apostle!”.
“That’s what they say! The only thing I regret is not having met him personally”, answered Mistral.
This platonic love between two people who never got to meet (Martí died in 1895 when Gabriela was 6 years old) was born the day that she read a poetry book that she found in a bookshop at the start of the 20th century.
From these anecdotes, the Chilean poet Jaime Quezada became enthused with the idea of making a compilation of the many letters written by the Nobel Prize winner, dedicated to Cuba and its National hero.
“It’s a book that’s been in the making for a very long time. I had to investigate, collect lots of materials and sources and put them in order so that they would flow harmoniously”, the author told the Prensa Latina shortly after the volume’s launch in the capital.
The prestigious Chilean author’s admiration for Martí’s language and other Cuban causes is clearly reflected across some 198 pages. To a certain extent it is a summary of her four journey’s to the Caribbean island, where she even gave several lectures. “It was a long time spent going through libraries and looking for materials and newspapers to properly express Martí’s thinking, through the eyes of Gabriela Mistral. Martí is, of course, the central character”, Quezada added.
In the prologue, the Cuban essayist and poet Roberto Fernández Retamar highlights how 1945 saw the occurrence of a major event (…); “for the first time the Nobel Prize for Literature was won by a Latin American figure, Gabriela Mistral”.
Quezada, then president of the Society of Chilean Writers and author of many texts regarding Pablo Neruda, told the Prensa Latina that his greatest desire was to make the current book as attractive and motivational as possible.
“To give it a unity; where there is history, literature, philosophy, there is ultimately an entire cultural world, letters, articles, poems, and long texts like lectures”, he noted.
So as not to leave room for doubt, it is worth remembering something that Mistral said of the National Hero of Cuba: “Martí was my teacher and my guide. In him I found a kindred spirit (…) I read him once, twice and three times over. I cast my thinking with his and let my soul become totally overwhelmed with his ideas”.
Mistral – full name: Lucila de María del Perpetuo Socorro Godoy Alcayaga (1889-1957) – had amongst her many works; “Desolación” (1922), “Ternura” (1924), “Tala” (1938), “Lagar” (1954), “Poema de Chile” (1967) and “Lagar II” (1991) (…).
In Havana, the Cuban writer Jorge Mañach felt compelled to praise Mistral for the notebooks presented on the 19th May 1934 in Martí’s native home, for free distribution.
Gabriela Mistral’s relationship to Cuba was forming an unbreakable connection in the general sense, and with particular emphasis on her devotion for the work and thought of José Martí.
“In the piece mistraliana y martiana there is always both verse and prose. Both are so important that that they make us feel better, and closer to the great characters that both writers were”, reflected Jaime Quezada.
(Translated by Eleanor Gooch)