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This review is taken from PN Review 152, Volume 29 Number 6, July - August 2003.

SAY YOUR WORD, AND CONTINUE QUIETLY GABRIELA MISTRAL, Selected Prose and Prose-Poems. Translated by Stephen Tapscott (University of Texas Press, Austin)

In Gabriela Mistral's book Desolation there is a remarkable moment in which the Chilean Nobel Laureate, at the height of her powers, gives voices to the olive trees of Gethsemane, transforming them into a botanic-tragic chorus:

`I let a leaf fall on Peter's face while he was sleeping. He hardly moved. Then I realized, my brothers, that men don't love, that even when they want to love they don't love well.'

`When Judas kissed him, He darkened the moon, so that we trees could not see the kiss. But my branch saw it, and my trunk is seared with a ring of shame.'

`At that moment none of us would have wanted to have a soul!'

`Motifs of the Passion' goes on for two full pages, and it represents one of Mistral's greatest achievements. In fact, Desolation, published in 1922, is one of the great achievements of twentieth-century Latin American poetry. And yet English translations of the book number only three (the first was by Langston Hughes in 1957), and of those, none includes the prose-poems that make up more than half the book. When compared to the stream of English translations dedicated to Pablo Neruda, Chile's other Nobel Laureate, it seems almost a travesty.

But Stephen Tapscott, long acknowledged to be one of Neruda's best translators, has done us an invaluable service in bringing Mistral out of her English oblivion. Gabriela Mistral, Selected Prose and Prose-Poems ...


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