The Nobel Prize for Literature has very seldom been awarded to women, and those who received it have in the main been obscure. One thinks of Grazia Deledda, working soberly and with integrity in her small world, and probably a little dazed by the light that burst suddenly on her, about 1928. It does not seem to have had a lasting effect, for little of her work has reached English or any other foreign language. But Gabriela Mistral, the Chilean poet who has just died in New York, had an audience that extended far beyond the frontiers of her own country. When she was given the prize, in 1945, no rumblings of protest were heard; as a poet and as a representative figure she had established herself throughout Latin America. In her youth, when she had already produced exceptional love-lyrics with a high tragic power, Gabriela Mistral undertook most difficult educational tasks. She first chose to teach and organize in an experimental school in the far south of Chile, among illiterate adults. Here her success as a pioneer was such that, ten years later, she was invited to Mexico as educational adviser. At the same time her poignant, lovely rondas were accepted for the natural utterance of children; a moving experience for her being the sight of some 5000 Mexican children singing her rondas in parade before her as she looked on from a hilltop. Never ceasing to be a Creative writer, she was appointed by her country to a series of international posts suited to her status as ‘spiritual ambassador.’ This culminated in her being made ‘consul for life’ by Chile, the position giving her the right to choose where she would serve. She chose to serve in places as different as Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Los Angeles, finding publication in each city for her poems and prose studies and giving utterance al· ways to her ideas of intellectual cooperation as a basis for international life. A devoted patriot, she was intensely aware of the world beyond the borders of Chile. As for the quality of her poetry, it remained supple though mostly regular in form, and personal and romantic in approach. La Mistral, in every line she wrote, was recognizable for tenderness of touch and a sense of the properties of words in Spanish poetry.
Nettie Palmer (1885 – 1964) was an Australian poet, essayist and Australia’s leading literary critic of her day.