The poetry of Gabriela Mistral, who won the Nobel Prize in 1945, is very concrete, and generally it’s yoked to the Chilean landscape. Often her protagonists are women: on solitary journeys that might be a pilgrimage or an attempt at flight; stuck in landscapes that feel foreign to them; or escaping all bounds in dreams or as supernatural figures. The intensely noticed details of those landscapes, the women’s homes and their domestic routines assume a timeless, archetypal power: that broom has been in the hands of generations of women, looking out at the same dry cordilleras. The atmosphere is a little like Federico Garcia Lorca’s great plays about women, except that in Mistral they do not take us by the collar and demand our comprehension: her women are terser, more stoic, and talk as if to themselves.

Mistral attempts something different in her long poem Sol del trópico: to connect the landscapes and cultures of Mesoamerica and the Andes through their worship of the sun. I love how her writing stays specific even in this different register (it’s a long prayer): the way the details – the trees, animals and fruits – and the names of different cultures function as markers of place; the simplicity of the language, and the way she addresses the sun intimately, as ; the way it feels both grounded and immense. More than anywhere else I’ve been, the sun feels like the central fact of existence in the Andes; at this altitude, in the bare open spaces of the altiplano, there is nothing separating you and it. My translation of the poem is below.

Sun of the Incas, sun of the Mayas,
ripe American sun,
sun which the Mayas and Quichés
recognised and adored,
and in which the old Aymaras
were burned like amber.
Red pheasant when you rise
and at midday, white
sun that paints and tattoos
the race of men and leopards.

Sun of the mountains and valleys
of the abysses and plains,
Rafael of our marches,
golden greyhound of our steps,
over all the earth and sea
saint and sign of my brothers.
If we get lost, that they look for us
in scorched mud,
where the bread tree exists
and the balsam tree suffers.

Sun of Cuzco, white in the high plain.
Sun of Mexico, golden song,
dappled song of the Mayab,
corn of fire that does not take communion,
for which the throats cry out
raised to your viaticum;
running you go through the
severe or Christian blues,
a white deer, or turning red
always wounded, never caught.

Sun of the Andes, our number,
seer of American men,
burning shepherd of the burning grey
and land burning in your miracle,
that neither melts nor melts us,
that does not devour nor is devoured;
quetzal of fire turning white
that raised and fed magical towns;
confused flame in the white routes
guiding the stunned llamas.

Root of the sky, healer
of the speared Indians;
sacred arm when you save them,
when you kill them, sacred love.
Quetzalcoatl, father of the officials
of the race of almond eyes,
the miller of indigo and canes
and weaver of innocent cotton.
You thread the Indian looms
with hectic hummingbirds
and you give the painted fretwork
to the mother river of Tacámbaro.
Roc, feather that incubates
two insatiable Easts!

You arrive pious and absolute
depending on gods that did not arrive,
flocks of white doves,
manna that falls without bending us.
We don’t know what we did
to live transfigured.
In our solar species,
Viracochas confessed,
and we collected their bodies
in a scorching sacrament.

I trusted mine to your flame,
in a heap of embers lying down
with a canopy of salamanders
that sleep and dream their holy bodies.
Or they walk against the twilight,
lit like brooms
saffron over the west
half Adams, half topazes.

Look at me naked and recognise me,
if you did not see me in forty years,
with the Pyramid of your name,
with the pitahaya and the mango
with the flamingos of the dawn
and the shining lizards.

Like the agave, like the yucca,
like the Peruvian’s jug,
like the gourd of Uruapan,
like the flute of a thousand years,
I return to you, to you I surrender,
I open myself in you, I bathe in you!
Take me like you took them,
pore by pore, segment by segment,
and put me among them to live,
astonished within your astonishment.

I walked on the foreign quartz,
I ate their mercenary fruit;
at a hard table and a deaf glass
I drank languid meads;
I offered weak prayers
and I sang the savage hymns
and slept where there are dragons
broken and dead Zodiacs.

I return you for my oldest forms
and the package in which they raised me.
Water me like this with the red water
and place me to boil in your soup.
Bleach me or darken me
in your bleaches and caustics.

Burn in me the clumsy fears,
dry the mud, expel the lies;
roast me when you speak, burn my eyes,
scorch my mouth, breath and song,
clean my hearing and wash my sight,
purify my hands and touches!

Make me the bloods and the milks,
and the marrows, and the cries.
Dry for me my sweat and my wounds
on my back and sides.
And once more include me, whole,
in the choirs that danced you,
the magical choirs, rocking
over Palenque and Tihuanaco.

The Quechuas and Mayas
we swear to you what we swore.
From you we roll towards the Time
and we will climb into your lap;
from you we fell in lumps of gold
in separate coins of gold,
and to you we will enter correctly
according to what the Incan Wizards said.

Like bunches to the winery
we will return those that go down
like the shoal of gold fish climb
to the raging sea flower
and the big anacondas go
climbing to the whistled call!

***

Y el poema original en español:

Sol de los Incas, sol de los Mayas
maduro sol americano,
sol en que mayas y quichés
reconocieron y adoraron,
y en el que viejos aimaráes
como el ámbar fueron quemados.
Faisán rojo cuando levantas
y cuando medias, faisán blanco
sol pintador y tatuador
de casta de hombre y de leopardo.

Sol de montañas y de valles,
de los abismos y los llanos,
Rafael de las marchas nuestras,
lebrel de oro de nuestros pasos,
por toda tierra y todo mar
santo y seña de mis hermanos.
Si nos perdemos, que nos busquen
en unos limos abrasados,
donde existe el árbol del pan
y padece el árbol de bálsamo.

Sol del Cuzco, blanco en la puna.
Sol de México, canto dorado,
canto rodado sobre el Mayab,
maíz de fuego no comulgado,
por el que gimen las gargantas
levantadas a tu viático;
corriendo vas por los azules
estrictos o jesucristianos,
ciervo blanco o enrojecido
siempre herido, nunca cazado.

Sol de los Andes, cifra nuestra,
veedor de hombres americanos,
pastor ardiendo de grey ardiendo
y tierra ardiendo en su milagro,
que ni se funde ni nos funde,
que no devora ni es devorado;
quetzal de fuego emblanquecido
que cría y nutre pueblos mágicos;
llama pasmado en rutas blancas
guiando llamas alucinados.

Raíz del cielo, curador
de los indios alanceados;
brazo santo cuando los salvas,
cuando los matas, amor santo.
Quetzalcóatl, padre de oficios
de la casta de ojo almendrado,
el moledor de los añiles y cañas
y tejedor de algodón cándido.
Los telares indios enhebras
con colibríes alocados
y das las grecas pintureadas
al mujerío de Tacámbaro.
¡Pájaro Roc, plumón que empolla
dos orientes desenfrenados!

Llegas piadoso y absoluto
según los dioses no llegaron,
bandadas de tórtolas blancas,
maná que baja sin doblarnos.
No sabemos qué es lo que hicimos
para vivir transfigurados.
En especies solares nuestros
Viracochas se confesaron,
y sus cuerpos los recogimos
en sacramento calcinado.

A tu llama fié a los míos,
en parva de ascuas acostados;
con un tendal de salamandras
duermen y sueñan sus cuerpos santos.
O caminan contra el crepúsculo,
encendidos como retamos,
azafranes sobre el poniente,
medio Adanes, medio topacios.

Desnuda mírame y reconóceme,
si no me viste en cuarenta años,
con Pirámide de tu nombre,
con la pitahaya y con el mango,
con los flamencos de la aurora
y los lagartos tornasolados.

¡Como el maguey, como la yuca,
como el cántaro del peruano,
como la jícara de Uruápan,
como la quena de mil años,
a ti me vuelvo, a ti me entrego,
en ti me abro, en ti me baño!
Tómame como los tomaste,
el poro al poro, el gajo al gajo,
y ponme entre ellos a vivir,
pasmada dentro de tu pasmo.

Pisé los cuarzos extranjeros,
comí sus frutos mercenarios;
en mesa dura y vaso sordo
bebí hidromieles que eran lánguidos;
recé oraciones mortecinas
y me canté los himnos bárbaros,
y dormí donde son dragones
rotos y muertos los Zodíacos.

Te devuelvo por mis mayores
formas y bulto en que me alzaron.
Riégame así con rojo riego;
y ponme a hervir dentro de tu caldo.
Emblanquéceme u oscuréceme
en tus lejías y tus cáusticos.
¡Quémame tú los torpes miedos,
sécame lodos, avienta engaños;
tuéstame hablas, árdeme ojos,
sollama boca, resuello y canto,
límpiame oídos, lávame vistas,
purifica manos y tactos!

Hazme las sangres y las leches,
y los tuétanos, y los llantos.
Mis sudores y mis heridas
sécame en lomos y en costados.
Y otra vez íntegra incorpórame
a los coros que te danzaron,
los coros mágicos, mecidos
sobre Palenque y Tihuanaco.

Gentes quechuas y gentes mayas
te juramos lo que jurábamos.
De ti rodamos hacia el Tiempo
y subiremos a tu regazo;
de ti caímos en grumos de oro,
en vellón de oro desgajado,
y a ti entraremos rectamente
según dijeron Incas Magos.

¡Como racimos al lagar
volveremos los que bajamos,
como el cardumen de oro sube
a flor de mar arrebatado
y van las grandes anacondas
subiendo al silbo de llamado!