“The Stranger” by Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957)

This is a poem beautiful in its sadness, empathy, and understanding of xenophobia. It tells of a woman who’s come to live in the local community from a far away land, speaking forever with an accent and a native tongue that’s unintelligible. Her god is not their God and she never blends in with the community. She’s always a stranger, even in death.

My translation

The Stranger

She speaks with hints of barbarous seas,
of unknown seaweed and unknown sand;
she prays to a weightless, bulk-less god,
aged as if she were dying.
In the garden of ours made strange,
she’s put cactus and clawing herbs.
She breathes the breath of desert
and has loved with a whitening passion
that’s never been told and if told,
would be like the map of another star.
She will live among us eighty years,
but will always be like she’s arriving,
Speaking a language that grasps and groans
that only the beasts can understand.
Among us she’s going to die,
in a night she’s suffering the most,
with fate her only pillow,
a death quiet and strange.

Original Spanish

La Extranjera

Habla con dejo de sus mares bárbaros, 
con no sé que algas y no sé que arenas; 
reza oración a dios sin bulto ni peso, 
envejecida como si muriera. 
En huerto nuestro que nos hizo extraño, 
ha puesto cactus y zarpadas hierbas. 
Alienta del resuello del desierto 
y ha amado con pasión de que blanquea, 
que nunca cuenta y que si nos contase 
sería como el mapa de otra estrella. 
Vivirá entre nosotros ochenta años, 
pero siempre será como si llega, 
Hablando lengua que jadea y gime 
y que le entienden sólo bestezuelas. 
Y va a morirse en medio de nosotros, 
en una noche en la que más padezca, 
con sólo su destino por almohada, 
de una muerte callada y extranjera.

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