Anna Deeny Morales

Anna Deeny Morales

Photo by Tamzin B. Smith


Anna Deeny Morales is a translator, literary critic, and dramatist. Her translations of Raúl Zurita’s works include Purgatory, Dreams for Kurosawa, and Sky Below, Selected Works, of which she is also the editor. She has also translated works by Mercedes Roffé, Alejandra Pizarnik, and Amanda Berenguer, among others. Original works and adaptations for contemporary dance, theater, and opera include La straniera, Tela di Ragno, Cecilia Valdés, and La Paloma at the Wall. A 2019 National Endowment for the Arts recipient for the translation of Tala by Gabriela Mistral, Deeny Morales holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and teaches at Georgetown University. She co-directs the Gabriela Mistral Youth Poetry Competition.

I’m honored and grateful to receive a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature Translation. This award gives me the opportunity to spend time with Gabriela Mistral and the ways she thought through sound. What is extraordinary for me in Mistral’s poetry is the tension between, on the one hand, her subtle use of assonance, internal, end, and forced rhymes, and, on the other hand, a very strict syllabic count. I believe that this tension reflects Mistral’s concern regarding the dynamic between the body through physical intimacy and an idea of the divine, temporal, and geographic breadth. I’ll refer to music for a moment to try to arrive at this point. When you play, for example, Bach’s Fugues, Bach is exploring particular ranges of sound, that is, the sonorous possibilities within a given key, while engaging very rigid rules of counterpoint. On the one hand, time like a punctual insisting hammer that reflects an idea of God as timekeeper, as controlling the mechanism of the piece. On the other hand, Bach’s exploration of sound drives against that centripetal force to produce an idea of the human body, and human agency, not from a distance, however, but in intimacy. In addition to the small shifts in sound through a key, the hands’ subtle muscular adjustments produce this intimacy, a close understanding of the body as much in how the musician is required to play as in the slight ranges within the key that heighten our sense of awareness. I believe that Mistral’s use of sound is analogous: her delicate sound shifts speak to a form of intimacy and tenderness that she technically places in tension with the structures of syllabic count, that is, an idea of the divine that unexpectedly yields a sublime temporal and geographic breadth. This is very beautiful for me, and this is what the NEA gives me the opportunity to sound through.

"ASLEEP" by Gabriela Mistral

[Translated from the Spanish]

Rocking my flesh,
rocking my child,
I mill the whole world
with wrists alive.

The world, in arms
of woman milled,
to me becomes
a faded cloud.

Heft of the world,
through roofs and doors,
comes in to my room,
covers son and mother.

They are all the hills
and all the rivers,
all of creation,
and all ever born . . . 

I rock and I rock
and I see go
body they’d given me,
with senses full.

Now I see
no crib no son,
and I have the world
as faded gone . . .

I cry out to Who gave me
the world and child, I,
and then wake up
from my very own cry!

Original in Spanish

About Gabriela Mistral

Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957) was a poet, educator, and humanist. In 1945, she became the first Latin American writer and the fifth woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Through her extraordinary poetry and hundreds of essays on topics such as women, children, pedagogy, poverty, literature, culture, and politics, Mistral became a world-renowned expert in the fields of education and human rights as well as a celebrated writer. However, only one volume of Mistral’s poetry has been translated in its entirety into the English language.

Published in 1938, Tala [Fells] is dedicated to the thousands of children displaced by the Spanish Civil War. Considered by many to be Mistral’s most significant literary achievement, Tala is the last major work she published before receiving the Nobel Prize.