César Vallejo 1892-1938
(Full name César Abraham Vallejo) Peruvian poet, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, and novelist.
Vallejo is considered one of the most important poets in modern Spanish American literature. Influenced by various political, intellectual, and aesthetic events and movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—including communism, the Spanish civil war, Darwinism, and Spanish Modernism—his works are marked by inventive wordplay and stylistic experimentation. Thematically, Vallejo's poems are often concerned with social and political injustice, alienation, and the conflict between physical desire and spirituality.
The youngest of eleven children, Vallejo was born into a lower middle-class family in Santiago de Chuco, Peru. He attended Trujillo University, where he earned his B.A. in 1915 as well as a degree in law; during this time he also published his first works in local newspapers. Associated with Nuestra epoca, a short-lived journal noted for its radical political opinions, he was implicated in the vandalism that occurred during a 1919 demonstration. Vallejo was imprisoned the following year and during his incarceration wrote several of the poems included in the 1922 volume Trilce. He left Peru in 1923 and settled permanently in Paris. He made several trips to Spain, where he met prominent writers and thinkers of the Generation of 1927, including Rafael Alberti and Federico Garcia Lorca. A supporter of Loyalist forces in the Spanish civil war, Vallejo additionally helped establish the Spanish journal Nuestra Espana and wrote of his love and hopes for the country in Espafia, aparta de mieste cdliz (Spain, Let This Cup Pass from Me). A registered Communist, he also made several trips to Russia; his experiences there as well as his leftist ideology are documented in the essay collection Rusia en 1931 and El tungsteno, a novel focusing on capitalistic abuses inflicted on Peruvian miners. Vallejo died in Paris in 1938 at the age of forty-six.
Vallejo's first poetry collection, Los heraldos negros (The Black Heralds), focuses on his memories of childhood, the landscape surrounding his birthplace, and the Indians indigenous to Peru. Noted for its use of decorative language, The Black Heralds is often considered to be largely influenced by Spanish modernismo, which derived many of its characteristic themes and stylistic traits from the French Symbolist and Decadent movements of the late nineteenth century. Trilce, Vallejo's second collection of poems, represents a marked shift in development and world view. Conveying the bitterness stemming from his prison experience and the anguish he associated with existence, Trilce concerns what Vallejo perceived as a conflict between humanity's animal nature and its constant struggle for—and inability to achieve—pure love, spiritual transcendence, and social harmony. In order to convey his vision of an absurd and hostile world, Vallejo shunned traditional poetic diction in favor of a more personal, "raw" language. For example, Vallejo used distorted syntax and unusual orthography to suggest disparate images and concepts in the posthumously published Poemas humanos (Poemas humanos/Human Poems), which emphasizes the plight of the poor and the individual's search for identity and purpose in a dehumanizing world.
Despite the highly individualistic and idiosyncratic nature of his writings, Vallejo's poetry is considered to be of universal relevance. D. P. Gallagher has observed: "For Vallejo a poem is essentially a statement about Vallejo or about the human problems of which Vallejo is a microcosm. Language is not wrenched in order to achieve a new, unprecedented decorativeness, but rather in order to discover the man that has been hitherto hidden behind its decorative facades." Because of Vallejo's emphasis on ambiguity and manipulation of conventional standards of spelling and grammar, his writings are not readily accessible to English-language audiences. Nevertheless, among Spanish-speaking readers, he is frequently considered one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century.
Los heraldos negros [The Black Heralds] (poetry) 1918
Trilce (poetry) 1922
Escalas melografiades (novellas and short stories) 1923
Rusia en 1931: Reflexiones al pie del Kremlin (essays) 1931
El tungsteno: La novela proletaria [Tungsten] (novel) 1931
Poemas humanos [Poemas humanos/Human Poems] (poetry) 1939
España, aparta de ml este cdliz [Spain, Let This Cup Pass from Me] (poetry) 1940
Novelas y cuentos completos (novellas and short stories) 1967
Obra poética completa (poetry) 1968
César Vallejo: The Complete Posthumous Poetry (poetry) 1978
Teatro completo (dramas) 1979
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SOURCE: "The Conflict of Personality in César Vallejo's Poemas Humanos," in Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, Vol. XLIII, No. 1, January, 1965, pp. 47-55.
[In the excerpt below, Higgins discusses Vallejo's Human Poems, contending that this work demonstrates Vallejo's preoccupation with the theme of "the individual… continually at war with himself '
[Vallejo's] last and definitive book of verse, Poemas humanos, was published posthumously in 1939 and most of the poems were written in the latter years of Vallejo's life. Even the most superficial reading of this volume is enough to reveal what Guillermo de Torre [in "Reconocimiento critico de César Vallejo," Revista Iberoamericana, XXV (1960)] has called 'la propensión al desdoblamiento, al verse a si mismo como un otro'. One is struck by the number of poems in which Vallejo is engaged in dialogue with himself:
Tú surfres de una glandula endocrinica, se ve.
Y bien? Te sana el metaloide pálido?
In other poems the poet dissociates himself completely from the figure of César Vallejo:
Yo no sufro este dolor come César Vallejo.
César Vallejo, te odio con ternura!
César Vallejo ha muerto.
Elsewhere he puts his own existence in doubt and envisages the possibility of his being someone...
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SOURCE: "César Vallejo: Profile of a Poet," in Proceedings: Pacific Northwest Conference on Foreign Languages, Vol. XIX, April 19-20, 1968, pp. 135-43.
[In the following overview of Vallejo's poetry, McDuffie examines the thematic and stylistic features of Trilce, Black Heralds, and Human Poems, as well as Vallejo's place in twentieth-century Hispanic literature.]
The poetry of César Vallejo has received increasing attention both within and without the Hispanic world since the premature death of the Peruvian mestizo poet on the eve of World War II. Now, nearly seventy-five years since his birth in a small town of the Peruvian sierra, Santiago de Chuco, and thirty years since his untimely death on Good Friday of 1938 in Paris, his reputation continues to grow. Evidence of his international stature is the fact that he has attracted the attention of critics writing in Italian, Portuguese, German, English, Swedish, Hebrew, Russian and French, and translations of his poetry exist in most of these languages.
It is our purpose here to trace briefly the poetic development of Vallejo as represented in his three books of poems, Los heraldos negros, Trilce and the posthumous Poems humanos. By placing Vallejo's work within an historical perspective we may arrive at a clearer evaluation of his originality and position in the panorama of Twentieth Century...
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SOURCE: "Visions of Solidarity," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3526, September 25, 1969, p. 1098.
[In the following review of Poemas humanos/Human Poems, the critic provides an overview and comparison of The Black Heralds, Trilce, and Human Poems.]
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SOURCE: "César Vallejo (Peru, 1892-1938)," in Modern Latin American Literature, Oxford University Press, London, 1973, pp. 11-38.
[In the essay below, Gallagher provides an overview of Vallejo's career.]
Vallejo's first book of poems, Los heraldos negros (1918), is at first sight a derivative work, and one or two poems in it could easily have been written by Ruben Dario, others by Herrera y Reissig or Lugones. Take the opening stanza of 'Nochebuena' ('Christmas Eve'):
Al callar la orquesta, pasean veladas
sombras femeninas bajo los ramajes,
por cuya hojarasca se filtran heladas
quimeras de luna, pálidos celajes
['When the orchestra falls silent, veiled / female shadows stride beneath the branches / through whose foliage are filtered / frozen whims of moon, pallid skyscapes.']
—a purely decorative description that parades all the portentous hush, the hectically contrived mystery of fleeting feminine presences, the subtly filtered light effects, the delicate pallors of modernista rhetoric. Silk appears predictably in the next stanza, deployed for an equally predictable synaesthesic effect:
Charlas y sonrisas en locas bandadas
perfuman de seda los rudos boscajes.
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SOURCE: "¡Viva Vallejo! ¡Arriba Espafia!" in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 56, No. 1, Winter, 1980, pp. 185-92.
[In the review below, MacAdam favorably assesses César Vallejo: The Complete Posthumous Poetry, discussing thematic and stylistic features of Vallejo's verse and the translation problems posed by his writings.]
"There is no problem as consubstantial with literature and its modest mystery as translation." This is the first sentence of Jorge Luis Borges' meditation on various English translations of Homer, beginning with Chapman and ending with Samuel Butler. Borges concludes in "The Homeric Versions" (1932) that: (1) all texts are, in the widest sense of the word, translations; (2) all texts, even the final, printed version, are drafts; (3) there is no "definitive" text; and (4) no translation is, in the last analysis, better than any other. Even the worst translation may succeed in communicating to the reader some aspect of the original absent in the "better" translation.
As we read Borges, we wonder how there can be so many translations of Homer. Did the English learn more Greek over the centuries? Was one age closer in spirit to the age of Homer or to Homer himself than another? Do Pope's heroic couplets really put Homer in corsets, or are we blinded by our post-Romantic prejudice to 18th-century elegance? No other literary act demonstrates so clearly the...
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SOURCE: "César Vallejo's Personal Earthquake," in Romance Notes, Vol. XXV, No. 2, Winter, 1984, pp. 127-31.
[In the essay below, Hart discusses historical and religious references in the poem "Terremoto. 'I
César Vallejo's poem "Terremoto" has received little critical attention in the past. [In the 1976 César Vallejo: The Dialectics of Poetry and Silence] Jean Franco discusses how the poem 'destroys any sense of presence in order to replace this by relativity and function', but she does not bring out the relevance of the historical figures to the imagery used. Americo Ferrari gives a longer critical discussion of "Terremoto" [in the 1972 El universo poetico de César Vallejo], showing how it is characterized by opposites of various kinds, but confessing ignorance at the meaning of certain phrases such as 'horizonte de entrada' and the relevance of certain names such as Atanacio and Isabel. Clayton Eshleman goes one step further in this disregard for the resonance attached to historical figures by remarking [in César Vallejo: The Complete Posthumous Poetry] that the proper names mentioned in "Terremoto" "have no particular meaning for a Spanish reader." In this article, I show how the historical figures form a vital part of the argument of the poem, without which the poem cannot be understood. As we shall see, "Terremoto" manipulates, in an allusive and subtle manner, arguments...
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SOURCE: "The World Upside-Down in the Work of César Vallejo," in Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, Vol. LXII, No. 2, April, 1985, pp. 163-77.
[In the following excerpt, Hart explores Vallejo's treatment of the theme of the world turned upside-down, asserting that his early poetry and prose convey a "desire to return to a silent paradise of animal simplicity," while his writings after his conversion to Communism depict both a world gone wrong and the hope for a future utopia.]
The desire to turn the world upside-down, as expressed in the Trilce poems, is to be viewed as a modern example of a topos that has enjoyed a rich and varied tradition in European literature, especially in the avant-garde. For the search is ultimately directed towards a prelapsarian state. But, as we find so often in Vallejo's poetry, this poetical device is used for specifically personal ends. In Vallejo's early work (up until about 1925), this topos is used to characterize a pre-edenic state in which the poet is fully integrated with his animal self or anima (soul). But later on, the same topos, through revitalization with the Marxian dialectic, is used to represent the world of capitalism as a political world the wrong way up. Towards the end of Vallejo's life, a means of escaping this impasse by reverting the world to its original harmony seemed possible through the heroic efforts of the...
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SOURCE: "Vallejo, Heidegger and Language," in Words of Power: Essays in Honour of Alison Fairlie, edited by Dorothy Gabe Coleman and Gillian Jondorf, University of Glasgow Publications in French Language and Literature, 1987, pp. 163-86.
[In the essay below, Close analyzes the linquistic richness of Vallejo's poetry, noting his innovative use of syntax, spelling, wordplay, and ambiquity. Noting similarities between Vallejo's verse and Heidegger's theories of language, the critic also relates Vallejo's focus on the nature of language and his attempt to address its limitations in order "to project a more accurate and authentic view of the human condition, of man's 'being-in-the-world.' 'I
The reader coming to the poetry of César Vallejo, the Peruvian poet who died in Paris in 1938 at the age of 44, is at once confronted by and locked in struggle with linguistic difficulty. Words appear as no mere symbols, but have the density, timbre, impact, weight and opacity of physical objects, recalling what Gerard Manley Hopkins said of language in his essay on 'Rhythm...
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SOURCE: "César Vallejo and the Stones of Darwinian Risk," in Studies in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 14, No. 1, Winter, 1990, pp. 9-19.
[In the excerpt below, von Buelow assesses Vallejo's treatment of Darwinian and Marxist theory in his short story "Los caynas. 'I
The young man who narrates César Vallejo's short story "Los caynas" (1923) is shocked and terrified when he enters the house of a village family to find that those living there more closely resemble monkeys than they do humans. The narrator recoils from the howling and shrieking acrobatics of a woman whose "anthropoid image" is at once mechanical, child-like and bestial. This "regressive zoological obsession" comes as the third and final manifestation of what the narrator vaguely calls "the mysteries of reason [that] become thorns and well up in the closed and stormy circle of a fatal logic." Earlier episodes anticipate this singular species regression with an oblique, mysterious logic. A young man named Urquizo from the same village family falls prey to a peculiar form of madness: he boasts to those assembled at a bar that his horse has the extraordinary capacity to defy gravity and ride inverted, hooves pointing upward. Meeting Urquizo in the street one day, the narrator accidentally slips and bumps into him and evokes the angry protest, "Are you mad?" This last episode of "seeing things in reverse" appears to the shaken narrator as...
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Franco, Jean. "Vallejo and the Crisis of the Thirties." Hispania 72, No. I (March 1989): 42-8.
Discusses Vallejo's political and aesthetic beliefs, his modernist and avant-garde influences, and elements of his work.
Von Buelow, Christiane. "Vallejo's Venus de Milo and the Ruins of Language." PMLA 104, No. I (January 1989): 41-52.
In-depth analysis of "Trilce 36." Noting Vallejo's relationship to the avant-garde and modernist movements of the early twentieth century and applying Walter Benjamin's theories of the symbol and the allegory to "Trilce 36," von Buelow argues that "Vallejo's poetry goes beyond simply renouncing 'the cult of the beautiful' in symbolist poems … and affects a critical decomposition of what might be called 'the aesthetics of the symbol."
Additional coverage of Vallejo's life and works is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 105; Hispanic Literature Criticism, Vol. 2; Hispanic Writers, and Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 3.
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