Study Guide

I have a terrible fear of being an animal

by Cesar Vallejo

I have a terrible fear of being an animal Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“I have a terrible fear of being an animal” encapsulates the multiple spiritual, social, and aesthetic struggles of Vallejo the man and Vallejo the poet. From his earliest days, Vallejo struggled with the traditional and acceptable forms of spirituality. He rebelled against the imposition of the moral and ethical values of his family and society by listening to the promptings of his interior life. He tried to make sense of the disparate nature of theory and practice whether at work in theology, life, or literature.

Vallejo uses this poem to explore the conflicts between art and life, the earth and beyond, humankind and God. The poem itself becomes an analogue, a reflection of these various systems and bodies.

Vallejo says in “Los dados eternos” (“The Eternal Dice”), for example, that God is dead, at least in his supremacy over humankind, but he acknowledges the existence of God in a diminished form. In that work, he elevates humankind, but in this poem, he reduces humankind by exposing his frailty and his invincibility simultaneously. In his theoretical writing on the avante-garde, Vallejo deplores the capitalist intelligentsia’s control of the ostensibly new in poetry. In this poem, however, he laments the animal’s inability “to change itself and have money.” Vallejo also repeatedly uses many of the techniques of the movements he reviles.

Vallejo says in his essay on “New Poetry” that new poetry that is based on new words or new metaphors is new only in the sense of novelty or complication, but new poetry that is based on “new sensibility issimple and human andmight be taken for old.” Nevertheless, his own poetry retains all the conventions of the modern.

The poem, then, can be seen as a duel between Vallejo and himself. Essentially, he fulfills Arthur Rimbaud’s idea that his self is an “other.” The poem is his battleground, and rather than drawing the reader into the fray, the poet further distances and alienates his audience. He uses numbers at the end, when words have lost their meaning. They become cheap, valueless in their ability to communicate. Ultimately, the poem is left open to as many possibilities as humankind is. As Vallejo has said, one must be careful of the human substance in poetry.