The Anger That Breaks the Man into Children

by Cesar Vallejo
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The Poem

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530

The anger in César Vallejo’s “The Anger That Breaks the Man into Children” is a force that shatters and divides so that it may reach a point of unification, the point of origin. The poem presents a reversal of Darwinian evolution as each stanza fragments its subject into increasingly numerous portions. The anger, specifically, as Vallejo reiterates in each stanza, “the anger of the poor,” works to break down human constructions and social orders. Four different directions this anger takes are described in four five-line stanzas of a similar, almost cyclical, structure, each stanza beginning with the anger and ending with the power—now honed and concentrated—that remains in that anger and that must be returned to if revolution, whether political or spiritual, is to be achieved.

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While each stanza completes its own cycle, a progression in the poem as a whole can be seen in the decreasing levels of consciousness of the objects of each stanza’s anger. The first of the anger’s objects, for instance, is “the man,” the pinnacle of evolutionary development thus far. The man, however, with his constructs of experience and strength, must be broken into “children”—reminiscent of Jesus’ decree in Matthew 18:3 that “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Vallejo, who rejected Catholicism, is known for his Christian references). The division continues as the child is broken into birds, then eggs. Each stanza ends by describing what the anger “has,” which is always the origin opposed to the derivative; in the first stanza “one oil against two vinegars.”

In the second stanza the anger breaks the “tree”—a step lower in the chain of consciousness from animal to vegetal matter—into leaves, then into buds, then into “telescopic grooves,” finally indicating the extinction of consciousness. The stanza ends with the anger that has “two rivers against many seas.” Not only are rivers obviously the origins of seas, but also their water nourishes the tree, thus indicating the regenerative potential of the origin.

In the third stanza the subject being destroyed by the anger moves further from consciousness and from individuality. Here the object is no longer an individual creature or natural object but an abstraction: “the good.” Representing a human construction, especially, an idea traditionally considered a source of human strength and ideals, “the good” is broken into doubts: the human ideal crushed to vulnerability. The fragmentation continues, ending in this stanza in death, furthest yet from consciousness. The stanza concludes with the anger possessing “one steel” against the less powerful “two daggers.”

In the final stanza the soul is the object of fragmentation. The placement of the soul here, in the context of the decreasing consciousness of each stanza’s objects, suggests Vallejo’s position that the soul—perhaps not all souls but the ill, modern soul deluded by its false notions of progress—is furthest yet from pure, or original, consciousness. The soul is broken into bodies, then into the body’s contents; first “organs,” then “thoughts.” The stanza and the poem end by returning to the most powerful image of origin and unification yet, the “central fire.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 524

The central motif of “The Anger That Breaks the Man into Children,” with its repetition eight times in a twenty-line poem, is “anger,” yet Vallejo’s is an unusual kind of anger in that it is not destructive, but rather productive. The anger divides its objects into images of regeneration and fertility. In the first stanza the division of the man moves from children, suggesting innocence and potential, to birds, suggesting flight, to the final image of “little eggs,” clearly symbolic of birth.

The second stanza follows the division of a tree into leaves, then buds, again suggesting birth. Vallejo’s poetry is never predictable, however, and the third stanza presents a more ironic symbol of birth or origin. Here the good is broken into “unforeseeable tombs,” from which, unlike “foreseeable” graves, will rise something different from the usual outcome of death: decay, stagnation. Instead, the opposite will occur: resurrection. The message is that one must die, returning to the point of origin, to be reborn. Other images show fragmentation resulting in a scientific or mathematical view of the object; the tree, for instance, is finally seen as no more than (or no less than) “telescopic grooves.” The “good” is divided into “three similar arcs” (perhaps a reference to the Christian Trinity), and the soul into “dissimilar organs,” then “octave thoughts.”

On the other hand, the images presented as qualities of “the anger of the poor”—oil, rivers, steel, and fire—are earthy and elemental, implying that the anger is also of the earth, primal and fundamental. The final image, “one central fire,” a symbol of passion and unity, is set against “two craters,” which while greater in number are actually less powerful for their separateness, thus the strength in unity and origin.

The poem’s formal structure seems to contradict its central concern, the breaking down of structures. Each stanza begins with the phrase “The anger that breaks,” and line 4 of each stanza is always the refrain, “the anger of the poor,” set apart to emphasize to what the anger is referring. Besides the cyclical structure of each stanza and the steady descent in degrees of consciousness and individuality of the anger’s objects, another structure, noticeably symmetrical, appears in the first and third stanzas, where the results of division are “equal” and “similar,” while in the second and fourth stanzas they are “unequal” and “dissimilar.” Moreover, the structures and regular progressions that run through the poem create a chantlike effect, perhaps like a battle chant. The battle is against the injustices of social reality for the poor and, more broadly, the delusions of human constructions.

The irony of the formal structure the poet uses to create a poem that tears down structures invokes the question of the role of the poet, always a preoccupation of Vallejo’s. Does the poet, speaking from the source, that “central fire,” have the vision necessary to transcend the illusions of structure and to use it creatively and productively? The answer does not seem clear; perhaps it lies in its own ambiguity, like the truth in the division of the good into “doubts” in the third stanza.

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Themes