The Black Heralds Summary
by Cesar Vallejo

The Black Heralds book cover
Start Your Free Trial

The Black Heralds Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Download The Black Heralds Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The release of The Black Heralds earned Vallejo a good deal of positive critical attention, much more so than his second book, Trilce, would initially garner with its 1922 release. Much of the critical interest in The Black Heralds derives from the book’s fervent, unique exploration of the intersections of Catholic rhetoric, indigenous Peruvian culture, personal loss, and Vallejo’s perceptions of the world as brimming with erotic energy and an absurd excess of existential agony. This is exemplified by poems such as “El pan nuestro” (“Our Daily Bread”), “Oración del camino” (“Prayer of the Road’), and “Espergesia” (“Epexegesis”), which transform Catholic motifs and icons into metaphors for the framing of intimate, pained questions about an individual human being’s ontological insignificance. Similarly, the book’s title poem, “Los heraldos negros” (“The Black Heralds”), is a furious defiance of God in His most violent moments, which render one speechless yet vigorously innervated in that silence. “The Black Heralds” is one of the most renowned individual poems in the Spanish-speaking world.

After “The Black Heralds,” the introductory poem in the collection, the book comprises six sections. Most of those sections include at least a few sentimental and/or melodramatic lyrical poems, which is typical of many young poets. After all, Vallejo had written most of these poems in his early to mid-twenties. However, throughout the book readers can spot the emergence of Vallejo’s voice, which sounds itself most audibly in poems like “La araña” (“The Spider”) and “Los dados eternos” (“The Eternal Dice”). There he works with a swift pace, both intellectually and rhythmically, building a narrative sequence disjointed by iconoclastic juxtapositions of Catholic liturgy, natural metaphor, and a perspective on the cosmos as indifferent to individual suffering on Earth.

The book’s fourth section, “Nostalgias imperiales” (“Imperial Nostalgias”), intensifies that mix by adding Vallejo’s impassioned, political interest in exploited laborers, cultures, and resources, particularly in relation to the colonial sacking of Peruvian Incan land for its minerals and precious metals. Tangentially, one also should note the book’s consistent theme of longing for family, which manifests itself, for example, through the poem “Enereida,” honoring his father’s dissolution through the aging process, and the poem “A mi hermano Miguel” (“To My Brother Miguel”), eulogizing César’s deceased older brother, who died in 1915.


(Poetry for Students)

Stanza 1

The first line of “The Black Heralds” is one of the most memorable in Spanish poetry: “There are blows in life so powerful . . . I just don’t know!” The intensity of the poem is immediately established with the subject of the painful blows and the questioning they engender, although a question is not asked but is left to the reader’s imagination by the ellipsis before the answer, “I just don’t know!” The line is the cry of the oppressed as they struggle to understand why life is so hard.

In the second through fourth lines, Vallejo says that these blows are as terrible as if they were from “God’s hatred.” These blows are so strong that they are capable of causing all the memories of one’s suffering to well up, capable of causing the pain to rise up from the depths of the soul to the surface. However, the author repeats the use of the ellipsis to create a pause that makes the “I just don’t know” phrase that follows into an outcry of exasperation and frustration, as if to question his own analogy or to emphasize the impossibility of knowing why terrible things happen.

Stanza 2

Here the narrator says that even when there are only a few hard blows in one’s life, any of them can cause deep wounds, “dark furrows,” in even the “fiercest face and in the strongest back.” The word “dark” may simply be a reference to the usually...

(The entire section is 1,261 words.)