Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487
The indigenous Peruvians, descendents of the great Incans, were subjected to centuries of abuse and exploitation by Spanish colonial rule. Half Indian and a speaker of Quechua, Vallejo shared this heritage and observed its effects in his provincial village and on the plantation where he worked for a time. The suffering he witnessed is reflected in “The Black Heralds,” in which the speaker’s life is characterized as filled with agony that cannot find expression in words but leaves the speaker frustrated and despairing. Typical of all oppressed peoples, the subject of the poem cries out for relief from the brutality of existence yet quells desperation with a fatalistic sadness about the condition which seems his destiny. Nonetheless, there is a hint of the pride of a mighty people who hunger for their rightful place, so long lost. The suffering described is both physical and emotional: blows that leave wounds in the flesh, damage faith, and drive a person to crazed desperation and confusion.
Life, Death, and God
Vallejo was greatly disturbed by questions concerning the reason for life. The specter of the grave tormented him because of his view that life is a steady march toward death. In “The Black Heralds,” the title is a reference to the “black heralds sent to us by Death,” and the “deep falls of the Christs of the soul” alludes to the final walk that Christ made going to his crucifixion. Perhaps Vallejo does not believe that Christ ever reached Calvary or enacted a resurrection to save humankind because in this poem the blows that cause the soul to fall are ongoing. The argument here is that a merciful God who gave the world a savior would not behave as does the hateful God that Vallejo depicts. These sentiments provide the reason that the message in “The Black Heralds” is described as questioning and challenging God, if not being outright blasphemous. Definitely, the message is one of acute, painful frustration at being unable to determine why life is so hard.
“The Black Heralds” is an excellent example of existential anguish. The poem contains classic descriptions of the existentialist experience: trying to create meaning from a world that has no meaning but is empty and confusing; trying to understand the purpose of an existence that makes no sense; trying to establish the freedom and responsibility of the individual in relation to established ethics and morality; trying to endure the hardships of life when there seems to be no valid reason or reward to do so. Angst is often associated with existentialism because there is so much anxiety, guilt, and isolation that comes with individual responsibility and that stems from unanswered questions about causation and human suffering. A possible conclusion is that there is no meaning to life because there is only a path to nothingness, but Vallejo tells readers that he just does not know what to conclude.