César Vallejo Biography


(World Poets and Poetry)

César Abraham Vallejo was born in Santiago de Chuco, a primitive “city” of some fourteen thousand inhabitants in Peru’s northern mountains that could only be reached by a rail trip and then several days ride on mule or horseback. Both of his grandfathers had been Spanish priests and both of his grandmothers native Peruvians of Chimu Indian stock. His parents were literate and of modest means; his father was a notary who became a subprefect in the district. Francisco de Paula Vallejo and María de los Santos Mendoza were an upright and religious pair whose marriage produced twelve offspring and who were already middle-aged when their youngest child, César, was born. In his writings, Vallejo was often to remember the security and warmth of his childhood home—games with three of his older siblings, and particularly with his mother, who might have been especially indulgent with her sensitive youngest child.

At age thirteen, Vallejo left Santiago de Chuco to attend high school in Huamachuco, another mountain village, where he received an introduction to literature and began scribbling verses. Economic difficulties prevented him from continuing the university studies that he had begun in the larger coastal cities of Trujillo and Lima in 1911. The young man first went to work in a nearby tungsten mine—an experience that he would later draw upon for his Socialist Realist novel Tungsten—and then on a coastal sugar plantation. While there, he observed the tightly structured hierarchy that kept workers in misery while the middle class, to which he himself belonged, served the needs of the elite. In 1913, he returned to the University of Trujillo and graduated two years later, having written a master’s thesis titled El romanticismo en la poesía castellana. For the next few years, he studied law in Trujillo, supporting himself by becoming a first-grade teacher. One of his pupils, Ciro Alegría, later to become an important novelist, described Vallejo in those days as lean, sallow, solemn, and dark skinned, with abundant straight black hair worn somewhat long, brilliant dark eyes, a gentle manner, and an air of sadness.

During these years, Vallejo became familiar with the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, José Rodó, Friedrich Nietzsche, Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, Walt Whitman, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. Vallejo also read the poems of two of the leading Spanish American Modernistas, Rubén Darío and Julio Herrera y Reissig, as well as those of Peruvian poets of the day. Vallejo declaimed his own poems—mostly occasional verse—at various public ceremonies, and some of them appeared in Trujillo’s newspapers. Critical reception of...

(The entire section is 1098 words.)

César Vallejo Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The youngest of eleven children, César Abraham Vallejo (vuh-LAY-oh) was born on March 16, 1892, in Santiago de Chuco, a provincial town located high in the northern Andean Sierra of Peru. From that relatively isolated starting point, he grew into one of the most influential and revered poets in the Spanish-speaking world. Moreover, through the diligent work of translators, Vallejo’s influence now reaches poets, critics, and readers working in English, Italian, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Quechua, and many other languages.

To contextualize Vallejo’s poetry, one might look to the pattern of suffering that emerges from his biography. More specifically, that suffering ranged from the personal to the political, and it extended seemingly from his first breath to his last. In fact, his birth itself embodies the matrix of cultural, religious, political, and psychosocial tensions that would fuel his agonized writing and life, as he was born the grandson of two indigenous Chimu grandmothers and two Spanish grandfathers, both of whom were Catholic priests. At the other end of his life, on his deathbed, he was said to have lamented the failing Republican war effort in Spain.

Early in life, Vallejo also suffered a steady stream of failed love affairs, with one such failure even driving him to attempt suicide. Fortunately his amorous turbulence subsided in January, 1929, with his commitment to live with his future wife, Georgette Phillipart, whom he would marry in 1934. Nevertheless, his life was one of nearly continuous suffering. Complicating that, he felt conflicted over feelings of private despair, which he considered self-indulgent in relation to the massive, overwhelming sadness and suffering of the universe. Thus, whether gazing upon a star at night or into the eyes of a shackled prisoner, Vallejo continuously sensed a totalizing, universal agony permeating existence and thereby reinforcing his personal ontological insignificance.

One of the early benchmarks of Vallejo’s suffering came in 1909, after he had finished his primary education in Santiago de Chuco and his secondary education in nearby Huamachuco. He began a job in the mines at Tamboras, and that exposure to the archetypical agony and exploitation of laborers would mark Vallejo permanently and deeply. In particular, he was pained by the laborers’ seemingly unjust and agonizing working conditions, about which he would write in all of his full-length books of poetry, as well as his novel El tungsteno (1931; Tungsten, 1988), about life at a tungsten mine.

In 1911, Vallejo left the mine and moved to Lima to become a physician, but he dropped out of school within the year. He then moved to Huánaco, where he began to teach for the first time, which is biographically significant for two reasons. First, teaching would prove one of Vallejo’s sporadic sources of income throughout his life. Second, in this instance, he was tutoring the children of an affluent mine owner and therefore was exposed again to painful discrepancies in class, wealth, and power.

Vallejo’s sensitivity to political inequality was intensified in 1912, when he began to work as an assistant cashier on a sugar plantation. Again he found the laborers’ working conditions to be inhumane, and he found his Catholic upbringing of little help in understanding such agony. This, then, is pivotal as an emergent moment of Vallejo’s feelings of the...

(The entire section is 1411 words.)

César Vallejo Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Throughout his life, César Vallejo sought redemption from human suffering. However, he never found it. Instead he expressed his tribulations with uncertainty, caution, force, and ingenuity, thereby creating poetry capable of encouraging humankind to more clearly focus its attention to suffering in order to reduce its exacerbation. For his verbal, formal, and ontological iconoclasm, his efforts earned him a reputation as one of the finest poets of the twentieth century, though that legacy by no means redeems his life and oeuvre of continuous suffering.

César Vallejo Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

César Vallejo (vah-YAY-hoh) vies with the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda for recognition as the best Spanish American poet of the twentieth century, yet the semantic difficulty of his poetry has often meant that he is not as well known outside the Spanish-speaking world as he deserves to be. Author of a novel, a novella, four dramas, a collection of short stories, a collection of essays on Marxism and literary theory, two books on Soviet Russia, and more than two hundred newspaper articles, Vallejo is mainly remembered for his poetry.

Born the eleventh child to a family of mixed Spanish and Indian origins, Vallejo as a child witnessed at first hand hunger, poverty, and the injustices done to Indians. His first book of...

(The entire section is 717 words.)

César Vallejo Biography

(Poetry for Students)

César Abraham Vallejo was born on March 16, 1892, in Santiago de Chuco, Peru, the youngest of eleven children in a family of mixed Spanish...

(The entire section is 472 words.)