César Vallejo World Literature Analysis
Vallejo ranks among the most important writers of Latin America and certainly among the world’s major twentieth century poets. Remarkably, he published only two full-length collections of poetry during his lifetime, his debut collection, The Black Heralds, and Trilce. Vallejo’s third major collection of poetry, Human Poems, appeared posthumously in 1939, and it is generally considered his most important book of poetry.
Vallejo also wrote prose prolifically, though much of it went unpublished during his lifetime. Those works include his 1915 thesis, El romanticismo en la poesía castellana (1954); a collection of short stories, Escalas melografiadas (1923); a Social Realist novel, Tungsten; a travelogue, Rusia en 1931: Reflexiones al pie del Kremlin (1931); a follow-up to that travelogue, Rusia ante el segundo plan quinquenal (1965); five plays; many freelance newspaper articles and essays; and copious letters to friends.
One of the dominant motifs of Vallejo’s poetry is absence, rendering him a poet of suffering. This emanates from his focus upon despair, loss, and rupture in both the human condition, in particular, and the universe in general. Paradoxically, then, absence produces Vallejo’s distinctly present, iconoclastic voice, which derives from a unique fusion of Catholic rhetoric, personal strife, ontological wonder, cultural comparison, and intricate wordplay. That admixture structures and sustains Vallejo’s oeuvre throughout its radical formal and political transformations, thereby connecting his life in provincial Peru to that in cosmopolitan Paris.
Moreover, throughout Vallejo’s poetry his deepest private struggles and changes transcend their personal concerns, erupting into a new matrix of expression of universal themes of the human condition. In other words, despite the subjective anxieties and details of his poems, they are neither narcissistic nor insular. Instead, they surpass the personal and become pluralistic, if not universal. Thus, when Vallejo grieves in a poem, he is grieving for the entirety of humankind, and even all of existence. As a result his poetry strikingly elucidates the private lives of his readers, thereby earning him a substantial, international readership, despite the specificity of time, place, and language in Vallejo’s poetry, not to mention its relative difficulty.
Despite the difficulty of Vallejo’s most complex poetry, careful readers will note its purposefulness. For even in the most seemingly hermetic moments, Vallejo’s poetry is rife with signification and resonance. More specifically, while Vallejo’s most difficult poetry might initially seem incomprehensible, the reader can gain insights into it through assiduous reading and rereading. In essence, that reading will lead to a growing, cumulative awareness of the importance of disjunction to the poetry. That disjunction produces Vallejo’s unique, inexplicable, and profound forms of nonlinear and nonlogical communication, as well as his diverse voices, perspectives, and aesthetic concerns. Moreover, disjunction most profoundly manifests itself through Vallejo’s intricate explorations of language itself. Consequently, Vallejo can be considered a torchbearer of such fundamental modernist motifs as the protean and/or masked self, the flawed referentiality of language to reality, and the heterogeneity of voices composing the self.
Heterogeneity is particularly important to understanding Vallejo’s avant-garde status in the Americas and beyond, for he masterfully uses diverse registers of voice, often within the same poem, and even within the same line of a poem. In doing so, he is struggling painfully to locate and define the meaning of his personal ontological suffering, which paradoxically materializes through his poetic oeuvre as a multifaceted, protean, and vigorous language seeking always to confront the “Other” in an effort to minimize isolation and suffering. Consequently, he writes in a richly layered language, blending colloquial, religious, medical, economic, linguistic, and/or cultural valences.
Significantly, heterogeneity is also evident in the diversity of poetry influencing Vallejo’s verse. In particular, one can note the prominent importance to Vallejo of Modernismo, French Surrealism, the Spanish Golden Age, and Romanticismo, among others. Through those antecedent poetics, Vallejo stretches...
(The entire section is 1835 words.)