César Vallejo 1892-1938
(Full name César Abraham Vallejo) Peruvian poet, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, and novelist.
Vallejo is considered one of the most important poets in modern Spanish American literature. Influenced by various political, intellectual, and aesthetic events and movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—including communism, the Spanish civil war, Darwinism, and Spanish Modernism—his works are marked by inventive wordplay and stylistic experimentation. Thematically, Vallejo's poems are often concerned with social and political injustice, alienation, and the conflict between physical desire and spirituality.
The youngest of eleven children, Vallejo was born into a lower middle-class family in Santiago de Chuco, Peru. He attended Trujillo University, where he earned his B.A. in 1915 as well as a degree in law; during this time he also published his first works in local newspapers. Associated with Nuestra epoca, a short-lived journal noted for its radical political opinions, he was implicated in the vandalism that occurred during a 1919 demonstration. Vallejo was imprisoned the following year and during his incarceration wrote several of the poems included in the 1922 volume Trilce. He left Peru in 1923 and settled permanently in Paris. He made several trips to Spain, where he met prominent writers and thinkers of the Generation of 1927, including Rafael Alberti and Federico Garcia Lorca. A supporter of Loyalist forces in the Spanish civil war, Vallejo additionally helped establish the Spanish journal Nuestra Espana and wrote of his love and hopes for the country in Espafia, aparta de mieste cdliz (Spain, Let This Cup Pass from Me). A registered Communist, he also made several trips to Russia; his experiences there as well as his leftist ideology are documented in the essay collection Rusia en 1931 and El tungsteno, a novel focusing on capitalistic abuses inflicted on Peruvian miners. Vallejo died in Paris in 1938 at the age of forty-six.
Vallejo's first poetry collection, Los heraldos negros (The Black Heralds), focuses on his memories of childhood, the landscape surrounding his birthplace, and the Indians indigenous to Peru. Noted for its use of decorative language, The Black Heralds is often considered to be largely influenced by Spanish modernismo, which derived many of its characteristic themes and stylistic traits from the French Symbolist and Decadent movements of the late nineteenth century. Trilce, Vallejo's second collection of poems, represents a marked shift in development and world view. Conveying the bitterness stemming from his prison experience and the anguish he associated with existence, Trilce concerns what Vallejo perceived as a conflict between humanity's animal nature and its constant struggle for—and inability to achieve—pure love, spiritual transcendence, and social harmony. In order to convey his vision of an absurd and hostile world, Vallejo shunned traditional poetic diction in favor of a more personal, "raw" language. For example, Vallejo used distorted syntax and unusual orthography to suggest disparate images and concepts in the posthumously published Poemas humanos (Poemas humanos/Human Poems), which emphasizes the plight of the poor and the individual's search for identity and purpose in a dehumanizing world.
Despite the highly individualistic and idiosyncratic nature of his writings, Vallejo's poetry is considered to be of universal relevance. D. P. Gallagher has observed: "For Vallejo a poem is essentially a statement about Vallejo or about the human problems of which Vallejo is a microcosm. Language is not wrenched in order to achieve a new, unprecedented decorativeness, but rather in order to discover the man that has been hitherto hidden behind its decorative facades." Because of Vallejo's emphasis on ambiguity and manipulation of conventional standards of spelling and grammar, his writings are not readily accessible to English-language audiences. Nevertheless, among Spanish-speaking readers, he is frequently considered one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century.