César Vallejo

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César Vallejo (vah-YAY-hoh) wrote fiction, plays, and essays, as well as lyric poetry, although his achievement as a poet far outstrips that in any other genre. His short stories—many of them extremely brief—may be found in Escalas melografiadas (1923; musical scales). A longer short story, “Fabla salvaje” (1923; primitive parlance), is a tragic idyll of two rustic lovers, and Hacia el reino de los Sciris (1967; toward the kingdom of the Sciris) is set in the time of the Incas. El tungsteno (1931; Tungsten, 1988), is a proletarian novel with an Andean setting that was written in 1931, the year Vallejo joined the Communist Party. Another story, Paco Yunque (1969), is about the mistreatment of a servant’s son by a classmate who happens to be the master’s son.

Vallejo became interested in the theater around 1930, but he destroyed his first play, “Mampar.” Three others, Entre las dos orillas corre el río (pb. 1979; the river flows between two banks); Lock-Out (pb. 1979), and Colacho hermanos: O, presidentes de América (pb. 1979; Colacho brothers), never published during the poet’s lifetime, are now available in Teatro completo (1979; complete theatrical work). His long essay, Rusia en 1931: Reflexiones al pie del Kremlin (1931; reissued in 1965), was followed by Rusia ante el segundo plan quinquenal (1965); Contra el secreto profesional (1973); and El arte y la revolución (1973). His master’s thesis, El romanticismo en la poesía castellana, was published in 1954.


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Finding an authentic language in which to write has always represented a fundamental problem for Latin American writers, since it became evident that the language inherited from the Spanish conquerors could not match Latin American reality. The problem of finding such a language goes hand in hand with that of forging a separate cultural identity. An important attempt at renovating poetic language was made by the Spanish American Modernistas around the turn of the century, but their verse forms, imagery, and often exotic subject matter were also becoming obsolete by the time César Vallejo reached maturity. It was thus up to him and his contemporaries to find a language that could deal with contemporary concerns involving war, depression, isolation, and alienation. Although hardly recognized in his lifetime, Vallejo did more than perhaps any other poet of his generation to provide an idiom that would at once reflect the Spanish tradition, his own Peruvian heritage, and the contemporary world. Aware of his heritage from Spain’s great writers of the past, he blended traditional poetic vocabulary and tropes with homely Peruvian idioms and even the language of children. Where the result was still inadequate, he made up new words, changed the function of old ones, and incorporated a lexicon never before seen in poetry, often savaging poetic convention.

Vallejo’s gradual conversion to Marxism and Communism is of great interest to those attempting to understand how collectivist ideals may shape poetry. The evolution of his ideology continues to be studied intensively by many individuals committed to bettering the conditions of poverty and alienation about which Vallejo wrote so eloquently—conditions that still exist in Latin America and other parts of the world. His unflinchingly honest search for both linguistic and moral solutions to the existential anguish of modern human beings gives his poems universal validity, while their density and complexity challenge critics of the most antithetical modes.

Discussion Topics

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What characteristics of César Vallejo’s oeuvre define his poetry as avant-garde?

What are the influences, if any, of European modernism upon Vallejo’s poetry?

How does Vallejo’s poetry relate to Modernismo?

Why and how does Vallejo use neologisms?

What is the relationship between Catholicism and indigenous Peru in Vallejo’s poetry?


(This entire section contains 85 words.)

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is the importance of history to Vallejo’s poetry?

What is the cultural impact, if any, of Vallejo’s poetry?

What unique problems, if any, might Vallejo’s translators face?


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Britton, R. K. “Love, Alienation, and the Absurd: Three Principal Themes in César Vallejo’s Trilce.” Modern Language Review 87 (July, 1992): 603-615. Demonstrates how Vallejo’s poetry expresses the anguished conviction that humankind is simply a form of animal life subject to the laws of a random, absurd universe.

Dove, Patrick. The Catastrophe of Modernity: Tragedy and the Nation in Latin American Literature. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2004. This discussion of the theme of modernity as a catastrophe contains a chapter on Vallejo’s Trilce.

Hart, Stephen M. Stumbling Between Forty-six Stars: Essays on César Vallejo. London: Centre of César Vallejo Studies, 2007. A collection of essays on various aspects of the poet.

Hart, Stephen M., and Jorge Cornejo Polar. César Vallejo: A Critical Bibliography of Research. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell and Brewer, 2002. A bibliography collecting works of Vallejo. Invaluable for researchers.

Hedrick, Tace Megan. “Mi andina y dulce Rita: Women, Indigenism, and the Avant-Garde in César Vallejo.” In Primitivism and Identity in Latin America: Essays on Art, Literature, and Culture, edited by Erik Camayd-Freixas and José Eduardo González. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2000. Relates the indigenism of “Dead Idylls” from The Black Heralds to the “avant-garde concerns and practices” of Trilce, often considered Vallejo’s most brilliant work.

Higgins, James. The Poet in Peru: Alienation and the Quest for a Super-Reality. Liverpool, England: Cairns, 1982. Contains a good overview of the main themes of Vallejo’s poetry.

Lambie, George. “Poetry and Politics: The Spanish Civil War Poetry of César Vallejo.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 69, no. 2 (April, 1992): 153-170. Analyzes the presence of faith and Marxism in Spain, Take This Cup from Me.

Niebylski, Dianna C. The Poem on the Edge of the Word: The Limits of Language and the Uses of Silence in the Poetry of Mallarmé, Rilke, and Vallejo. New York: Peter Lang, 1993. In the context of the language “crisis” of modern poetry and the poet’s dilemma in choosing language or silence, Niebylski examines the themes of time and death in Vallejo’s Human Poems.

Sharman, Adam, ed. The Poetry and Poetics of César Vallejo: The Fourth Angle of the Circle. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997. Collection of essays examining Vallejo’s work from the perspectives of Marxism, history, the theme of the absent mother, and postcolonial theory.


Critical Essays