Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Distant Footsteps” is included in a section of The Black Heralds called “Canciones de Hogar” (“Songs of Home”). The notion of home for Vallejo, however, proves as elusive as it does for the American poet Robert Frost. Many of Vallejo’s poems view the home, and the world at large, from the point of view of the orphan. Vallejo considered orphanhood, literal or figurative, the general condition of all human beings. This poem captures the profound ambiguity of that condition.

While the section is called “Songs of Home,” “The Distant Footsteps” might more accurately be read as a poem about the loss of home. The poet’s status is uncertain; he seems to be on uncertain ground despite the familiarity of the setting. Indeed, it is not entirely clear that the poet is actually on the scene. Perhaps he is only imagining everything; perhaps the poem is his vision of home after he has gone. The ambiguity of this status is not at all unusual in Vallejo’s work. He is a poet dedicated to the exploration of absurdity and senselessness in the world—even the world of the home. It is as if the things once familiar to him had taken on new meaning, but a meaning that now escapes him.

Thus the father’s peacefulness may conceal bitterness, and his nearness may conceal distance. Similarly, the road might initially seem a means of escape, but it must also be seen as the route of banishment and hence of orphanhood. The poet...

(The entire section is 542 words.)