The Poem

“The Distant Footsteps” is a short poem of twenty lines divided into four stanzas. The first and third stanzas are quatrains; the second and fourth stanzas are sestets. The poem is in free verse, a fact of some significance since many of the poems in César Vallejo’s first volume (in which this poem appears) are written in traditional, rhymed forms. By the end of the volume, Vallejo was working in free verse and moving toward the revolutionary techniques of his later poetry (see, for example, Trilce, 1922).

The title establishes the themes of departure and separation that are so important to this poem and Vallejo’s early work. A central obsession for Vallejo was the anguish associated with the trauma of leaving home for the capital, Lima, when he was a young man. Lost in the city, he longs for the home he has left behind. He also experiences some guilt at having abandoned that home.

Vallejo, a poet of personal experience and intense self-reflection, frequently uses the first person, as in this poem. The emphasis, then, is on giving voice to personal reflections about family relationships. The poet begins by observing his father, who is sleeping peacefully and gently. It is afternoon. The poet can find no bitterness in his father’s appearance, but he does not discount the possibility that somewhere inside the father may harbor some bitterness. Curiously, and significantly, the poet believes that the father’s bitterness, if...

(The entire section is 533 words.)

Forms and Devices

“The Distant Footsteps” presents a series of images that provide the poet with an opportunity for reflection on loss and departure. The poet offers simple statements of observation, and uses these statements as springboards for more speculative ruminations on the emotional state of both those whom he is observing and of himself. There are three such observations: the father sleeping; the father waking; the mother walking. These three main observations lead in turn to three main speculations, each beginning with the same phrase, “if there’s.” Thus, the poet concludes that any bitterness or distance in his father must be the poet’s own fault. Similarly, the poet decides that the two curving roads are the source of the brokenness that he interprets as part of the domestic scene that he is observing.

There is, however, nothing neat and tidy—and certainly nothing predictable—in the poet’s use of this pattern of observation or speculation. Any sense in this pattern is, in fact, undermined by the poet’s reluctance to settle for obvious or trite responses to his observations. Vallejo was a poet of stunning juxtaposition, of what the American poet (and translator of Vallejo) Robert Bly called “swift associations.” This early poem is a good illustration. The leaps are dramatic and bold: The poet connects a man waking in a lonely house with the flight of the Holy Family, and then somehow associates this flight with a departure that heals a...

(The entire section is 413 words.)