The Eternal Dice

by Cesar Vallejo

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Themes and Meanings

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“The Eternal Dice” is layered with meanings. On the surface, one sees a man confronting God. The man is dissatisfied, discontented. He has suffered, has lived his life humbly and with deprivation. There is something special here, however; this is no ordinary man confronting his God. This man is a poet, and as a poet, he has the right and the power to create, to create a new relationship in the universe, one in which he wields the power. Thus, the poet creates, and among his creations is God.

The Symbolist poets were irreverent. They rejected institutionalized religion as they rejected all systems which inhibited their free expression. Old forms were to be destroyed, and the new was sought. When interpreters of the poem caution the reader against being too literal-minded in the reading of “The Eternal Dice,” they ignore the poetic history in which Vallejo was immersed at the time of writing Los heraldos negros. Vallejo, as did his predecessors, sought the Absolute. He was willing, as were they, to gamble, to risk everything in the effort to find some essential reality.

In “The Eternal Dice,” he sought to shock, to use the “God is dead” idea of the modernists, and to use, in the manner of the Surrealists and the Dadaists (with whose aesthetic theory Vallejo was familiar), the unusual: that which was orthographically, ideationally, and aesthetically illogical, disorienting, and disquieting.

Vallejo, in a volume entitled Contra el secreto profesional (1973), in the chapter “del Carnet de 1929 (20 set.) y 1930,” explains. He seeks a new poetics, a style in literature not unlike Pablo Picasso’s style of art, where for reasons of harmony or balance of line, a box, or a stairway, or a vase, or an orange would be placed where a nose should be. Poetry was to be concerned, therefore, with only what was poetically beautiful, and it was to be without logic, coherence, or reason.

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