The Poem

“The Nine Monsters” is a seventy-line poem, divided into four stanzas of varying lengths. The poem is written loosely in the form of an address, perhaps a speech, in which the poet discourses on the subjects of pain and misfortune to an audience of “human men” and “brother men.” It would appear that the poem begins somewhere in the middle of the speech, since the opening line of the poem implies continued speech.

After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, César Vallejo was active as a vocal defender of the Spanish Republic. In Paris, where he had lived since 1923, he attended meetings and assemblies and helped in the effort to raise money for the Republican cause. While autobiographical information is not necessary to study “The Nine Monsters,” it is helpful to know that at the time Vallejo wrote the poem (it is dated November 3, 1937), he was out canvassing the streets and speaking to crowds about the war. The speechlike nature of the poem is more apparent in this context.

In the first stanza, the poet or speaker notes the rapid and ceaseless spread of pain in the world. Pain has become the dominant fact of life, so much so that those who suffer are virtually martyrs to it. Pain is so great that it constantly redoubles itself.

The speaker then turns his attention, in the second stanza, to the historical moment. It is the age of pain, he says. There has never been a time more vulnerable to its...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Forms and Devices

The distinguishing characteristic of Vallejo’s poetic technique is his extraordinary ability to shatter language—the very thing poetry depends on—and through its deconstruction, to create a new (albeit esoteric and unnatural) medium to communicate the chaos he sees all around. In essence, Vallejo conveys his message by destroying the traditional means by which a message can be communicated. Syntax, grammar, and even vocabulary come apart in his poetry. From the rubble, he re-creates the text, in completely new combinations, so that meaning is reconstituted in a way never before possible. Vallejo uses words the way a Cubist such as Pablo Picasso or Georges Braque uses shape. Cubism forces one to view an image simultaneously from a multiplicity of new angles, so that “normal” perception of that image is no longer valid. Similarly, Vallejo requires language to be read in an entirely new way: The traditional logic of grammar is discarded, and readers are forced to reconstruct it themselves so that the “normal” interpretation of the words is no longer valid. As the syntax is wrenched apart in a Vallejo poem, so, too, is meaning wrenched apart. Readers are often left with irrational, private, and ultimately ambiguous images that parallel the ambiguous nature of contemporary experience.

The first stanza of “The Nine Monsters” is a good example of this technique. The stanza appears to be a single, medium-length sentence—at least it is...

(The entire section is 508 words.)