Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

The importance of bread in “Our Daily Bread” begins with the title, which refers to the Lord’s Prayer and which foregrounds the religious symbolism throughout the poem. In addition to providing spiritual nourishment in the form of Communion, bread also provides physical nourishment, and the poem plays with these two meanings.

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Throughout his career, Vallejo consistently manipulated symbols. Rather than emptying them of their traditional meaning, he showed how they can hold many meanings. In effect, Vallejo exploits symbols to show the simultaneous ambiguity and creative capacity of language, which is one of the primary themes of Vallejo’s well-known collection of poems Trilce (1922; Eng. trans., 1973). Thus in “Our Daily Bread,” one breaks one’s physical fast in the morning by drinking coffee, yet the sound of the cart introduces spiritual fasting. The wish to give pieces of bread to the poor combines the physical and the spiritual senses of bread, suggesting that the body and the spirit are not divisible. Here, spiritual nourishment is inseparable from physical nourishment just as, ultimately, religious justice is inseparable from social justice. The insurrection that the poem alludes to foreshadows much of Vallejo’s later poetry, especially in España, aparta de mí este cáliz (1939; Spain, Take This Cup from Me, 1974) and Poemas humanos (1939; Human Poems, 1968).

One of the main themes of Los heraldos negros (1918; The Black Heralds, 1990) is the poet’s sense of existential despair in a world abandoned by God. Existence itself condemns humans as “wicked” because it necessarily entails some sort of injustice at the expense of the dead and the poor. In this poem, the poet feels he may have stolen his very bones, and he thinks that if he did not exist, someone else would be in his place. The poem suggests that people are alienated from one another because they are ultimately alone in facing death, which pervades everyday life (“the earth/ reeks of human dust”). Thus, the poet wishes to remain asleep.

Nevertheless, “Our Daily Bread” finally reveals a glimmer of hope because, like much of Vallejo’s later poetry, one of its central preoccupations is poetry itself. While Vallejo at first suggests that living in communion with others is impossible, he nonetheless seeks to provide others with communion made “in the oven of [his] heart.” Despite the somber mood of much of the poem, its ending is positive because the poet has become Christlike in sacrificing himself for the sake of true spiritual communion and true social justice. Vallejo suggests that poetry, like “our daily bread,” nourishes both body and soul, atones for existential guilt, and exalts humanity.

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