The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Though struck by its vivid imagery, readers of “Our Daily Bread” are often uncertain about its story and message. This imagery conveys a strong sense of existential guilt as well as a desire for redemption and social justice. The context of the poem becomes clearer as the reader progresses through its five irregular stanzas, the later stanzas clarifying the earlier ones. The importance of context in establishing the poem’s meaning contributes to the nonlinear nature of the poem and is consistent with its overall message that human communion, that which overcomes the existential despair of the individual, is possible only if the divisiveness that categorizes language and thought is surpassed.

The poem conveys the notion of the poet facing the dawn of a new day, and yet the earth is “sad” and the poet, in his guilt, is asking for absolution. It begins with the vague third-person reflexive tense (“One drinks”) to describe one drinking one’s breakfast—probably just coffee—on a somber, cold morning. References to morning throughout the poem include “breakfast,” “damp,” the “morning eye” that still sleeps, the speaker “drinking this coffee,” and lastly, the title of the poem and the request in the third stanza, both of which refer to the request in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us our daily bread.”

The dreariness of the new day is established with the words “damp,” “winter,” “mordant,”...

(The entire section is 539 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Written early in César Vallejo’s career, “Our Daily Bread” bears the influence of the Romantics, whom he studied at the University of Trujillo, Peru, and wrote about in his 1915 bachelor’s degree thesis, entitled El romanticismo en la pesía castellana (romanticism in Castilian poetry). The poem’s fervent expression of emotion and despair is furthered by its seven exclamation points. Just as Romantic poets, such as José Espronceda and José Zorilla, often play with the porous boundary between life and art, Vallejo also conveys the Romantic notion that the poet’s goal is to somehow overcome that despair through the poem itself. Art is thus an answer to life’s difficulties, and it follows that the poem itself is a morsel of bread offered to readers.

The poem also reveals Vallejo’s debt to the Spanish American modernists—Rubén Darío and Julio Herrera y Reissig in particular—especially in its emphasis on the senses, such as the dampness of the earth, the smell of blood, and the sound of the passing cart. Such vivid imagery, often uncontextualized, is a technique used by the modernists and the French Symbolists, whom Vallejo had also read.

In the first stanza, the nonlinear nature of the poem is achieved by the use of images that move like photographic flashes from “breakfast” to “Damp cemetery earth” to “City in winter” and, finally, to “The mordant passing/ of a cart.” The most powerful image in...

(The entire section is 461 words.)