Stumble Between Two Stars

by Cesar Vallejo

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Themes and Meanings

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“Stumble Between Two Stars” expresses the sense of alienation and despair that distinguishes much of the great literature that came out of the Paris literary scene of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Vallejo spent the last fifteen years of his life (1923-1938) in Paris. Vallejo, however, lived a poverty-stricken, bohemian life, moving from hotel to hotel. His experience with poverty and his association with Marxist groups influenced his poetry. Thus, Vallejo, perhaps more than any other artist in Paris, was sensitive to the degradation of human life and the trauma of living a meaningless and gratuitous life on the fringe of society. Vallejo is truly the poet of the Lumpenproletariat.

His wretched people—and Vallejo includes himself among this group—are doomed from birth. These people are born in sarcophagi; they constantly suffer; they do not even have the recourse of language, for their alphabet is frozen. Although Vallejo seems to suggest initially that this wretched multitude is condemned to its own Dantesque circle of the Inferno, his incantation of pity for them does offer the hope of something better—purgatory at least, if not paradise. By calling them “beloved,” Vallejo offers his own blessing and holds out some measure of hope, however small, for his fallen, weeping fellow wretches. The poet’s litany calls to mind the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes that Jesus recites in Matthew. It also brings to mind the chantlike tone of American poet Walt Whitman. The similarities between Vallejo and Whitman may at first seem tenuous, the former being the great bard of democracy, progress, and possibility, and the latter being the poet of personal anguish who wrote of those who suffered under the very forces that Whitman celebrated. On another level, each poet attempts to name the nameless, to identify the hidden, and to give voice to the voiceless.

It is difficult to supply a precise meaning for Vallejo’s imagery, since the words in the text are not limited to the meanings that they have in everyday usage. Often, Vallejo simply plays with words and their sounds, and he ends up with phrases such as “the sanchez ears” in line 15. Such wordplay is lost in translation. It is not necessary to find a single correct meaning behind each metaphor or image in the poem, for a basic theme of Vallejo’s work concerns one’s inability to grasp fully whatever meaning does reside in the world around him or her. His poetry confronts the chaos of the world with a chaos of its own—a chaos of fragmented images and broken syntax. By detailing the drudgery, the poverty, and the physical misery that define human life, Vallejo voices the frustration that is inherent in the human condition. It is a world where hunger can only be satiated by thirst, that is, one deprivation replaced by another—and even that dubious solace often proves unavailable. The poet bemoans the fate of those who have no spiritual control, who have lost part of what defined them as individuals. They no longer remember childhood. They are deep in debt. They fall to the ground, neither dead nor alive, and are not even allowed the comfort of tears. “Stumble Between Two Stars” is a poem full of the anguish, compassion, and hope that Vallejo had for his fellow humans.

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