The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Trilce is a collection of seventy-seven poems brought together in a poetic sequence. The poems do not have titles; instead, each poem is headed by a Roman numeral. Although Trilce was virtually ignored upon its publication, it was later understood to be one of the principal poetic texts of the twentieth century. Its opaque and intentionally contradictory use of language baffled early readers. It remains a difficult, but by no means impossible, work. An awareness of César Vallejo’s struggle to create an entirely new poetic language helps the reader to address the difficulty and to begin to make some sense of it. Many critics have noted, however, that Trilce is a kaleidoscopic work. It constantly yields new configurations and new possibilities. It is a profound poetic work whose depths are not easily sounded, but whose multiplicity of meanings always yields some treasure to diligent readers.

The book’s title serves as a good introduction to the difficulties and possibilities of Trilce’s poetic techniques. The word “trilce” has no exact meaning. It is a neologism, a new word invented by Vallejo, that for English-language readers will recall the invented vocabulary of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” Numerous interpretations of Vallejo’s title have been suggested. It is possible that the word is a blend of the Spanish words triste (sad) and dulce (sweet). Many commentators, however, believe that some suggestion of tres (three) is also intended by the title. Since Vallejo generally chose words with multiple layers of meaning, it is likely that he intended his neologistic title to resonate with any and all possible interpretations; the word “trilce” is probably meant to suggest all these ideas—sadness, sweetness, and the number three. The latter probably implies the trinity, a concept to which Vallejo alludes and with which he tinkers throughout his poetry.

Trilce does not easily lend itself to outlining. There are no precise thematic divisions in the work....

(The entire section is 848 words.)