Literature and Revolution

-by Fernando Alegria-

translated by D. Ohmans
(c) copyright 1997

Text imprint - Mexico City, Fondo de Cultura Economica, (c1970)

                           Table of Contents

       I.    Literature and Revolution
       II.   Portrait and Self portrait:
             The Hispano-american Novel Confronted with Society
       III.  "Der Zauberberg" in the Literature of Latin America
       IV.   Miguel Angel Asturias, Novelist of the Old and the
             New Worlds
       V.    Alejo Carpentier:  Magic Realism
       VI.   Rayuela:  or, Order out of Chaos
       VII.  Cesar Vallejo:  The Mestizo Masks
       VIII. Parra anti Parra
       IX.   Anti-literature
       X.    Antipoetry

Chapter 7 - Cesar Vallejo: the Mestizo Masks

     Tell me who you walk with...
     I walk with Cesar Vallejo for no exact reason, except a certain anxiety to
return home and the foreboding that the house has been erased and now I cannot
find it like the tourists find theirs.
     Mestizo, sorrowful mestizo, intimately wounded, Vallejo comes to the
Peruvian poetry of the Centennial like Dario arrived in the Romanticism of the
1800's: to cover the native skin with exotic ointments. This is the first
impression that the book of the young Vallejo, "The Black Heralds" (1918)
produces. Captive in a golden cage, he, rare bird of Santiago de Chuco. His
poetic language is, in large part, of mountain ascendancy, precious, searching,
and is so because his vision of the world suffers the characteristic locus of
the great mestizo Hispano-american rhetoric of the 1900's: of a hard reality,
painful, complex and crude, which is covered with a decoration of buildings,
institutions, academies and furnishings, as if things, large things, being
bigger, help more in giving us a sense of and the key to a civilization that we
do not understand, that is strange to us and even hostile.
     Ruben Dario goes from one country to another country, from one continent
to another, thick, slow, brown, in thongs, chaps, vest and gloves, like a more
or less living piece of some Atlantis, reciting monstrous perfections in
vestibules of royal hotels, moving past luxurious trays of desserts, receiving
flowers and administering a dense and heavy cognac which, upon falling into the
soul, stirs it like a stone in a well. And stirs the entire Hispano-american
literary world: the drunkenness of words in general.
     But, in those years there arrive also an army of rare hunters: precocious
in garb, faces of imperfect beauty, damned subjects whose mission consists of
depositing in the modernist nest the egg of a bad line that shall grow
destroying its betters. Without going further, Jose Asuncion Silva causes the
Emperor and Empress of China to adulterate in the same sonnet, as is said, in
the same bed with a pair of fools named Jules. Lopez Velarde beautifully
confounds the afternoon with a cow, with the priest, with the parish, with the
nation. The Chilean Pezoa Veliz sets his green, crossed eye against the tumult
that Dario leaves and, turning it around, takes from it a smell of misery, of
dull labor, of liquor. The master Onis shall say that ugliness, like a growth,
has located itself in the entrails of modernism. At the edge of literature,
what happens is that the poets feel in the stomach the decomposition of the old
art, the incongruity of the golden standard that does not reach the heights in
its exercise, feel the Peruvian shawl on their necks, the voice not their own
and, in consequence, without an echo, see the Western frontier distant, closed
and state their resentment, their anguish and their anger. And Vallejo, de
Rokha, de Greiff appear, and others.
     Vallejo, who was speaking like Dario, like Gutierrez Najera or Lugones,
comes to notice that his voice breaks and what emerges ceases to be melodic and
changes to abruptness, then a groan, then a howl. "Medialuz," for example, is a
strange poem: it hatches from the incubator, but it is not the form of emerging
which surprises, it is Vallejo's interior imagination, the morbid
hallucination, that ominous trait of throwing ourselves to the winds, from
behind the Romantic mask, with a cruelty and a violence that soon returns upon
the poet himself. Vallejo departs with artful nudges from the company of
Najera, Lugones, Dario; he proceeds to become Gothic, brutal, bloody, funereal,
begins to throw stones at God, without turning his face if they fall back on
him on not hitting the bull's eye; he cultivates horror with an ambiguous
intention; he recognizes desertion but, in his abandonment, warns that there
are other mestizos as unhappy as himself; he looks with uncertainty behind him;
they are expelling him from Lima; he cripples the body; he begins to make his
poems with hands of an indian; invents, mixes, exaggerates, shortens, like a
village mason gathering dirt, straw, stone; he carefully notes the anonymous,
the prosaic and insignificantly vulgar and there finds occasion for the poetic
symbol; a spider suffices, some drink, old clothing, wrinkles, the odor of
time, to evoke a true sadness in living, to create the image of a small
dying.(1) He feels romantic, yet love turns into fury: man, woman, dying, sex,
the graveyard are muddled. It is not his fault. He is a most confused
Christian. He wishes not to offend God, but feels that God treats him badly,
and treats worse other subjects in other lands, in other ages. He dwells upon
things of them and feels sorry for them. Everything is going wrong. Amidst
ivory, the duchesses, the gardens of France, indian in a shawl! Existence is a
miserable supper, a Last Supper in which the "bitter human essence" is eaten
with a black, wooden spoon. Dario is a gravedigger, Dario and the other dark,
chanting witches, given that already there is talk of God's suicide.(2)
     Vallejo says, "Old Osiris! I have arrived to the forward walls of
existence." A ready-made phrase is enough, a colloquial formula, idiom of the
neighborhood, the store, the tavern; the gods are put in their lowly place,
next to man. Furthermore, it rains everywhere, in every direction, in all
tones, sad, soft, wildly: rain of tears and tombs. And esoteric numbers that
seem to condense in their abstract unity some truths which the mestizo now
wishes not to pronounce. Unity and totality, the superlative and the damned,
like the two ancient angels.
     The home is more and more left behind, and man alienated, losing his own,
all of his own, like one who throws away his clothing and walks naked,
suffering more. Left is the priest in the wake, the burros, the pathways, the
patio, the sermons, the bells. Brothers are now like small llamas in the
Andean twilight and shall soon disappear. Some echoes remain, random things
that follow you, striking, disintegrating. The world is a curious place,
wrecked. It is insufficient to leave.

     "I was born one day when God was ill."(3)

     That is "The Black Heralds."
     Now then, "Trilce" (1922) is a harsh book. For once, Vallejo transfers
from the tone of sweet sadness of the old familiar poets. In "Trilce" is
dissonance, its composition contradictory, its procedure basic: to reduce to
the absurd.
     He flees from beauty, the modernist conception of beauty, as if it were
the devil himself. Upon the face of perfect classical equilibrium he discovers
a slight deviation in one eye; at times, in moments of anguish, a cry on the
lips, and other times, when everything fails and it is essential to insult
human hypocrisy, he simply places a housefly, a dirty insect, on the mouth.
The general effect is ugly, of an ugliness that splits the soul, accumulated
ugliness so as to denounce a too vulnerable personal goodness, to make bitter
that is discharged like maternal milk before human suffering.
     Only the academic critic can attempt a logical analysis of the poems of
"Trilce." To seek a reason for living, for experiencing, that can be done. To
speculate upon occult purposes also is possible, always if one remembers that
he plays with fire and that Vallejo's givens are targeted and always are of
human bone. It is necessary, then, to play "his" game, according to his rules,
the first of which seems to be:

"Keep symmetry under lock and key..."(4)

     In those days, those of "Trilce," Vallejo had burned down the alters of
modernism. From Dario there remained not even the ashes. But that breaking with
precious modernism does not mean a return to reality, but instead a step from
Darian abstraction to another abstraction; from the rationally manipulated
symbol, Vallejo passes to a world of insignificant and violent myths that sting
the head like fleas. His is a free association of tiny myths, a system of
absurdity: at times ironic, at times the product of a nervous watchfulness and
a furious sadness. Does this mean that "Trilce" represents Vallejo's vanguard
epoch? In the extent to which he seems to have assimilated certain techniques
of dehumanization: the manipulation of a type of image that eliminates the
comparative term, the use of graphic keys, some cosmic remove, this or that
grammatical prank. Nothing more. Vallejo, like Neruda, overleaped his radical
period, and his neo-symbolism of regional and erotic root acquired in his
solitude an existential sediment of agonic nature. From there is the abyss
which separates this poet from the witty, spontaneous, brilliant company of the
Spanish and Hispano-american extremists of the 1920's.
     This leap to an irrational mythology of Andean pain Vallejo realizes
without losing, on the contrary, his conversational, informal attitude towards
the poetic act. Only that now the conversational format is treated as a
"leitmotif," that is, as an auditory recourse as well as a suggestive factor.
It is a formula for enchantment.... As likewise number, any number out of its
usual context, can be. We have here the road towards an essential reality,
towards a unitary, lineal image of man before the processes of living and
dying.(5) Vallejo examines the concepts of trinity, duality and unity as if he
were speaking of two beings who seek the infinite in an act of accumulation, of
abstraction, in the outcome of physical power....
     The three dimensions of time are an extensive trap which man invents to
create an illusion of change and final permanence. In truth, time is
suffering: the present--"stalled noon"--, like the past--"was was was was"--,
and the future - "the still warm refuge of being." The unities of time are
different names for the same negation. Everything is determined in a cataclysm
without beginning or end....
     Of course, living and dying are not always seen through a mirror: there
will be moments when the duality seems actual. Vallejo, then, establishes a
genuine separation between the domestic figures departed forever and their
image above a bed in Paris. We shall feel that something that breathes within
time may be the illusion of true being of the past: a casual encounter, the
exact dimensions of a space; both things, the departed and the reborn
affection, for example, immobile, negated, like parts of himself yet definitely
foreign, are to be forms of anguish, familiar poison in one instance and, in
the other, longing for a peace necessary in nature:(6)

     I think of your sex.
     The heart simplified, I think of your sex,
     before the ripe outcome of the day.
     I touch that button, in its season.
     And an ancient sentiment fails
     ruined in the brain.
     I think of your sex, furrow more prolific
     and harmonious than the belly of the shadow,
     which yet conceives and perishes
     of the eternal.
     O, conscience,
     I think, yes, of the brute freedom
     which enjoys where it wishes, where it may.

     In such a state the lovers seek a union that cannot be resolved, except as
the illusory contact of two hinges of a door in the act of opening, which
nevertheless, are intertwined, but in an equivocal manner, like water in a
vessel. In the position of surface against surface (7) a power of divination
reverberates: a light, lightning that discharges from the exerted energy of
the already finite combat, as if the bodies had to perish so as to reveal their
power and their beauty, their eternity.
     Vallejo, like Whitman, is astonished that the woman can be the door to
everything, but while Whitman preaches it, Vallejo says it with bitterness and
something of cruelty:

     The bleeding sex of the beloved which complains
     sweetly, of supporting so much
     on such a foolish point.

     And so the idea of the mother-world is also a sign of alienation and,
furthermore, of remorseful impotence. The sought unity hides in the symbol of
zero: frightened face, dark meanings, black clothing, much dust on his shoes,
in those years in which Vallejo lost his mother, he spent several months in
jail, suffered miseries and scorn and left Peru for good.
Time-mother-sex-dying are the stations of his poor year, anguish the tone of
voice, ugliness the face of his beauty, hermeticism the sense of his journey.
     In Spain, in France, Vallejo fought off poverty writing articles and
publishing a generous travel chronicle: "Russia in 1931." He dedicated
himself, as he said, to perishing "from living not from time," drinking misery
to the dregs, the bitter dregs that would slowly corrode him. Until the end of
his days he released a torrent of poetry: that which his wife and his friends
collected in "Poemas Humanos."(8) Through those poems he bled, like one
stabbed in the street.
     His European years contained revelations on the plane of social ideology;
he seemed to discover a doctrine, an orientation to rationally translate his
rebel half-breed's anger. He embraced, in a certain form, Marxism. He
embraced it as it embraced him: breaking buttons, shirts, buckles and bones in
the embrace. His revolutionary fervor is lucid.(9) He censures the
intellectualism of the surrealists, the indifference of the modernist
generation and the defeatism of his own generation, candidly seeks human
solidarity through fugitive interviews in a Moscow that he hardly saw. This
entire basis of journalistic socialism does not fit with the horrible agony of
"Poemas Humanos."
     With a flag in hand Vallejo went crying, consoling, seeking the outcast
beings who needed his Franciscan vocation, avidly dying from within, falling
inward, towards an anguish that overflowed his chest and dripped upon and stung
his companions.
     Nevertheless, there are critics who find in this book a basis of "militant
solidarity," a sort of Christian socialism that might redeem Vallejo in the
midst of his pessimism. Solidarity does exist in the work, but how can a clear
hope be seen, a socially redemptive attitude in "Poemas Humanos" without
seeing, at the same time, a well of anguish, of spiritual self- destruction, of
well preserved dying within a living where all the flags disappear?
     Vallejo's solidarity is neither epic nor proletarian in the revolutionary
sense of the word: it is compassionate, a cruel and wounded reflex of human
misery that, suddenly, appears as not simply his, yet instead as the burden of
his neighbors. The exaltation is directed not to the powers of rebellion, but
to the organs of suffering. In his elegy to the miners he says:

     Praise to the ancient play of nature,
     to her sleepless organs to her rustic juices!
     Tune, to edges and points, her eyelashes!
     Praise to her golden nature,
     to her magic lantern,
     to her cubes and diamonds, to her fluid shapes,
     to her eyes of six optic nerves....

     The human condition that earns his complaints is not of a social
character, but instead a condition of individual anguish, a basis of shock
before the incomprehensible punishment which man received daily, accumulated,
like the blows that are given to a dog. The dog does not reason, nor the man.
Both look askance, wounded, with the tail between the legs, cowed.

     Cesar Vallejo has perished, struck
     by all to whom he did nothing;
     they hit him hard with a stick and hard
     also with a rope....

     Pain is the key word in Vallejo, neither rebellion nor anger, except if
the anger is directed against himself. Pain on every conceivable level, pain
which often appears to us in the ambiguous form of an uncontrollable
misfortune, as if our luck were to suffer so as to deserve the consciousness
that separates us from the animal.
     Vallejo proceeds fatalistically complaining, feeling beset by a bad
destiny: thus it is with the man on the burro in the Andean sierra, thus the
tender of llamas, thus the miner changed into a tin statue and thus the man of
dark clothing, of poor health, of little food who seeks refuge in obscure
European flats. The man suffers and joins his suffering to that of other men,
makes of it a hope like a great loop. Furthermore without having illusions of
grandeur. Not for suffering shall we cease to be "comrades in small amounts."

     Forget me and support me by the chest,
     donkey that you rein up to embrace me;
     doubt a few seconds your excretion,
     observe how the air begins to be the lifting sky,
     little man,
     fine man,
     man of the taco, care for me, accompany me...(10)

     Vallejo must seek the root of this pain so insupportably concrete: the
surprised encounter, shocked, first in his body.

     I suffer counting the years with corn,
     brushing my clothes to the sound of a corpse...
     or seated drunk in my pall...(11)

     The organs of the man are a constant mirror of his end, but also are
attributes of horror, as if man carried his corpse encased in his own body:

     I shall close my baptismal tower, this window,
     this fright with breasts,
     this steeple of a finger,
     earnestly united to my skeleton.
     These are my sacred writings,
     these are my alarmed companions.
     This must be
     my navel in which I killed my natal fleas,
     this my trembling thing.
     There shall come the day, hold
     strongly to your lower intestine...(12)

     This man, with so much suffering and such sublime capacity to assimilate
punishment, is, nevertheless, an ordinary thing, of little grandeur, most
varied and emotional, infinitely pitiable.

     Beloved are the ears of Sanchez,
     beloved the unknown one and his woman,
     the stranger with sleeves, collar and eyes!
     Beloved be the one with blisters,
     he who walks beneath the rain,
     who adorns the body with bread and two candles,
     who catches a finger in a door,
     who has no birthdays,
     who lost his shadow in a fire,
     the animal, who resembles a parrot,
     who resembles a man, a little rich,
     the purely miserable, the poor poor! (13)

     The customary man in his anxiety, accustomed to encasing his penury in
little compartments that he calls home, country, wife, children, office,
hotels, churches, rooms, soon to fill them with more bitter and acid sorrows
like filling the drawers of a dresser, such that to a man, to Vallejo, it hurts
down to the chaps, the socks, the hat, to say nothing of the shoes and soon it
will hurt in the utensils, the spoons, the forks, the buttons. From the man
emerge threads of pain: they are connected by wires, as in an open art, to
fatal discharges. Living is a thorn that has entered the foot. How it screws!
And there are those who respond by turning the other cheek. There is no
justice. Vallejo is enraged by the dissimulator, who does not call pain by its
name and does not seem to recognize in his existence the irremediable pact
already signed, the trap in which man breaks.

     You, poor fellow, live; do not deny it,
     if not; do not deny it,
     if you perish of your age, O, and of your epoch.
     And, although you cry, drink,
     and, although you bleed you feed your hybrid tooth,
     and your candle of sorrow and your organs.
     You suffer, you pity and you return to horribly suffer,
     disgraced monkey
     offspring of Darwin,
     something that you scrutinize, atrocious microbe.
     And you know at what point,
     which you ignore, is giving in to crying.
     You, then, were born: that too is visible from afar,
     unhappy one and be quiet,
     and support the road that favored you
     down to the appetitive navel: Where? How?
     My friend, you are completely,
     down to the hairs, in the thirty-eighth year,
     Nicholas or Santiago, or whoever,
     is with you or with your failure or with me
     and captive in your enormous liberty,
     flattened by your Herculean autonomy...
     But if you can count on your fingers to two,
     it is worse; do not deny it, little brother.
     Or no? Or yes, but why no?
     Poor monkey! Give me your paw! No. The hand, I said:
     Cheers! And suffer! (14)

     Is the human condition this, how to have face to invent a sense of
profound, consequent, creative finality, out of desperation? Yet, does man go
about erecting his little ovens, his little bombs, administering his
complicated rockets, his lovers' beds, his psychiatric couches, his museums of
oily sweat, his bald sculptures, his presumptuous eternity, his constricted
glandular delight? If he goes somewhere it gives, in truth, fright to imagine
where. Vallejo opposes with sad sarcasm the two masks of man in this transit.
On one side, the man who goes with bread on his shoulder, who scratches and
removes a flea from his pelvis, who enters your soul with a stick in his hand,
who coughs, spits blood, who seeks bones and shells in the mud, who robs, lies
and solitarily cleans a rifle in the kitchen. On the other side, the man who
writes, who speaks of psychoanalysis, of Surrealism, of the deep I, of the
infinite, of the academies, of the beyond. Clever trap set to catch the
unprepared. How does he conclude, "to speak of the not-self without uttering a
     That cry is of fundamental importance in Vallejo's poetry. It derives
from a long experience by which things became independent so as to attack man;
returning the man within to his primal animal, to jump upon other men with
bloody jaws, and returning him again to within his skeleton, "seated drunk in
his bier," so as to put living and dying in their place - the point, trap or
tomb, which they deserve; releasing the words and the numbers, loosening the
grey threads by which they still hang, and setting to essay a play of symbols
in which everything has its consequences: desolation, bitterness, fiasco; it
overthrows the content and the sense of nostalgia,
since the victim cannot be missed without cutting the definitive bonds, without
him warning that when we are missed it is because we are already defunct and so
they remember us, the poor departed, those whom we killed.
     And if this experience was so decisive, how will it not end in a cry? It
could be called a measured cry, the voice of the hanged who, in the last
instant, seems to have said something we do not understand. Friend Vallejo
"speaks," but in reality he is shouting. "In the end I cannot express my
living except by dying,"(16) he says, and adds: Dying is not good, Sir, if in
living nothing is left and in dying nothing is possible except what is left
from living."(17)
     Something must be left from living, then, something like the features of
our suffering, the face beneath the mask, the tracks of blood on the cloth,
something that attests to our passing and gives sense and reality to our dying.
So that we shall not be stale and corrupted bodies. So that our dying be a
true individual dying, nourished by that portion of horror that we imbibe daily
as we give over our skeleton to the gleaming teeth of our neighbors. There is
no more glorious dying than the live nagging, hungry, virulent, ragged one, who
made his path with humility, tenderness and hatred among men. Because he
learned of what dying consists and because man amasses between his fingers what
others call their eternity.
     We have here the ethical lesson presented by a great Mestizo poet like
Cesar Vallejo: we violently attempt to love existence, we recognize that the
reality of dying only can be accepted as a bitter and stirring reminder that
accompanies us in living, a double exposure, in the language of photography, a
mirror that spins around oneself and, in turning, dizzies us a little, gives us
a little vertigo that we may call eternity.

     "Probably I am another; walking at dawn, another
     who marches to the beat of a long record..."(18)

     No, Vallejo, not another, the same, the same and no more. The same hat,
the same coat, the same pants, the same shoes, the same floor, the same
anguished foreboding, the same countenance that is being erased, damn, and the
same faces that we begin to forget and which go onto other people. The same.
Not a double nor another distinct person. Why should it be? Is help needed to

     "To be born so as to live our dying!"(19)

     This is what I call love of living: to proceed towards dying without
hurry, to feel it tranquil and active in the belly, to nourish it, protect it,
fill it with loving, with anguish, with solitude, with forgetfulness, so that
it has to ruminate for however many years you have at your disposal. Look long
at man: observe him in handkerchiefs, seated, wet, admire his natural sense of
pomp, of envy, of expectation, his sense of order in the massacres, his
respectability and transcendence in his cannibal activities, his power that
surpasses the bestial in the execution of the crime and the metaphysical
loneliness with which he produces his golden artifacts; consider his hunger,
his fleas, his rodents, his architectonic instinct for surrounding himself with
tombs and monuments, weep at his agreeable little deprivations, at his love
sorrows, crying, holding up his pants, feel how we have been alone while
extinguishing other species of poisonous predators, all this and, at the same

     "I would like to live forever, so said the

     To eloquently conclude:

     Considering also
     that man is actually an animal
     and, nevertheless, his sadness gets to my head...
     Examining, finally,
     his secret rooms, his toilet,
     his desperation, at the end of his bad day, erasing it...
     that he knows that I like him,
     that I dislike him
     intensely, and he is to me, overall, indifferent...
     Considering his general documents
     and viewing with spectacles that certificate
     that proves he was born very small...
     I make him a sign,
     and I give you an "abrazo," moved,
     What else to give!
     Moved... Moved... (21)

     This is love of existence: what makes the art of an individual a lesson
for humanity, a call to recognize and accept the arm on our shoulders, the arm
of all men upon our shoulders, and a hand in the funeral of all persons.
     Vallejo's pain, his tenderness, his piety, his luminous cohesion to the
living, we have here the existential position which gives light to all his
     Not given in Vallejo are the most obvious conditions of the epic poet:
that sonority, that liking for dust, that smell of leather, the rumor of
excited crowds and those echoes of the plaza with shouts, flags and bombs,
those proclamations of the individual against social evil and the processes of
mortality, that are elements of heroic poetry. Nor did he have, properly
speaking, the language of fire, the cruel eye of the classic insulters who need
those things too to waste the enemy.
     Nevertheless, he sang of the popular glory of Spain in the supreme
sacrifice of the battle against fascism. In "Espana, Aparta de Mi este Caliz"
(1940), he sang with a human voice: elevated, lyric, wounded, triumphant, with
his own voice, without borrowing accents from anyone, neither from Quevedo nor
from Unamuno nor from Machado nor from Neruda. Attacking as one, discoursing
as another, entering into the soul of the people as a third, exalted,
surrealist, magician, as the last.
     His language of war is the same as that of peace: desperate, anguished,
in solidarity, defeated and victorious at the same time. He views the militia
a little incredulously, he sees them fall and his eyes fill with tears, he sees
the people moving quickly, he wishes to follow them, he knows not how. But he
too goes, as he can, to place his bomb, to light its fuse, to move among the
fallen beneath a dense, all-powerful dust, that begins to fill the world,
helping one body "to perish" and another body to fill with humanity and another
to arise and embrace men and another to kiss his bleeding limbs, showing how
the pariahs of Europe and the Americas are becoming potential warriors, walking
among the casualties, dividing up fallen weapons, speaking with women and
ancients, covering himself too with dust and mortality, the shock of so much
suffering and of so much cruelty, something like the bearded Whitman in the
North American Civil War, male nurse, yet more violent, with more blood, tears
and cries, tried by the destiny of that absurd people who mean so well and who
give so well of their lives to punish the foreign meaning; martyr community,
treacherous, heroic. "Battles? No! Passions!... The world exclaims: A
Spanish affair! And truly it is, we suppose..."(22) A people--a god become
man, Pedro Rojas--or Ramon Collar, desolated, but victorious, at last, over
     Vallejo becomes a bard, a voice of the people, a prophet of blue sky, he,
whom shortly before "they all hit him... they hit him hard with a stick" and
who perishes shouting to man, "Poor monkey! Give me your paw!"
     What has happened? The Spanish Civil War, the tremendous, incommensurate
Spanish Civil War that, like a sealed and bloody envelope, still encloses the
key to the war cataclysm of the 20th century. As in the case of Neruda, the
Civil War awakened in Vallejo a well of the sorrowful, complex and desperate
Spaniard--tinted, no doubt, by the black ointment of the Conquest, of the
colonies, of the half-breed night--, and he responded with a poetry of chaste
fury and spirituality, setting to combat the two angels, the khaki of war, and
the red of liberty. Limping, falling, dusty, near to the end, Vallejo took the
rifle of Spain and set off all his love for humanity. Afterwards, he kept

     I want to write, but froth emerges,
     I want to say much and am dumb;
     there is no spoken symbol that is not a sum,
     there is no written pyramid, without a gallows.
     I want to write, but I feel blank;
     I want laurels, but am stricken.
     There is no spoken voice that does not become mist,
     there is no God nor type of god, without development.
     Let us go then, therefore, to eat herbs,
     meat of the lamb, fruit of the garden,
     our melancholic soul in preservation.
     Let us go! Let us go! I am wounded;
     let us drink the already drunk,
     let us go, cow, to birth your calf.(23)

     This is the self-portrait of Cesar Vallejo in the act of creation. His
poetic art.
     Weary, rough, wounded, seeking the height, the essence, obsessed by the
number as symbol of supreme abstraction and perfection, melancholy and tearful,
honored but stricken, giving up to the tremendous connection that will
perpetuate the cycle, Vallejo possesses a clear consciousness of his art: of
the internal impetus as much as the fleeting surface of the aesthetic form. He
struggles with forms so as to arrive at the Form; in "The Black Heralds" he
walks equipped with luminescent jewels and some false ones; incongruous,
pathetic, insecure, but already angry. In "Trilce" those worldly offerings
have been removed, he has thrown them to the ground, attacked with sticks the
paper ornaments of a modernism covered with flyspecks and he begins to attempt
symbols that are not distinguished with any clarity, codes which confuse and
are confused; he touches clothing and skeleton, murmurs, vocalizes, but his
sounds are harsh, ugly, melancholic, associations of unfreedom, a structure
halfway tied, like an old suitcase from which intimate things and some strange
things keep falling.
     The form that he sought is fully given in the "Poemas Humanos." Their
technique consists, in part, in using repetitions of a conversational
phraseology, or, purely rhythmic. When it is rhythmic, the phrase becomes a
"leitmotif," not the ingenious, melodic repetition of Modernism or of
extremism, but instead the magical formula which, by repeating, creates a
fatalistic sense. Or better, he proceeds to decompose traditional syntax so as
to evoke subconscious processes. Or he invents words beginning, at times, from
popular sounds and, at times, creating adverbial meanings upon a base of his
own noun forms.
     He will tend, likewise, to adopt a fixed design, a synthetic or conceptual
mold, within which he plays capriciously so as to suggest, at last, a little of
the style of the old poetry of Provenza, whose play of contrasts, for example,
seem models for some of those "Poemas Humanos," or of the surrealist manner by
which the "leitmotif" is a key to subconscious processes.
     And contrast, not only as a rhetorical recourse, but as an aesthetic
principle becomes an essential part of his poetic creation; it is the key to
his method of self- destruction, of the final negation of bourgeois values, is
his form of placing against his poetry his Anti-Poetry, the daily conversation
of the desperate, the sarcastic, brutal expression of his humanism at the base
of which his anguish at daily existence is toiling as if yoked.
     Contrasts of the essential and the accessory (24), of idealist propaganda
and the human, brutal, contemptible deed ("C'est Paris reine du monde! It is
as if she were urinated upon." "These are my sacred writings, my frightened
companions"), the contrast of Christ on the cross who is seen with tremendous
laughter; the contrast of the tender anticipation and the ugly descent (..."me
rising and sweating/ and causing the infinite between your muscles"), final
contrast: "In sum, I have no way to express my living, except in my dying."
     Cesar Vallejo is the poet who gave the low blow to
Romantic-Modernist-Hispano-American rhetoric, to middle- brow sensuality and
sentimentality; Vallejo is the true owl in the sonnet of Gonzalez Martinez, or
better said, is the clipped condor who waited beside the bier of Dario, on foot
beside the american dump, examining its miseries; the anti-poet
conversationalist who deflated by jabs the radicals' globe, heroic parent of a
revolutionary surrealism that already was proclaimed by shouts in other places.
Vallejo, very "mestizo" and unable to cease being stoic, kept returning to our
poetry the humanity that had been delicately castrated from it by the blue
magicians of metaphor.
     He was a man who lived his existence in the Court without essentially
changing the image that he brought from his Andean province, and to explain the
absurdities which killed him he did not adopt what he could learn in the
European academies. His eye and his thought continued to be "mestizo," he
never concealed them, nor negated them; with them he went to the wall. And
with them was revived.

1 Cf. "Absoluta," "La Piedra," "Desnudo en Barro," "Huaco," "Terceto
Autoctono," "La Arana." The citations are from "Poesias Completas," 1918-1938,
Buenos Aires, Editorial Losada, 1949.
2 Cf. "Retablo."
3 Cf. "Espergesia."
4 "Poesias Completas," op.cit., p.112.
5 Poem V which begins: "Decennial group. Opening/ in the rocks, hints of
trinity" and concludes: "So say not 1, that echoes to infinity/ and say not 0
that silences so/ until waking at the feet of 1/ 0 doubled group." A personal
relation. See also the poem XXXII in which, through number, he endeavors to
express the idea of physical power.
6 Poem XIII.
7 Poem XXX.
8 Paris,
9 "Fabla Salvaje," novel (1923). "El Tungsteno," Madrid, 1931. "Rusia en 1931,"
Madrid, 1931.
10 "Poesias Completas," op.cit., p.183.
11 Ibid., p.223.
12 Ibid., pp.156,156,209.
13 "Trespass Between Two Stars," pp.186-187.
14 "The Soul that Suffered of Being Your Body," pp.198- 199.
15 "Poesias Completas," op.cit., pp.199-200.
16 Ibid., p.224.
17 Ibid., p.237.
18 Ibid., p.220.
19 Ibid., p.218.
20 Ibid., p.169.
21 Ibid., p.180.
22 Ibid., p.252.
23 Ibid., p.171.
24 Ibid,, p.153.