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César Vallejo

César Vallejo
Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo
Born César Abraham Vallejo Mendoza
March 16, 1892
Santiago de Chuco, La Libertad, Peru
Died April 15, 1938 (aged 46)
Paris, France
Occupation Poet, writer, journalist
Nationality Peruvian
Notable works Los Heraldos Negros, Trilce

César Abraham Vallejo Mendoza (March 16, 1892 – April 15, 1938) was a Peruvian poet, writer, playwright, and journalist. Although he published only three books of poetry during his lifetime, he is considered one of the great poetic innovators of the 20th century in any language. He was always a step ahead of literary currents, and each of his books was distinct from the others, and, in its own sense, revolutionary. Thomas Merton called him "the greatest universal poet since Dante". The late British poet, critic and biographer Martin Seymour-Smith, a leading authority on world literature, called Vallejo "...the greatest twentieth-century poet in any language." He was a member of the intellectual community called North Group formed in the Peruvian north coastal city of Trujillo.

Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia's translation of The Complete Posthumous Poetry of César Vallejo won the National Book Award for translation in 1979.


  • Biography 1
  • Works 2
    • Los Heraldos Negros (1919) 2.1
    • Trilce (1922) 2.2
    • España, Aparta de Mí Este Cáliz (1937) 2.3
    • Poemas Humanos (1939) 2.4
    • Plays 2.5
    • Novels 2.6
    • Non-fiction 2.7
  • Vallejo in Popular Culture 3
  • Selected works available in English 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Monument to César Vallejo at National University of San Marcos, where he studied.

César Vallejo was born the youngest of eleven children in Santiago de Chuco, a remote village in the Peruvian Andes. He studied literature at National University of Trujillo in Trujillo. Lack of funds forced him to withdraw from his studies for a time and work at a sugar plantation, the Roma Hacienda, where he witnessed the exploitation of agrarian workers firsthand, an experience which would have an important impact on his politics and aesthetics. Vallejo received a BA in Spanish literature in 1915, the same year that he became acquainted with the bohemia of Trujillo, in particular with APRA co-founders Antenor Orrego and Victor Raul Haya de la Torre.

In 1911 Vallejo moved to Lima, where he studied at National University of San Marcos, read, worked as a schoolteacher, and came into contact with artistic and political avant-garde. While in Lima, he also produced his first poetry collection, Los Heraldos Negros. Despite its stated publication year of 1918, the book was actually published a year later. It is also heavily influenced by the poetry and other writings of fellow Peruvian Manuel González Prada, who had only recently died. Vallejo then suffered a number of calamities over the next few years: he refused to marry a woman with whom he had an affair and thus lost his teaching post, his mother died in 1920, and he went to prison for 105 days for alleged intellectual instigation of a partisan skirmish in his hometown, Santiago de Chuco, in 2007 the Judiciary of Peru vindicated Vallejo's memory in a ceremony calling to the poet unfairly accused.[1] Nonetheless, 1922 he published his second volume of poetry, Trilce, which is still considered one of the most radically avant-garde poetry collections in the Spanish language. After publishing the short story collections Escalas melografiadas and Fabla salvaje in 1923, Vallejo emigrated to Europe under the threat of further incarceration and remained there until his death in Paris in 1938.

Monument to César Vallejo in Lima. The engraving in Spanish quotes Vallejo "There is, brothers, very much to do."

His European years found him living in dire poverty in Paris, with the exception of three trips to the Poemas humanos and España, aparta de mí este cáliz. He died on April 15, 1938,[2] of an unknown illness now thought to have been a form of malaria, an event fictionalized in Roberto Bolaño's novel Monsieur Pain. Originally buried in the proletarian Montrouge cemetery, Vallejo's remains are now in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.


Los Heraldos Negros (1919)

Los Heraldos Negros (The Black Messengers) was completed in 1918, but not published until 1919. Robert Bly, in the 1993 edited volume Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems, describes it as "a staggering book, sensual, prophetic, affectionate, wild," and as "the greatest single collection of poems I have ever read." The title is likely suggestive of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, as the book itself touches on topics of religiosity, life and death.

  • Poem:The black heralds[3]
There are blows in life, so powerful . . . I don't know!
Blows as from God’s hatred; as if before them,
the backlash of everything suffered
were to dam up in the soul . . . I don’t know!
They are few; but they are . . . They open dark furrows
in the fiercest face and in the strongest side.
Maybe they could be the horses of barbarous Attilas;
or the black heralds Death sends us.
They are the deep abysses of the soul's Christs,
of some revered faith Destiny blasphemes.
Those gory blows are the cracklings of a bread
that burns-up on us at the oven's door.
And man . . . Poor . . . poor! He turns his eyes,
as when a slap on the shoulder calls us;
he turns his crazed eyes, and everything lived
is dammed up, like a pond of guilt, in his gaze.
There are blows in life, so powerful . . . I don't know!

Trilce (1922)

Trilce, published in 1922, anticipated much of the avant-garde movement that would develop in the 1920s and 1930s. Vallejo's book takes language to a radical extreme, inventing words, stretching syntax, using automatic writing and other techniques now known as "surrealist" (though he did this before the Surrealist movement began). The book put Latin America at the center of the Avant-garde. Like James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, Trilce borders on inaccessibility.

España, Aparta de Mí Este Cáliz (1937)

In España, aparta de mí este cáliz (Spain, Take This Chalice from Me), Vallejo takes the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) as a living representation of a struggle between good and evil forces, where he advocates for the triumph of mankind symbolised in the salvation of the Second Spanish Republic (1931–39) that was being attacked by fascist allied forces led by General Franco. In 1994 Harold Bloom included España, Aparta de Mí Este Cáliz in his list of influential works of the Western Canon.

Poemas Humanos (1939)

Poemas Humanos (Human Poems), published by the poet's wife after his death, is a leftist work of political, socially oriented poetry. Although a few of these poems appeared in magazines during Vallejo's lifetime, almost all of them were published posthumously. The poet never specified a title for this grouping, but while reading his body of work his widow found that he had planned a book of "human poems", which is why his editors decided on this title. Of this the poet's last written work, it was said[4]"... after a long silence, as if the presentiment of death might have urged him, he wrote in a few months the Poemas humanos."


Vallejo wrote five plays, none of which were staged or published during his lifetime.

Mampar is the subject of a critical letter from French actor and theatre director Louis Jouvet which says, in summary, "Interesting, but terminally flawed". The text itself is lost, assumed to have been destroyed by Vallejo.

Lock-Out (1930, written in French; a Spanish translation by Vallejo himself is lost) deals with a labour struggle in a foundry.

Monument to César Vallejo in the Jesus Maria District of Lima, Peru.

Entre las dos orillas corre el río (1930s) was the product of a long and difficult birth. Titles of earlier versions include Varona Polianova, Moscú contra Moscú, El juego del amor, del odio y de la muerte and several variations on this latter title.

Colacho hermanos o Presidentes de América (1934). Satire displaying Peruvian democracy as a bourgeois farce under pressure from international companies and diplomacy.

La piedra cansada (1937).


El tungsteno (1931). A social realist novel depicting the oppression of native Peruvian miners and their communities by a foreign-owned tungsten mine.

Towards the kingdom of the Sciris (1928) is a historic short story dealing with the Incan theme.

Fabla Salvaje (1924) Literally 'Wild Language', is a short novel which follows the insanity of a character who lives in the Andes.

The children's book, "Paco Yunque", was rejected in Spain in 1930 for being too violent for children. But after it was published in Peru in the 1960s, it became mandatory reading in the elementary schools in Peru.


Rusia en 1931, reflexiones al pie del Kremlin (Russia in 1931, reflections on foot of the Kremlin), first published in 1931, is a journalistic work describing Vallejo's impressions of the new socialist society that he saw being built in Soviet Russia.

Rusia ante el II Plan Quinquenal is a second work of Vallejo's chronicles of his travels in Soviet Russia, focusing on Joseph Stalin's second Five Year Plan. The book, originally written in 1931, was not published until 1965.

Vallejo in Popular Culture

  • The Pulitzer-prize winning American dramatist Sam Shepard writes in "Cruising Paradise" (1997) that Cesar Vallejo is his favorite poet. Shepard's previous title, "Motel Chronicles", begins with an inscription from a Vallejo poem, "...never did far away charge so close."
  • German-born American author Charles Bukowski wrote a poem about Vallejo in his posthumously published book What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.
  • Giannina Braschi's Empire of Dreams, a Latin American poetry epic first published in Spain in 1988, pays homage to Cesar Vallejo's "Los Heraldos Negros" and "Trilce".[5]
  • American poet Joe Bolton adapted several sections of Trilce in his book Days of Summer Gone (Galileo Press, 1990).

Selected works available in English

The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo (Edited and Translated by Clayton Eshleman. With a Foreword by Mario Vargas Llosa, an Introduction by Efrain Kristal, and a Chronology by Stephen M. Hart.) University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-24552-5 (shortlisted for the 2008 International Griffin Poetry Prize)

The Complete Posthumous Poetry of César Vallejo (Translators: Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia), University of California Press ISBN 978-0-520-04099-1

Trilce (Translators: Michael Smith, Valentino Gianuzzi). Shearsman Books. ISBN 978-0-907562-72-6

The Complete Later Poems 1923–1938 (Translators: Michael Smith, Valentino Gianuzzi). Shearsman Books. ISBN 978-0-907562-73-3

The Black Heralds (Translator: Rebecca Seiferle) Copper Canyon Press ISBN 978-1-55659-199-0

Trilce (Translator: Rebecca Seiferle) Sheep Meadow Press. ISBN 978-1-878818-12-6

The Black Heralds (Translator: Barry Fogden) Allardyce, Barnett Publishers. ISBN 978-0-907954-23-1

The Black Heralds (Translators: Richard Schaaf and Kathleen Ross) Latin American Literary Review Press. ISBN 978-0-935480-43-6

Trilce (Translator: Dave Smith) Mishima Books. ISBN 978-0-670-73060-5

Autopsy on Surrealism (Translator: Richard Schaaf) Curbstone Press. ISBN 978-0-915306-32-9

Cesar Vallejo (Translators: Gordon Brotherstone and Edward Dorn) Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-042189-7

Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems (Translators: Robert Bly and James Wright) Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-6489-4

I'm going to speak of hope (Translator: Peter Boyle) Peruvian Consulate Publication.

Cesar Vallejo: An Anthology of His Poetry (Introduction by James Higgins) The Commonwealth and International Library. ISBN 978-0-08-015761-0

Selected Poems of Cesar Vallejo (Translator: H. R. Hays) Sachem Press. ISBN 978-0-937584-01-9

Poemas Humanos, Human Poems, by César Vallejo, a bilingual edition translated by Clayton Eshleman. Copyright 1968. Grove Press, 1969, xxv + 326 pp. ISBN 978-84-376-0731-3.

The Mayakovsky Case (Translator: Richard Schaaf) Curbstone Press. ISBN 978-0-915306-31-2

Tungsten (Translator: Robert Mezey) Syracuse University Press. ISBN 978-0-8156-0226-2

Songs of Home (Translators: Kathleen Ross and Richard Schaaf) Ziesing Brothers Book Emporium. ISBN 978-0-917488-05-4

Spain Take This Cup from Me (Translator: Mary Sarko ) Azul. ISBN 978-1-885214-03-4

Spain, Let This Cup Pass from Me (Translator: Alvaro Cardona-Hine) Azul. ISBN 978-1-885214-42-3

Trilce (Selections from the 1922 Edition), Vols. 38/39 and 40/41 (Translator: Prospero Saiz) Abraxas Press. ISBN 978-0-932868-07-7

Trilce (Homophonic translator: James Wagner). Calamari Press. ISBN 978-0-9770723-2-3

See also


  1. ^ Judiciary of Peru (ed.). "(spanish) Reivindicación de Vallejo" (PDF). Retrieved November 17, 2012. 
  2. ^ LATIN POETS UK (ed.). "Cesar Vallejo Tribute 2012". Retrieved November 6, 2012. 
  3. ^ "The Black Heralds" (PDF). Retrieved December 21, 2012. 
  4. ^ Julio Caillet Bois, Antología del la poesía hispanoamericano, Madrid: Aguilar S.A. Ediciones, 1965, p1246
  5. ^ Empire of Dreams, introduction by  
  6. ^ Yo-Yo Boing!, Introduction by Doris Sommer, Harvard University. Latin American Literary Review Press. 1998.  
  7. ^ United States of Banana. Amazon Crossing. November 2011.  

Further reading

  • Poetry and Politics: The Spanish Civil War Poetry of César Vallejo, George Lambie, 1992, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, LXIX
  • Vallejo's Interpretation of Spanish Culture and History in the Himno a los voluntarios de la República, George Lambie, 1999, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, LXXVI
  • Intellectuals, Ideology and Revolution: The Political Ideas of César Vallejo, George Lambie, 2000, Hispanic Research Journal, Vol.1, No.2
  • Vallejo and the End of History, George Lambie, 2002, Romance Quarterly, Vol.49, No.2
  • Vallejo and Democracy, George Lambie, 2004, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (Higginschrift)
  • Poetry in Pieces: César Vallejo and Lyric Modernity, Michelle Clayton, 2011
  • César Vallejo: A Critical Bibliography of Research, Stephen M Hart, 2002
  • César Vallejo: The Dialectics of Poetry and Silence, Jean Franco, 1976
  • The Catastrophe of Modernity: Tragedy and the Nation in Latin American Literature, Patrick Dove, 2004
  • The Poem on the Edge of the Word: the Limits of Language and the Uses of Silence, D.C. Niebylski, 1993
  • Vallejo, Xavier Abril, 1958
  • The Poetry and Poetics of Cesar Vallejo: the Fourth Angle of the Circle, Adam Sharman, 1997
  • Wounded Fiction: Modern Poetry and Deconstruction, Joseph Adamson, 1988
  • Homage to Vallejo, Christopher Buckley, 2006
  • Trilce I: a Second Look, George Gordon Wing, 1972
  • Neruda and Vallejo in Contemporary United States Poetry, Mark Jonathan Cramer, 1976
  • “Vallejo on Language and Politics,” Letras hispanas: Revista de literatura y cultura, Rolando Pérez, 2008.
  • “César Vallejo’s Ars Poética of Nonsense: A Deleuzean Reading of Trilce.” Dissidences: Hispanic Journal of Theory and Criticism, Rolando Pérez, 2008. www.dissidences/4PerezVallejo.html
  • El Pensamiento Politico de César Vallejo y la Guerra Civil Española / George Lambie., 1993. Lima: Editorial Milla Batres
  • César Vallejo, el poeta y el hombre / Ricardo Silva-Santisteban. Lima, 2010
  • Recordando a Vallejo: La Bohemia de Trujillo / Luis Alva Castro, Luis.
  • Ensayos vallejianos / William Rowe., 2006
  • César Vallejo al pie del orbe / Iván Rodríguez Chávez., 2006
  • Alcance filosófico en Cesar Vallejo y Antonio Machado / Antonio Belaunde Moreyra., 2005
  • César Vallejo : estudios de poética / Jesús Humberto Florencia., 2005
  • Poéticas y utopías en la poesía de César Vallejo / Pedro José Granados., 2004
  • César Vallejo : muerte y resurrección / Max Silva Tuesta., 2003
  • César Vallejo, arquitecto de la palabra, caminante de la gloria / Idelfonso Niño Albán., 2003
  • Algunos críticos de Vallejo y otros ensayos vallejianos / César Augusto Angeles Caballero., 2002
  • César Vallejo en la crítica internacional / Wilfredo Kapsoli Escudero., 2001
  • César Vallejo y el surrealismo / Juan Larrea., 2001
  • César Vallejo y la muerte de Dios / Rafael Gutiérrez Girardot., 2000
  • César Vallejo / Víctor de Lama., 2000
  • Recopilación de textos sobre César Vallejo / Raúl Hernández Novás., 2000
  • Mi encuentro con Vallejo; Prólogo de Luis Alva Castro / Antenor Orrego. Bogotá: Tercer Mundo Editores, 1989. ISBN 978-95-8601-224-9
  • Antenor Orrego y sus dos prólogos a Trilce / Manuel Ibáñez Rosazza. Trilce Editores: Trujillo, 1995
  • César Vallejo, Sus mejores obras. Ediciones Perú: Lima, 1962
  • César Vallejo, vida y obra / Luis Monguió. Editora Perú Nuevo: Lima, 1952
  • César Vallejo (1892–1938); Vida y obra, Revista Hispánica Moderna, New York, 1950.

External links

  • Works by or about César Vallejo in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • An excerpt of Vallejo´s work
  • Human Potential: The Life and Work of César Vallejo
  • Information about Vallejo from the Academy of American Poets
  • Griffin Poetry Prize biography, including audio and video clips of Guillermo Verdecchia reading Clayton Eshleman's translation of Vallejo's Guitar
  • Interview with Vallejo, the only extant interview with Vallejo, 1931.
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