July 24, 2015

César Vallejo

César Vallejo [Peru]

The great Peruvian poet, César Abraham Vallejo was born on March 16, 1892 in Santiago de Chuco, a small rural community in the central part of Peru. Both his grandmothers were Chimu Indians and both grandfathers were Spanish Catholic priests, and accordingly, as one of eleven children, Vallejo grew up in a world of deep religious devotion.


     In 1910, he entered the School of Philosophy and Letters at Trujillo University, but because of a lack of funds, he had to drop out, starting his education again later and dropping out again to become a tutor and to work in the accounts department of a large sugar estate, the later job of which affected his political views.
     In 1913 he again enrolled at Trujillo University, studying literature and law, and reading intensely on subjects about mythology and evolution. Upon receiving a M.A. in Spanish literature in 1915, Vallejo continued to study law. But his life in Trujillo had become complicated because of a scandalous love affair, forcing him to move to Lima.
     There he found work as the principal of a noted school, while, at night, visiting the opium dens of Chinatown and hanging out in the local Bohemian cafes where he met such noted figures as the leftist Manual Gonzalez Prada. In 1919, his first book of poetry, Los heraldos negros (The Black Messengers) was published to great acclaim.
     Refusing to marry a woman with whom he had an affair, Vallejo lost his administrative position. In 1920, with the death of his mother and the loss of yet another teaching job, he visited his home, during which time a feud broke out before his arrival. Writing about the events surrounding the shooting of a subprefect and the burning of a general store, Vallejo was himself blamed as an “intellectual instigator,” and, despite protests from the local papers and a flurry of telegrams, was arrested and imprisoned for 105 days. Released, he bitterly returned to Lima.
      In 1922 he published the major work of his career, Trilce, a work written while in hiding. The work, one of the most radically avant-garde works of Spanish language poetry, the work was also hermetic in its approach to language, but has since its original publication become one of the classics of South American literature. 
      He continued to teach in Lima, but in 1923, his position was eliminated, and he feared having to return to jail. After publishing two short story collections, Escalas melografiadas and Fabla salvaje, Vallejo, accepted the invitation of his friend Julio Gálvez to immigrate to Paris.
     He and his friend lived in near-starving conditions in the French capital. And only in 1925 did Vallejo find a regular job in a press agency, receiving a grant from the Spanish government to continue his law studies at the University of Madrid.
     Vallejo, however, was not required to remain on campus, and quickly returned to Paris. The educational grant and small amounts of money he received from journalistic contributions, enable the poet to move into the Hotel Richelieu in 1926, a time in which he also frequented art exhibitions, concerts, and cafès, meeting and becoming friends with Antonin Artaud, Pablo Picasso, and Jean Cocteau. Throughout this period he continued to write poetry that would create a bridge to his compassionate and bitter poetry of his later years.
     In 1927 he received the news that the tribunal concerning his case in Peru and been given orders to arrest him. He was forced to leave his position at the press agency and to refuse further educational grants. By 1928, his financial condition having worsened, he began reading Marxist literature and became a committed Communist, traveling in September of that year to Russian, and returning to form the Peruvian Socialist party with other Paris-based expatriates.
     Abandoning poetry, he devoted himself to writing a book of Marxist theory. Moving in with his long-time lover, Georgette Philipart, he wrote his first drama, Mampar. Throughout these years he continued to write numerous scripts, leaving about 600 pages of unpublished materials at the time of his death.
     The same year, Vallejo was arrested by the police in a Paris railroad station and ordered to immediately leave France. Returning to Madrid, he wrote is only long fiction, El tungsteno in 1931. With the fall of the Spanish Monarchy and the proclamation of the Republic, Vallejo joined the Spanish Communist party, publishing Rusia en (1932), which brought him enormous attention, despite the fact he could no longer find publishers for his other writings.
     In January 1932, he and Philipart returned to Paris to find that their apartment had been sacked by the police. In 1933, he finally obtained a resident permit to live in Madrid, and left Paris again with nothing but the clothing he wore. Forbidden to engage in any political activities, the writer documented his darkest years, 1933 – 1936, writing prose works, and, once again, poetry, which would appear in numerous volumes, including España, aparte de mi este cálize (Spain, Take This Cup from Me), published in 1939; Sermón de la barbarie (Sermon on Barbarism) 1939, and Poemas humanos (Human Poems) (also 1939).
     In 1934 he married Philipart, at one of the most financial dire periods of his life. In 1936, Vallejo again found a teaching position, and the Fascist uprising in Spain in July brought him to a pitch of creative activity.
     In July 1937, the Vallejos returned to Spain, now deep in civil war, to take part in the Second International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture. Over 200 writers attended, and Vallejo was elected the Peruvian representative. In Spain, he witnessed the horrors of the Spanish civil war first hand. In Paris again Vallejo composed a fifteen-scene tragedy, La piedra cansada (1937), and wrote the poems of España, aparte de mi este cálize and Sermón de la barbarie.
     In March of 1938, after years of struggle and near starvation, Vallejo developed a lingering fever, and could not leave his bed. His condition only worsened with medical attention, and on April 15, about the same time the Fascists reached the Mediterranean, cutting off the Loyalist forces from one another, Vallejo died, crying out, “I am going to Spain! I want to go to Spain.”
    Originally buried in the Communist cemetery, Montrouge, in the southern part of Paris, the poet’s remains were later moved to the cemetery in Montparnasse by his wife, Georgette, in the 1960s.
     Many of his previously unpublished works were printed throughout the 1950s and 1960s, including El romanticism en la poesia cstellana, Rusia ante el Segundo plan quinquenal, Literatura y arte, and Desde Europa (1987). Green Integer published his previously uncollected Aphorisms in 2002.


Los heraldos negros (Lima, Peru: Ediciones Santiago Aguilar,1918); Trilce (1922); Nómina de huesos (1936); España, aparte de mí este cálize (1939); Sermón de la barbarie (1939); Poemas humanos (1939); España, aparte de mí este cálize (México, D.F.: Editorial Séenca, 1940); Antologia de César Vallejo (Buenos Aires, Editorial Claridad, 1942); Antología (Lima: hora del Hombre, 1948); Poesías completes (Buenos Aires: Editorial Losada, 1949)


Twenty Poems, trans. by John Knoepfle, James Wright, and Robert Bly (Madison, Minnesota: Sixties Press, 1962-1963); Poemas humanos. Human Poems, trans. by Clayton Eshleman (New York: Grove Press, 1968);Ten Versions from Trilce (Cerrillos, New Mexico: San Marcos Press, 1970); Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems, Robert Bly, John Knoepfle, and James Wright, trans. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971); Spain, Let This Cup Pass from Me, trans. by Alvaro Cardona-Hine (Fairfax, California: Red Hill Press, 1972); Spain, Take This Cup from Me, trans. by Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia (New York: Grove Press, 1974); Selected Poems of César Vallejo, trans. by Ed Dorn and Gordon Brotherston (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1976); Battles in Spain: Five Unpublished Poems, trans. by Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia (1978, 1980); César Vallejo: The Complete Posthumous Poetry, trans. by Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978); Selected Poems / César Vallejo, trans. by H. R. Hays (Old Chatham, New York: Sachem Press, 1981);  César Vallejo: A Selection of His Poetry, trans. by James Higgins (Liverpool, England: F. Cairns, 1987); César Vallejo: An Anthology of His Poetry (Oxford, England: Pergamon Press, 1970); The Black Heralds, trans. by Richard Schaaf and Kathleen Ross (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1990, 2003); Trilce, trans. by Rebecca Seiferle (New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1992); The Black Heralds, trans. by Barry Fogden (East Sussex, England: Allardyce, Barnett, 1995); The Black Heralds, trans. by Rebecca Seiferle (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2003); Chasing Vallejo: Selected Poems, trans. by Gerard Malanga (Berkeley, California: Three Rooms Press, 2014) Selected Writings of César Vallejo, trans. by Joseph Mulligan (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2015)  

Scared (XXVII from Trilce)
This spurt frightens me,
memorable, masterful, implacable
cruel sweetness. It scares me.
This house is perfectly pleasing, the whole
reason for this condition of not knowing where to go.
Let’s not enter. I fear the present, the allowance
to return at any moment, across blasted bridges.
I won’t push any further, sweet sir,
gallant reflection, sad
song of skeleton bones.
How peacefully, he of this enchanted house
spends my quicksilver; and plugs
my orifices leading
to a dried-out actuality.

--Translated from the French  by Douglas Messerli

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