Truly original poetry written in 1929, considered by those who know and love this work as a cornerstone for experimental or “avant-garde” poetry in the modern literary tradition.
You can find information about Cesar Vallejo online, or in the prefaces to the reprinted books of poetry. In this post I will proceed, as philosopher of poetic imagination, Gaston Bachelard says: “without worrying about the poet’s ‘complexes’, without rummaging about in the history of his life” thus, free to explore the original power of his images, to search for the poetic imagination in the poems themselves which, ultimately, are more than enough.
The poems in Vallejo’s Trilce have been described as the great avant-garde poetry of the Latin American world, but I claim him as a great and truly original poet, period. The only kin to the power and originality of this work, in my opinion, is Paul Celan’s challenging and deeply moving Breathturn (Atemwende, 1967) for its emotional power and inventive expression.
I believe that each poet wrote these works not to write experimental work, but to express the depths of an existentially anguished soul using words which are, by nature, limiting and meager, as the poet faces his soul and attempts to transcribe what he hears and sees there. Though Vallejo employs elements of daily life in his poems, he is poet of Humanity, searching, longing, striving, and at times, tongue-tied with the bubbling out of the vastness of existence through his pen.
From Trilce (1929)
I sdrive to dddeflect at a blow the blow.
Her two broad leaves, her valve
opening in succulent reception
from multiplicand to multiplier,
her condition excellent for pleasure,
all readies truth
I strive to ddeflect at a blow the blow.
To her flattery, I transasfixiate Bolivarian
at thirty-two cables and their multiples,
hair for hair majestic thick lips,
the two tomes of the Work, constringe,
and I do not live absence then,
not even by touch.
I fail to teflect at a blow the blow.
We will never saddle the torose Trool
of egotism or of that mortal chafe
of the bedsheet,
since this here woman
—how she weighs being general!
And female is the soul of the absent-she.
And female is my own soul.
I escape with a feint, fluf by fluf.
A projectile I know not where it will fall.
Incertitude. Tramontation. Cervical articulation.
Zap of a horsefly that dies
in midair and drops to earth.
What would Newton say now?
But, naturally, you’re all sons.
Incertitude. Heels that don’t spin.
The page knotted, factures
five thorns on one side
and five on the other: Ssh! Here it comes.
Vallejo, César. The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition (pp. 181-182, 189-190). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
Vallejo’s work, and Trilce emphatically, pulses and surges with neologisms, numbers, abstract and sudden links between the poet’s experiences and imaginations. It would be tempting to read either of these passages with a lens that searches for meaning in male/female psychology, however this would lead us on a fruitless surface interpretation. Besides, what joy could it possibly bring us to analyze the poet’s psychology? Let’s read his words.
In “IX”, we experience humanity in the poetic persona’s stuttering. We experience awe-struck sensuality in a world that centers on deeply-felt experience with a woman. We feel complete immersion and release into what I can only describe as the mysterious dark matter that holds existence together. The reader continually feels tension between what the poet wants to express about his felt experiences, and the limitations of language as we know it, a tension that results in imbalance, where invented words and stutters break through the cracks.
I feel childlike joy in Vallejo’s invented words in “XII”, yet tension in what seems to be anticipatory avoidance of something coming, something beyond his control. His playful allusion to Newton, the spontaneous and urgent hushing at the end of the poem, the knotted page and balance of five thorns with five thorns; I interpret this poem as a poet, attempting to write, the “incertitude” of channeling the poetic imagination on command, and the crushing awe the poet feels once the poetic imagination is channeled.
I am moved by his poems, especially the poems in Trilce, which unfolds as an energetic and at times tortured struggle between personal or familial experience and worldly conventions, the unattainable “ideal”, between neverending questions.
I encourage you to read the poems in Spanish; Clayton Eshleman, translator, is loyal to Vallejo’s artistic vision, but you can only truly benefit from the profundity of this work by reading the original in Spanish side by side with the translation.
This lengthy post is a meager effort to pay homage to a great poet, a deep and brilliant human being whom I very humbly acknowledge as a mentor for my own work.