Vallejo were both passionately political poets, formed by the economic
injustices of Hispano-America. At times, in Neruda's work you feel that you
have stumbled upon a Party Political Broadcast, perhaps a Party Poetical
Broadcast. But, with Vallejo's verse you enter an internal, private space.
The reader is immersed in a mind struggling with its own terms, symbols and
meaning. The external is immediately the internal, as in poem 'LXXVII' from Trilce: -
May this rain
never dry up.
were now given me
to fall for
it, or unless they would bury me
jet from every fire.
This tangled interplay of seeming opposites, water and fire, refutes easy
interpretation. To come to terms with his poetry, then you must actively
engage with this dialectic that defies easy synthesis. It is as if the
urgency of his Marxist struggle has been transposed to an inner dynamic whose
antagonistic forces are meaning and self. Throughout the collection, strange
juxtapositions, unexpected, almost surreal associations structure Vallejo's
verse. It is not just the objects or subjects of the poetry that are at odds,
but Vallejo's linguistic structures are at the breakpoint of sense,
frustrating causal reading and interpretation. Syntaxical safety-nets are
discarded, you fall, teeter on the edge of coherence; consider this extract
from, 'The Accent Hangs Down from My Shoe':
the cruellest size!
brilliance, deep jungle!
I've size to
spare, extendable fog,
and from and close up.
telephones are ringing.
The religious provides operative motifs in the work selected here. However
the symbolism is remade in the secular. There is a very Catholic notion of
fallen, incomplete and alienated man, supplemented by the presence of a
fallen Christ. Suffering Christ is not abandoned by Vallejo despite his
radicalism, but always skillfully invoked in terms of current agonies:
Christ, like man, has been abandoned by God. Further, this suffering, rather
than being redemptive, is futile. A direct treatment of this is to be found
in the poem, 'Alfonso, You are Looking at Me, I See':
and I still
suffer, but you will no more, brother, never again!
told me that in your centuries of pain,
being, you made wooden zeros. Is it true? )
suffer sweetly, bitterly,
I drink your
blood regarding Christ the hard,
I eat your
bone regarding Christ the soft,
love you, two by two, Alfonso
almost say, eternally.
Suffering man, suffering Christ, are part of the fabric of Vallejo's debased
world. But moving away from a pseudo-religious metaphysic, the ultimate fall
in Vallejo work, the fall that haunts a major corpus of his work, is that of
Republican Spain. This defeat of an ideal, a bid for Utopia, provides a
platform for so much of Vallejo's most agonised and complex verse.
if night falls,
if the sky
fits inside two earthly limbos;
noise in the sound of doors,
if I'm late,
if you see no
one, if you are frightened
tipless pencils, if mother
Spain falls -
it's a mere saying -
children of the world, go look for her!
[from 'Spain, Let
This Cup Pass from Me']
To read Vallejo is an exercise in existential vertigo. Lost are the accepted
tools of meaning, lost is the utopia of heaven, lost too the utopia of Marx
in this fall. Yet, in the descent, groping for handholds of meaning, of sense
and direction, Vallejo finds his voice. A battered, bruised Orpheus
disturbing hell with the broken timbre of his song; an extract from the
moving prose poem, 'I Am Going to Speak of Hope':
I do not
suffer this pain as Cˇsar Vallejo. I do not hurt now as
an artist, as
a man or even as a mere living being. I do not suffer
this pain as
a Catholic, as a Muslim, nor as an atheist. Today I
suffer. Were my name not Cˇsar Vallejo, I would
same pain. Were I not an artist I would suffer it. Were
I not a man
or even a living being, I would still suffer it. Were I
atheist, Muslim, I would still suffer it. Today I suffer
down. Today I simply suffer.
One of the chief virtues of this carefully assembled collection is that it
insists on Vallejo's diverse output: from the direct poetry of his youth, to
poems marking the influence of surrealism, to political poems, prose poems,
to poems that seem to break down in their own terms. An honest attempt has
been made to be inclusive, to bear witness to his range. Yet at no point,
does the collection read as a pick and mix/thrown in a bag, miscellany.
Granted that this publication is, to a degree, an introduction to Vallejo's
complete work, there is a strong sense of cohesion, and, to use an ill-fated
word, a progression. To read from start to finish is to undertake a journey
where themes, preoccupations and motifs are enriched throughout the spectrum
of the poetry included. This statement of the poet's complexity and
development builds to a powerful summation.
Michael Smith and Valentino Gianuzzi successfully provide an introduction and
a coming to terms with Vallejo's troubled verse. What remains is to further
engage, to read more, but the groundwork and the path has been carefully
delineated and clarified by this powerful collection that resonates with the
intensity of Vallejo's struggle.