William Arighi

Olga Blomgren

Kelly Brown

Allison Dressler

Jessie Ferguson

Doireann Lalor

Myriam Muriel Mercader Varela

Giovanna Montenegro

Christy Rodgers

Sandra Sokowski


Translating Vallejo: Three Poems

Email this article

Kelly Brown
Washington University, Saint Louis, MO

The task of translation, if not hopelessly utopian, is at least a trip, a "carrying across" littered mostly with loss. It's also a task we're never not at, translating our words and our selves to fallen circumstances of clash and accommodation, petition and prayer, where the inward babble meets the outward brook. Meaning: meaning is as meaning does, a constant flux, not only succumbing to but demanding translation, as one greets or regrets it, and at the peak of Dictionary Definition we find it (meaning) means merely more of the same, "leaving one still" as Eliot in "East Coker" lamented, "with the intolerable wrestle / With words and meanings." It is most intolerable, one supposes, for those who would demand of their language an immaculate, spiritual purity. But content to be strictly sense no less than wispy spirit, what poetry wants (or we want of it) is an active body, a pragma of sensory experience, a turning flow and fluxion of many-leveled hesitations, a ringing thing-thought felt to move more than merely under-stood. That is the happening Frost assured was lost.

Taking up César Vallejo, one feels most immediately this sense of irremediable loss embodied. It is the loss of knowledge that he greets us with in the first words of his first book: "There are blows in life, so potent ... I don't know!" These blows from The Black Heralds "open dark furrows" in the face (maybe bruises that grew eyes?) and the loins, as if being itself were painfully struck from them, yet a being somehow missing, nostalgic for itself. Américo Ferrari remarks this "I don't know!" as "the very nucleus on which the poetic work of Vallejo is going to unfold ... in the vision of what is negative, missing, lacking" (13) and again and again the Peruvian poet marks it at the locus where word meets flesh, as in the "Imperial Nostalgias" section of his first book where "a biblical tract dies in the word / of this twilight's Asiatic emotion." The twilight of Vallejo's nostalgia is familial, religious, cultural and always terribly personal. He has none of Neruda's optimism of inevitable triumph, nor his ability to sweep the sea and planets to his romantic defense. In Vallejo one senses hesitation, strain, a fumbling human imperfection that perversely gives the translator that most human of mediators, hope.

Last of eleven children, Vallejo was born in 1892 in the provinces of Northern Peru into a family of daily prayer, both of his grandfathers being Jesuit priests, and to a father who wanted him to join their ranks. His grandmothers, both Chimu women, Jean Franco observes, "probably entered the priests' houses as housekeepers or servants" (2) and one hears both echoes of their Quechua language and those incantations murmured before meals and in the evenings, though each are thrust uneasily into new circumstance—the Quechua often tortured into a Spanish form, and the prayers themselves made to witness a loss of belief, tracing the pain of withdrawal as they subside in a "twilight's Asiatic emotion." Learning early on in the Peruvian coal mines and sugar estates that the moral teachings of Christianity were, if not a dead letter, then at least brutal links in the chain of Peru's imperial dependency, Vallejo like Neruda e ventually became a committed Marxist.

I return to Neruda as a useful foil, for the more Whitmanian Neruda was a poet of "the people" in a way the orphaned Vallejo never could have been. Reading in soccer stadiums to hundreds of adoring thousands in his homeland Chile and abroad, a political ambassador and orator, Neruda wrote and spoke with confidence of Man in the grandly romantic strain, while Vallejo, mistrusting it, invented in part a language uniquely his own, a language that not only spoke of but embodied suffering in semantic contradiction, parody, syntactic dislocation, and a mutilation of musicality that his society could not abide. Painfully aware of how his work (mostly unpublished once he left Peru) did not fit the prevailing modes of modernist "purity," ethereal as Darío's "azul," he died virtually unknown and in abject poverty. His Marxist commitment was always tensed within this dire isolation, yet tempered too by an intense love of his family, and a spiritual yearning never defeated nor fulfilled. If I focus below on some of the more "personal" poems written by Vallejo, it is from a sense that his God, like his "humanity," was less an abstraction than a singular feeling, an intimation of wholeness he may have known as a child. With the death of his mother and his closest brother Miguel, César was orphaned from it, and God falls with him; and yet, most strangely, most tenderly and most fiercely it allows him to find in the abidance of suffering an essence of God. In "The Eternal Dice" (God is a gambler it would seem), Vallejo accuses and acclaims:

      My God, if you'd ever been human,
    today you'd know how to be God;
    but you, who were always fine,
    feel nothing of your creation.
    And man suffers for you: he's the one who is God!
    (Los dados eternos)

If his poems are born of individual anguish, they have as little interest in narrow confession as modernist ethers. His anguish, as his nostalgia and hope, swells to become independent and larger than the poet himself, a symbol of greater predicament and continuance. I have included three translations: one from Vallejo's first collection, Los Heraldos Negros, published at the age of 27 in 1919, one from his most "experimental" and challenging book, Trilce (1922), and one from the posthumous collection published by his wife, Poemas humanos, in 1939. The discussions posit relations both to the original and to other translations in order to highlight some of my particular choices and regrets in attempting to translate sense and experience into the English.

A mi hermano Miguel

In memoriam

¡Hermano, hoy estoy en el poyo de la casa,
donde nos haces una falta sin fondo!
Me acuerdo que jugábamos esta hora, y que mamá
nos acariciaba: "Pero, hijos ..."

Ahora yo me escondo,
como antes, todas estas oraciones
vespertinas, y espero que tú no des conmigo.
Por la sala, el zaguán, los corredores.
Después, te ocultas tú, y yo no doy contigo.
Me acuerdo que nos hacíamos llorar,
hermano, en aquel juego.

Miguel, tú te escondiste
una noche de agosto, al alborear;
pero, en vez de ocultarte riendo, estabas triste.
Y tu gemelo corazón de esas tardes
extintas se ha aburrido de no encontrarte. Y ya
cae sombra en el alma.

Oye hermano, no tardes
en salir. ¿Bueno? Puede inquietarse mamá.

To my Brother Miguel

In memoriam

Brother, today I'm on the bench by the house,
where we miss you abysmally.
I remember we used to play at this hour and mom,
calming, caressed us: "Now, boys ..."

Now I hide,
like then, during all the evening prayers,
and hope you won't find me.
In the drawing room, the closet, the halls.
Later, you hide, and I can't find you.
I remember we made ourselves cry,
brother, playing that game.

Miguel, you went hiding
one August night, as dawn broke;
but instead of laughing as you hid, you were gloomy.
And your twin heart of those absent afternoons
is tired of not finding you. And now
shadows are growing in my soul.

Hey, brother, don't be too long
coming out. Okay? Mom might get worried.

From the "Canciones de hogar" ["Songs of Home"] section of Los Heraldos negros, "A Mi hermano Miguel" is addressed to Vallejo's elder brother, the playmate of his childhood years, who died in August of 1915. In a tone that weaves the child's and adult's voice in great pathos, the poet recalls the games they used to play so intensely that the past stirs into present: he and his brother are playing hide-and-seek, and as the game becomes the image of Miguel's death, the adult speaker reacts as he might have as a child, unable to grasp the fact of that death. Vallejo's metaphysical "I don't know" is here shown to emerge from the grave, the very soil of pain, of particular existence and loss that would later require that "a firmament ... [be] exhumed" (Trilce XIX).

That loss is embodied perhaps most subtly in a rhythm that slips, and a sonority that goes missing. The poem opens playing hide-and-seek with sound, "¡Hermano, hoy estoy en el poyo de la casa / donde nos haces una falta sin fondo, " and Vallejo, some poems more than others, seems to choose his phonemes as carefully as his words. The insistent oy in the first line—near twin to the wincing ay! of onomatopoeic pain—reappears below in the "yo no doy contigo" of the second stanza and the urgent "Oye" of the final that weekly seeks a remedy and intertwines most conspicuously with the ah of "Hermano," "casa" and that bottomless "falta," the "alma," "sala," "salir," and the curiously caressing "mamá." While I also lean on ahs and long os, what wants most to be embodied, it seems, are those sonorous vowels, "¡Hermano, hoy estoy en el poyo de la casa" that drop into this alliterative "falta sin fondo!" Both Kathleen Ross and Richard Schaaf (1990) and Barry Fogden (1995) keep the exclamation, though no sonority leads into the desperate slip:

    Brother, today I'm sitting on the bench outside our house.
    Where you are missed so deeply! (Ross and Schaaf)

    Brother, here I am on the stone seat at home,
    where we miss you endlessly! (Fogden)

One hopes Ross and Schaaf's period is a typo, but the passive inexplicably distances the very present absence of Miguel as well as elides the family implicated in the pain. Fogden's lines ring slightly better though not approaching the embodied throb of the loss in the second line, and the flat announcement of "here I am" is at odds with Vallejo's emphasis and characteristic elision of the speaker's "yo." H.R. Hays (1981) messes with tenses while augmenting emphasis on the "I" at the price of both the strained community left in Miguel's wake (nos haces) and of that overwhelming absence itself: "Brother, today I was sitting on the stone seat by the house / Where I miss you endlessly." To repeat, the original makes one feel the "falta" fall out from under in "sin fondo." The effect is spatial; with an emotional gap gaping now, time is irrelevant and an "endless" missing subtly de-emphasizes this abyss, a vertiginousness sprung from subtle slips in sound.

Just as the exclamations of the opening lines perhaps overstretch what is permissible in English, the "you were sad," of the third stanza also carries a sentimental flatness nearly impossible to pull off. But every translator, no matter how they alter the first part of the line, strains with just that. "Triste" is a wide word and surely there is some other way to show Miguel reluctantly retreating. "Gloomy" may be, admittedly, too ponderous, making the adjective do more work than required, but it remains in line with the atmospheric sadness suffusing the poem. Like several of his poems, this one flirts with a nostalgic sentimentality, and one can hardly avoid it in choosing how to name the mother. What to call her, Mum? Mama? Mom? And what to call what she does? Fogden has her "petting" the boys; others choose some version of "caress" or "hug and caress." "Calming" came for sound and rhythm, though it, too is overly explanatory.

A touching moment comes at the end of the second stanza, "Me acuerdo que no hacíamos llorar,/ hermano, en aquel juego," and if there is something communal in this crying, it is scarily solitary as well. It is the poem's punctum, rising from within and without. Other translators choose to accent that external element with "we made each other cry," though "nos hacíamos llorar" permits another choice: "we made ourselves cry," as if one's own imagination carried too hauntingly far. It needs at least a lean line. Fogden's "I remember that we used to make each other cry" is too lugubrious. If there is no "playing" in the original, my "I remember we made ourselves cry, / brother, playing that game," apart from the assonance it adds, hopes its trochees may add to the pathos.

One other liberty could be defended. The literalist will want those shadows to "fall" in the soul, while I make of them something that grows. That dual night/dawn, or morning into which the brother has gone hiding casts them, making day itself a cause for mourning. The "shadows ... growing in the soul," makes a sonic argument that grows a short o in force from an unaccented position in "shadows" to the accented "growing," in one syllable of two, to the full force of "soul." "Ya" always hesitates between "already," and "now," adding to the tragic note that a young boy through suffering is growing old too soon. It is one last echo of the brother that died young that ripples in the confused doubleness of the brother's night death extending into day, and the past eerily overlapping the present of the poem, an overlap that subtly began in the first stanza when esta hora (meaning "this hour") then reverberating, grows somewhat frighteningly, confusedly into está ahora (it is now). The poem I have selected from Vallejo's second collection, Trilce, while not particularly representative of its extreme difficulties for the translator, retains this trace of menaced innocence in the speaker's voice, and of the effort to emotionally compass cosmic injustice, a child's bewilderment before blind, indifferent processes.


  Las personas mayores
¿a qué hora volverán?
Da las seis el ciego Santiago,
y ya está muy oscuro.

  Madre dijo que no demoraría.

  Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel,
cuidado con ir por ahi, por donde
acaban de pasar gangueando sus memorias
dobladoras penas,
hacia el silencioso corral, y por donde
las gallinas que se están acostando todavía,
se han espantado tánto.
Mejor estemos aquí no más.
Madre dijo que no demoraría.

  Ya no tengamos pena. Vamos viendo
los barcos ¡el mio es más bonito de todos!
con los cuales jugamos todo el santo día,
sin pelearnos, como debe de ser:
han quedado en el pozo de agua, listos,
fletados de dulces para mañana.

  Aguardemos así, obedientes y sin más
remedio, la vuelta, el desagravio
de los mayores siempre delanteros
dejándonos en casa a los pequeños,
como si también nosotros no pudiésemos partir.

  Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel?
Llamo, busco al tanteo en la oscuridad.
No me vayan a haber dejado solo,
y el único recluso sea yo.


  The grown-ups
—when will they be back?
Blind Santiago is striking six,
and already it's dark.

  Mother said she wouldn't be long.

  Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel,
careful going over there, where
doubled-up griefs
have just passed, twanging their memories
toward the quiet barnyard, where
the hens still settling to sleep
have been so frightened.
Better we stay right here.
Mother said she wouldn't be long.

  Let's not worry now. Let's keep looking
at the boats—mine most beautiful of all!—
with which we played all day long,
without fighting, as it should be:
they've waited in the puddle, ready,
loaded with lollipops for tomorrow.

  Let's wait, obedient, with no
other choice, for the return, the amends
of the grown-ups always quick
to leave us little ones at home,
as if we too couldn't just pick up and go.

  Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel?
I'm calling, feeling around in the dark.
You can't have left me all alone,
the only prisoner can't be me.

Trilce's poems may be divided into those intensely objectified, disjointed and transgressive, syntactically and linguistically clashing Spanish and Quechua, as with legal and theological idioms, and those, like this one, that are some of Vallejo's most urgently personal, recalling those "Poems of Home" from his first collection. "Blind Santiago" is the blind bell-ringer of Vallejo's hometown, Santiago de Chuco, with whom Vallejo reportedly shared his first verses, and the siblings mentioned here are those closest to him in age. It's extremely rare for Vallejo to set a single line off on its own, and his doing so here with "Madre dijo que no demoraría" suggest an intimate attachment inflicted with distance. The promise of promptness—"She said she wouldn't be long"— misses some ambiguity of the original. The verb demorar is closer to the English "to dawdle," or "delay, linger or stop (in a place)" and suggests that she is occupied elsewhere, perhaps permanently (and was indeed, dying before Trilce went to press). Death impinges already from the start—"already it's dark"—and deepens with the "doubled-up griefs" and the exteriorized terror of the penned hens that are caught, like the kids, uneasily awaiting their fate. It seems, at first, that we have a poem without a religious tint, but only because the secular English "all day long" in the fourth stanza misses the origins of that Spanish phrase, "todo el santo día" (literally, "all the saintly/holy day"), that also brings retrospective resonance to blind Santiago, like some disabled god guessing at the hour.

In the penultimate stanza, desagravio is translated by both Wright and Eshleman as "apologies," which implies only words. But what this child seems to want reaches toward deeper shades of the word—amends, compensation, recompense—action, the righting of a wrong, not empty apologies, for the injustice done empties a world. If the process that shoves the child from the folds of the family to the solitude of adulthood finds its rough parallel in Vallejo's own imprisonment (persecuted by Peru's conservative government, he spent four-months in a Trujillo jail while writing the book), he knows the children have no choice, no other recourse but to wait for the reversal of their sentence; the brothers and sisters will follow the parents, the only assurance further loss. No apology will do, only a righting of this cosmic wrong, but what might emerge—it only gets worse—is a shade of vuelta, which reveals them waiting, without choice, merely for the "burden" of adulthood.

That the last word in this procession towards maturity falls as yo (me, I) seems crucial, for the speaker's searching worry shifts from the inter-generational community to the bonds of brother and sister finally to his own terrifying isolation. Yo echoes most immediately with solo (alone), and no, but a low resonance of os meanders through the whole of the Spanish, and this last one resonates particularly as a syllable excised from a word. The slippage toward solitude is enforced by the fact that las personas mayores (literally the older/greater people) become simply los mayores, which refers more generally to elders, including the siblings, and from which yo can be cut whole, the growing process a whittling down that draws uncomfortably near. Even more desperately than the end of "A mi hermano Miguel," the subjunctives of the last sentence here suggest disbelief in, yet enforced acceptance of that reality crowding in. James Wright's imperative—"Don't leave me behind by myself / to be locked in all alone"—is justifiable, but with it the speaker's attention still flows outward, and being left remains a reversible possibility, as if the brothers and sisters could decide to stay. In the original, though, while still only subjunctively possible, attention turns sharply inward in disbelief, and solitude feels less possibility than fact. Imagination solidifies the fear. Clayton Eshleman conveys the disbelief by exploiting an ambiguity in the address: "They can't have left me all alone." But perhaps with this the poem becomes monologue too soon, too suddenly; the speaker has been desperately including himself with his siblings (ustedes) all along, mostly by third person "we," slipping to a plural "you" (nearer than an absent "they") which then slips further into a solitude not fully felt, not hitting the emptied out home, until the very last word.

After his prison experience and the dismal reception of Trilce, to escape his political and artistic incarceration Vallejo left Lima for Paris in 1923. The Peruvian poet in Paris worked as a stringer for a Trujillo paper and wrote freelance articles but never escaped poverty. Besides a handful of poems published in magazines, the rest of Vallejo's poetry did not surface until the posthumous collection published by his widow as Poemas humanos (Human Poems). These poems, especially those in the section "Spain, take this cup from me," written about the Spanish Civil War, open toward vast vistas while still accepting isolation, the limits of his living death. Vallejo died 15 years into his exile, in 1938, on a day as he had foreseen in this poem "Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca" ["Black stone on a white stone"] in Paris with a heavy rain.

Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca

  Me moriré en París con aguacero,
un dia del cual tengo ya el recuerdo.
Me moriré en París—y no me corro—
tal vez un jueves, como es hoy, de otoño.

  Jueves será, porque hoy, jueves, que proso
estos versos, los húmeros me he puesto
a la mala y, jamás como hoy, me he vuelto,
con todo mi camino, a verme solo.

  César Vallejo ha muerto, le pegaban
todos sin que él les haga nada;
le daban duro con un palo y duro

  también con una soga; son testigos
los días jueves y los huesos húmeros,
la soledad, la lluvia, los caminos ...

Black Stone upon a White Stone

  I will die in Paris with the heavy rains
on a day already I recall.
I will die in Paris—and I don't turn away—
perhaps a Thursday, like today, in fall.

  Thursday then, since today, Thursday, as I prose
these lines, my forearms have begun to ache
and, never like today, as I take
to my old road, have I felt so alone.

  César Vallejo is dead, they all kept hitting
him though he doesn't do a thing
to them; they beat him hard with sticks and hard

  as well with rope; witnesses are
the Thursdays and the bones of his arms,
the loneliness, the rain, the roads ...

Written several years before his death, this sonnet just about got it right. Vallejo did die in Paris in a heavy rain, but not quite Thursday. Friday it was, Good Friday; spring, not fall. It is a poem of sacrifice, quasi-religious, tending a little S&M against the innocence of the beaten Christ, and if it is in part a secular, stormy Thursday, it is also the day of the Last Supper, when realizing his imminent death, Christ goes to the mountain to pray, "Let not my will but Yours be done." Vallejo sees his death and says, "y no me corro" (literally, "and I don't run," or sexually, "I don't come"). The buried, secondary sense might explain the confusion about which way he does not run, as Hays translates this as "I'm not in a hurry." Eshleman and Barcia keep him still: "and I don't budge," while I choose "and I don't turn away," which I hope has him not running in the right direction as well as retaining a blush of shyness which distantly faces that sexual shade of correrse.

The stones of the title recall a Peruvian practice of memorializing a fortunate event with a white stone, an unfortunate one with a black. The mood is an occluded Parisian gray, the speaker resignedly "prosing" his verse, turning his cheek while being cheeky, pointing fingers at others and himself, beyond yet caught in a confusion of tenses where the future is already present as a memory. The queerest tense comes with the present subjunctive in the third stanza, él les haga nada (he doesn't do anything to them) appended to the past imperfect of pegar (to beat). This is difficult in English and is papered over in translations. But this crucial conjugation urges attention to itself in the Spanish; the semantically proper conditional hiciera nada would better fit the sonnet's eleven-syllable line, so Vallejo's use of present subjunctive is doubly conspicuous, causing the line to fall short to nine, leaving the line empty. In that space we can note a double sense—they beat him though he had not done anything to them, and continue to though he does nothing back, nothing now. But this is no simple sacrifice. The poem imbues with irony the value of "turning the other cheek," not only with the shady possibility (in the denial) of sexual enjoyment above, but by making his non-responsiveness a disturbing inertness, a strangely inexplicable, culpable, ill-fitting death-in-life. H.R. Hays' version—"without his ever having done anything to them"—not only not cutting short, is awkwardly long and ignores the bleeding of past to present. Eshleman and Barcia's "without him doing anything to them" remains ambiguous as to tense, but misses the line's awkward lopping off and the failure this might imply.

Though the speaker points his finger at external circumstances, other hints further suggest that he created this painful situation of his. The linebreak "jueves, que proso / estos versos," for example. Though syntax propels the meaning in one direction, the eye collects it momentarily another way. "Thursday that I prose"—it could suggest that he in effect writes his death. Robert Bly and John Knoepfle's "Thursday, setting down / these lines" omits this nuance, as does Hays' "Thursday, on which I prose / These verses" where Thursday is passive as paper. "Thursday as I prose / these lines," retains that hesitation (and turns on prose's posing as verse), accenting the creative act, that the speaker is no simple victim. It resonates, even, as a pain made by writing. The construction "me he puesto / a la mala," normally used as in "to be in a bad mood" strengthens the notion: the first person he in place of a third person ha points back to the speaker himself and not an external cause; something inherent in this act and attitude of writing is to blame for the ache in the bones. Are the black stones writing itself, pebbling the white paper? Has the speaker fabricated his own suffering upon something more beneficent?

Those arm bones, los húmeros (humeri) are themselves haunted by the root sense of humor, a temper, mood or disposition, something more constant than the occasional arm ache on a Thursday. In moving these bones down his arms with "my forearms have begun to ache" I take a great liberty and lose this sense. "Humerus bones," while they would hint at this fluxional mood, more blatantly make the line unwarrantedly humorous. While other translators go to great lengths to retain the strangeness—"the humeri that I have put on / by force" (Eshleman and Barcia); "I have put my upper bone arms on / wrong" (Bly and Knoepfle)—I alter it to avoid the overly comic, to highlight the pain's relation to writing and the life of relative inaction that appears to pain him as if he were asking "what are these bones for?"

But it would be reductive to call this a poem bemoaning a Derridean lack, the loss of language. Le pegaban / tódos (they all kept hitting him) contains a veiled accusation toward todo (everything), and certainly the source of his pain spreads out toward everything including those he calls as his witnesses; if he is complicit life itself is source for the ache, todo. We cannot help but miss the inference in English. The singular mi camino (my road) of the second stanza branches when the poem's last word opens into the plural caminos, giving us the possibility of other roads, roads he could have taken in the past or will take in the future, including the possibility that these roads go on even in death. The calm certainty that informs the entire poem is suddenly shaken by the suggestion of its opposite. Death then, is neither cause for fear or relief, but continues the dilemmas of living.

Tropes aside, this is one of Vallejo's most sonorous poems. The lines hum with a sad resolution—Me moriré ... me moriré ... con, me, como, otoño, húmeros, mala, jamás, mi camino, muerto—and a low chant of osproso, solo, corro, duro, soga, soledad. The success of the English depends largely on the equivalents, "prose, alone, rope, loneliness, roads, and bones" which float on those low tones, and if for "soledad" "solitude" is the best physical mirror, "loneliness" better maintains the under-thrum. The poem turns on rhythmic moments and the third stanza picks up the tempo, whose beating is reinforced by the ds and bs and ps: le daban duro con un palo y duro. Though we can only pick up the b of "beat" in English, we at least get some iambic battering rams with "they béat him hárd with stícks and hárd / as wéll with rópe," a rhythm repealed when Hays opts for "They beat him hard with a cudgel and hard / Likewise with a piece of rope." My use of "sticks," sacrificing the literal singular, picks up on the ubiquitous nature of the beating as well as giving a short sharp syllabic slap. Perhaps the key rhythmic moment occurs in stanza two. Just above it the speaker is wavering a bit, saying he will die, well, perhaps on a Thursday ... and we understand his vacillation, his not wanting to set it too certainly. But in the next stanza he does. The decisive turn—Jueves será—works by its immediate accent. "Thursday" must be the first word in this line's translation, whatever else must happen to get it there. In Hays' line "It will be Thursday" we dally still, and still more in Bly and Knoepfle's version, "It will be a Thursday." Eshleman and Barcia get the turn, the punch, "Thursday it will be," but then it crumbles into a 14-syllable line. "Thursday then" enacts this decisive rhythmic turn.

If rhythm and sound are crucial to a poem, it may be more so when the form is fixed, like this free sonnet (free in that the rhyming is assonanced and irregularly ordered). The translator must decide to attempt to fit it in an analogous English form, abandon it altogether, or compromise. Hays makes his translation look like a sonnet, with capitalized line beginnings, but resemblance ends here—his lines range from six to fifteen syllables, with only a couple of iambs. Bly and Knoepfle do better—from ten to fifteen—but also without leaning toward a regular rhythm. I've tried to work all the lines, ranging from eight to twelve syllables, into iambs, and found myself using the accented first syllable about half the time—the pagan rhythm of Beowolf—and the rest in normal (Christianized) iambics, serendipitously conveying a trademark Vallejo clash in which a pagan poem invokes strong religious tones.

Works Cited

Bly, Robert, ed. Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems. Trans. Robert Bly, John
        Knoepfle and James Wright. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971.

Ferrari, Américo. "César Vallejo entre la angustia y la esperanza." Introduction to
        Cesar Vallejo: Obra poética completa. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1991.

Franco, Jean. César Vallejo: The Dialectics of Poetry and Silence. New York:
        Cambridge UP, 1976.

Vallejo, César. César Vallejo: The Complete Posthumous Poetry. Trans. Clayton
        Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia. Los Angeles: U of California P,

----. César Vallejo: Selected Poems. Trans. H.R. Hays. Old Chatham, N.Y.: Sachem
        Press, 1981.

----. The Black Heralds. Trans. Rebecca Seiferle. Port Townsend, WA: Copper
        Canyon Press, 2003.

----. The Black Heralds. Trans Richard Schaaf and Kathleen Ross. Pittsburgh, PA:
        Latin American Literary Review Press, 1990.

----. Human Poems. Trans. Clayton Eshleman. New York: Grove Press, 1968.

----. Trilce. Trans. Clayton Eshleman. New York: Marsilio, 1992.

Back to top







home | back issues | blog | store | links | submissions | about | contact

© 2006 Comparative Literature Student Association at San Francisco State University
design: landisdesigns.com