Vallejo, César (1892–1938)

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Vallejo, César (1892–1938)

César Vallejo (b. 16 March 1892; d. 15 April 1938), Peruvian poet. Vallejo is Peru's most renowned poet, and his works are remarkable for their striking originality, lexical complexity, and compressed power. They reveal a profound concern for the suffering of others and nostalgia for his Andean childhood. His journalism, dramas, novels, and short stories gloss the major social, political, and cultural movements of the first third of the century and assert the legitimate, if neglected, place of Latin America in contemporary culture and history.

The youngest of eleven children in a middle-class mestizo family, Vallejo entered the University of Trujillo in 1910 to pursue literary studies, but dropped out. He returned in 1913 and received his B.A. in Spanish literature in 1915, at the same time that he began his study of law. He pursued his legal studies until returning to Lima in 1917 as a schoolteacher. After his return, he experienced two ill-fated love affairs, the second one ending shortly before the death of his lover. In 1918 he suffered the loss of his mother, whose memory remained a recurrent theme in his poetry. Falsely accused of participating in political violence in his Andean hometown of Santiago de Chuco in 1920, he was imprisoned for 112 days (6 November 1920–26 February 1921), to which he alluded in his mature poetry as the "gravest moment" of his life.

Seeking wider cultural and intellectual opportunities, Vallejo left Peru for Europe in 1923, spending most of his final fifteen years of life in self-imposed, impoverished exile in France, with periods in Spain and two influential trips to Russia. Expelled from France for leftist political activities in 1931, he joined the Spanish Communist Party in Madrid. He returned to France in 1932. He died in Paris from an unidentified illness.

Vallejo published two books of poetry before leaving Peru: Los heraldos negros (1918) and Trilce (1922). The first showed signs of an original poetic voice that emerged powerfully in the irrational and hermetic expression of the second work, which shattered all traditions of poetry written in Spanish. Poemas humanos (1939) represented the poet at the height of his power to express the plight of the human animal abandoned in an irrational, absurd world where salvation can come only through fraternal self-sacrifice.

Vallejo worked with other writers and intellectuals to further the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War and visited the war front twice. España, aparta de mí este cáliz (1938) was first published by Republican soldiers on the front lines. Although in his last years Vallejo sought to inform Europeans about Peruvian culture, he never returned to Peru.

See alsoLiterature: Spanish America .


Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia, César Vallejo: The Complete Posthumous Poetry (1978).

Jean Franco, César Vallejo: The Dialectics of Poetry and Silence (1976).

James Higgins, César Vallejo: An Anthology of His Poetry (1970).

James Higgins, The Poet in Peru (1982).

James Higgins, The Black Heralds translated by Richard Schaaf and Kathleen Ross (1990).

James Higgins, Trilce translated by Clayton Eshleman (1992).

Spain, Take This Chalice from Me, is by Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia, César Vallejo: The Complete Posthumous Poetry (1978).

Additional Bibliography

Córdoba V., Juan Domingo. César Vallejo del Perú profundo y sacrificado. Lima: J. Campodonico/Editor, 1995.

González Vigil, Ricardo. César Vallejo. Lima: Editorial Brasa, 1995.

                                             Keith McDuffie

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Vallejo, César (1892–1938)

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Vallejo, César (1892–1938)