César Vallejo Human Poems [selection]
translated from the Spanish by Clayton Eshleman

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       My chest wants and does not want its color,
through whose rough paths I go, I cry with a stick,
try to be happy, cry in my hand,
remember, write
and rivet a tear into my cheek.

       Evil wants its red, good its redness reddened
by the suspended ax,
by the trot of the wing flying on foot,
and man does not want, sensitively
does not want this;
he does not want to be lying down
in his soul, horn throbs in his temples,
bimanous, thoroughly brutish, thoroughly philosophical.

       Thus, I am almost not, I collapse
from the plow with which I succor my soul
and almost, in proportion, I almost exalt myself.
To know why this dog dogs life,
why I cry, why,
big-browed, inept, fickle, I was born
to know it, to comprehend it
to the sound of a competent alphabet
would be to suffer for an ingrate.

       And no! No! No! Neither scheme nor ornament!
Anguish, yes, with a yes firm and frenetic,
coriaceous, rapacious, want and does not want, sky and pecker;
anguish, yes, with all my zipper.
Struggle between two sobs; theft of a sole chance,
painless path on which I endure in sandals
the velocity of walking blind.


       No. Their ankles have no size; it’s not their softest
spur, that jabs their two cheeks.
It’s just life, with robe and yoke.

       No. Their guffaw has no plural,
not even for having emerged from a perpetual, agglutinating mollusk,
not even for having entered the sea barefoot,
it’s what thinks and walks, it’s the finite.
It’s just life; only life.

       I know it, intuit it a Cartesian, a robot,
moribund, cordial, in short, magnificent.
Nothing is
over the cruel brow of its skeleton;
nothing, between what the dove gave and took back
with a glove, and with a glove,
the eminent Aristotelian earthworm;
nothing before or behind the yoke;
nothing of the sea in the ocean
and nothing
in the grave pride of the cell.
Only life; that is: a hell of a tough thing.

       Limited plenitude,
abstract reach, fortunate, in fact,
glacial and snatched away, from the flame;
restrainer of depth, tail of form.
But that
for which I was born ventilating myself
and grew up with my own tenderness and drama,
is rejected by my work,
is implicated by my feelings and my weapon.
It’s life and that’s all, grounded, scenic.

       And in this way
my soul extinguishes its series of organs
and in this inexpressible, hellish sky,
my machinery emits technical hisses,
I pass the afternoon in the sad morning
and I struggle, I throb, I am cold.

       Oh bottle without wine! oh wine the widower of this bottle!
Afternoon when the aurora of the afternoon
flamed balefully in five spirits.
Widowhood without bread or grime, finishing in hideous metalloids
and in oral cells ending.

       Oh always, never to find the never of so much always!
oh my good friends, a cruel deceit,
partial, piercing our truncated
volatile, frolicful grief!

       The sublime, low perfection of the pig,
gropes my customary melancholy!
Adz sounding in dreams,
asinine, inferior, betrayed, lawful, thief,
lowering and groping what used to be my ideas!

       You and he and they and everyone,
inserted at the same time into my shirt,
into my shoulders wood, between my femurs, little sticks;
you particularly,
having influenced me;
he, futile, reddened, with money,
and they, winged drones of another weight.

       Oh bottle without wine! oh wine the widower of this bottle!

16 September 1937

      Let the millionaire walk naked, stark naked!
Disgrace for whoever builds his death bed with treasures!
A world for whoever greets;
an armchair for whoever sows in the sky;
sobbing for whoever finishes what he makes, keeping the beginnings;
let the spur-wearer walk;
no duration for the wall on which another wall is not growing;
give to the wretched all his wretchedness,
bread, to whoever laughs;
let the descendants be,
let the triumphs lose, the doctors die;
let there be milk in blood;
let a candle be added to the sun,
eight hundred to the twenty;
let eternity pass under the bridges!
Scorn whoever gets dressed,
crown feet with hands, fit them in their size;
let my self sit next to me!
To weep having fit in that womb,
blessed is he who observes air in the air,
many years of nail for the hammer stroke;
strip the naked,
make the cape put on pants,
let copper gleam at the expense of its plates,
majesty for whoever falls from the clay into the universe,
let the mouths weep, the looks moan,
prevent steel from enduring,
thread for the portable horizons,
twelve cities for the stone path,
a sphere for whoever plays with his shadow;
a day made of one hour for the husband and wife;
a mother for the plow in praise of soil,
seal liquids with two seals,
let the mouthful call roll,
let the quail be,
let the race of the poplar and the tree be;
contrary to circular expectations, let the sea defeat his son
and weeping the gray hair;
leave the asps alone, gentle sirs,
furrow your flame with seven logs,
raise the height,
lower the deepage deeper,
let the wave accompany its impulse walking,
the crypt’s truce succeed!
May we die;
wash your skeleton daily;
pay no attention to me,
a lame bird for the despot and his soul;
a dreadful stain, for whoever goes it alone;
sparrows for the astronomer, for the sparrow, for the aviator!
Give off rain, beam sun,
keep an eye on Jupiter, on the thief of your gold idols,
copy your writing in three notebooks,
learn from the married when they speak, and
from the solitary, when they’re silent;
give the sweethearts something to eat,
the devil in your hands something to drink,
fight for justice with your nape,
make yourselves equal,
let the oak be fulfilled,
the leopard between two oaks be fulfilled,
let us be,
let us be here,
feel how water navigates the oceans,
take nourishment,
let the error be conceived, since I’m weeping,
accept, while goats and their young climb the crags;
make God break the habit of being a man,
grow up...!
They’re calling me. I’ll be back.

19 November 1937


      I resume my day of a rabbit,
my night of an elephant in repose.

      And, within myself, I say:
this is my immensity in the raw, in jugfuls,
this is my pleasing weight, that sought me below as a pecker;
this is my arm
that on its own refused to be a wing,
these are my sacred writings,
these my alarmed cullions.

      A lugubrious island will illuminate me continental,
while the capitol leans on my innermost collapse
and the lance-filled assembly brings to a close my parade.

      But when I die
of life and not of time,
when my two suitcases come to two,
this will be my stomach in which my lamp fit in pieces,
this that head that atoned for the circular torment in my steps,
these those worms that my heart counted one by one,
this will be my solidary body
over which the individual soul keeps watch; this will be
my navehall in which I killed my innate lice,
this my thing thing, my dreadful thing.

      Meanwhile, convulsively, harshly,
my restraint convalesces,
suffering like I suffer the direct language of the lion:
and, because I have existed between two brick powers,
I myself convalesce, smiling at my lips.


      Now, between ourselves, here,
come with me, bring your body by the hand,
let’s dine together and spend a moment life
as two lives, giving a share to our death.
Now, come with yourself, do me the favor of
complaining in my name and in the light of the teneblearic night
in which you bring your soul by the hand
and we flee on tiptoes from ourselves.

      Come to me, yes, and to you, yes,
in even step, to see the two of us out of step,
stepping in place to farewell.
Until we return! Until then!
Until we read, uncultured!
Until we return, let’s say goodbye!

      What are the rifles to me?,
listen to me;
listen to me, what are they to me
if the bullet is already circulating in my signature’s rank?
What are bullets to you,
if the rifle is already smoking in your odor?
This very day we’ll weigh
in the arms of a blindman our star
and, once you sing to me, we’ll weep.
This very day, my lovely, with your even step
and your confidence met by my alarm,
we’ll come out of ourselves, two by two.
Until we go blind!
we weep from so much returning!

between ourselves, bring
your sweet persona by the hand
and let’s dine together and spend a moment life
as two lives, giving a share to our death.
Now, come with yourself, do me the favor of
singing something,
of playing on your soul, clapping hands.
Until we return! Until then!
Until we part, let’s say goodbye!

8 November 1937


      And, finally, passing now into the domain of death,
which acts as squadron, former bracket,
paragraph and key, huge hand and dieresis,
for what the Assyrian desk? for what the Christian pulpit,
the intense tug of Vandal furniture
or, even less, this proparoxytonic retreat?

      Is it in order to end,
tomorrow, as a prototype of phallic display,
as diabetes and in a white chamber pot,
as a geometric face, as a deadman,
that sermon and almonds become necessary,
that there are literally too many potatoes
and this watery spectre in which the gold blazes
and in which the price of snow burns?
Is it for this, that we die so much?
Only to die,
must we die each instant?
And the paragraph that I write?
And the deistic bracket that I raise on high?
And the squadron in which my helmet failed?
And the key which fits all doors?
And the forensic dieresis, the hand,
my potato and my flesh and my contradiction under the bedsheet?

      Out of my mind, out of my wolvum, out
of my lamb, out of my sensible horsessence!
Desk, yes, my whole life long; pulpit,
likewise, my whole death long!
Sermon on barbarism: these papers;
proparoxytonic retreat: this skin.

      In this way, cognitive, auriferous, thick-armed,
I will defend my catch in two moments,
with my voice and also with my larynx,
and of the physical smell with which I pray
and of the instinct for immobility with which I walk,
I will be proud while I’m alive—it must be said;
my horseflies will swell with pride,
because, at the center, I am, and to the right,
likewise, and, to the left, equally.

8 December 1937

César Vallejo's (1892, Peru - 1938, Paris) poetry takes the Spanish language to an unprecedented level of emotional rawness and stretches its grammatical possibilities. Striking against theology with the very thetoric of the Christian faith, Vallejo's is a tragic vision – perhaps the only one in the canon of Spanish-language literature – in which salvation and sin are one and the same. Eshleman's translation of The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo, with a Foreword by Mario Vargas Llosa (University of California Press, December 2006), includes notes on the translation and a fascinating Translation Memoir that traces his long relationship with Vallejo's poetry. An Introduction by Efrain Kristal and a new Chronology by Stephen Hart provide further insights into Vallejo's life and work. [CE]

English translation © Clayton Eshleman

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