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César Vallejo

César Vallejo César Vallejo[1†]

César Abraham Vallejo Mendoza (March 16, 1892 – April 15, 1938) was a Peruvian poet, writer, playwright, and journalist[1†][2†]. Although he published only two books of poetry during his lifetime, he is considered one of the great poetic innovators of the 20th century in any language[1†][2†]. Always a step ahead of literary currents, each of his books was distinct from the others, and, in its own sense, revolutionary[1†]. Thomas Merton called him "the greatest universal poet since Dante"[1†]. The late British poet, critic, and biographer Martin Seymour-Smith, a leading authority on world literature, called Vallejo "the greatest twentieth-century poet in any language"[1†]. He was a member of the intellectual community called North Group formed in the Peruvian north coastal city of Trujillo[1†]. Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia’s translation of The Complete Posthumous Poetry of César Vallejo won the National Book Award for translation in 1979[1†].

Early Years and Education

César Abraham Vallejo Mendoza was born on March 16, 1892, in Santiago de Chuco, a small village in the northern Andes mountains of Peru[2†][3†]. He was the 11th child born to parents of mixed Spanish and Quechua Indian origins[2†]. Despite the economic hardship of his early life, which involved labor at a sugar plantation[2†][4†], Vallejo displayed a remarkable aptitude for learning and a deep love for literature from a young age[2†][5†]. He attended a local school in Santiago de Chuco, where he excelled academically and demonstrated a talent for writing poetry[2†][5†].

Vallejo entered the School of Philosophy and Letters at Trujillo University in 1910[2†][6†]. However, due to financial constraints, he had to drop out[2†][6†]. Between 1908 and 1913, he started and stopped his college education several times, working, in the meantime, as a tutor and in the accounts department on a large sugar estate[2†][6†]. He eventually studied both law and literature at the University of Trujillo (1913–17), writing a thesis entitled “El romanticismo en la poesía castellana” (“Romanticism in Castilian Poetry”; published 1954)[2†].

His early life was marked by several significant events that influenced his life and career. For instance, his involvement in political matters concerning indigenous peoples led to his imprisonment for nearly three months in 1920[3†]. This experience, along with the death of his mother, contributed to a state of depression that would torment him for the rest of his life[2†][3†].

Career Development and Achievements

César Vallejo’s literary career is a remarkable journey marked by distinct phases, each contributing to his enduring legacy in the world of poetry[5†]. His debut collection, “Los Heraldos Negros” (The Black Heralds), published in 1918, introduced a modern and experimental style that signaled a departure from traditional poetic forms[5†]. This collection of poems showed him still under the stylistic influence of Parnassianism and Modernism in his exploration of what were to be his major themes: his loss of security when his mother and an older brother died; his resulting sense of the futility and inherent limitations of life; and the inability of human beings to achieve their potential because of social oppression and injustice[5†][2†].

In 1920, Vallejo’s involvement in political matters concerning indigenous peoples led to his imprisonment for nearly three months[5†][2†]. This experience, along with the death of his mother, contributed to a state of depression that would torment him for the rest of his life[5†][2†]. Many of the more complex poems of “Trilce” (1922; Eng. trans. Trilce) were conceived during his imprisonment[5†][2†]. In his major work “Trilce”, Vallejo signaled his complete break with tradition by incorporating neologisms, colloquialisms, typographic innovations, and startling imagery, with which he sought to express the disparity that he felt existed between human aspirations and the limitations imposed on people by biological existence and social organization[5†][2†].

After publishing “Fabula salvaje” (1923; “Savage Story”), a short psychological novel about the decline of a mentally disturbed Indian, Vallejo left for Paris and never returned to his native land[5†][2†]. In Paris, he became a major voice of social change in Spanish American literature[5†][2†]. His career in modernism left a mark, and his collection of poems “The Black Heralds” is unequivocal proof of it[5†][7†].

Vallejo was always a step ahead of literary currents, and each of his books was distinct from the others, and, in its own sense, revolutionary[5†][1†]. Thomas Merton called him "the greatest universal poet since Dante"[5†][1†]. The late British poet, critic, and biographer Martin Seymour-Smith, a leading authority on world literature, called Vallejo "the greatest twentieth-century poet in any language"[1†]. Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia’s translation of “The Complete Posthumous Poetry of César Vallejo” won the National Book Award for translation in 1979[5†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

César Vallejo’s literary career was marked by the publication of several significant works that have had a lasting impact on the literary world. Here are some of his main works along with additional information about each of them:

Each of these works contributed to Vallejo’s reputation as a major voice of social change in Spanish American literature[8†][2†]. His innovative use of language and form, as well as his commitment to addressing social and political issues, have ensured his place in the canon of global modernism[8†][3†][2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

César Vallejo’s work is characterized by its innovative use of language and form, as well as its commitment to addressing social and political issues[10†][11†]. His poetry often explores themes of despair, loss, and rupture in both the human condition and the universe at large[10†][11†]. Despite the subjective anxieties and details of his poems, they surpass the personal and become pluralistic, if not universal[10†][11†]. When Vallejo grieves in a poem, he is grieving for the entirety of humankind, and even all of existence[10†][11†].

Vallejo did more than perhaps any other poet of his generation to provide an idiom that would at once reflect the Spanish tradition, his own Peruvian heritage, and the contemporary world[10†]. He blended traditional poetic vocabulary and tropes with homely Peruvian idioms and even the language of children[10†]. Where the result was still inadequate, he made up new words, changed the function of old ones, and incorporated a lexicon never before seen in poetry, often savaging poetic convention[10†].

His unflinchingly honest search for both linguistic and moral solutions to the existential anguish of modern human beings gives his poems universal validity, while their density and complexity challenge critics of the most antithetical modes[10†]. Despite the difficulty of Vallejo’s most complex poetry, careful readers will note its purposefulness[10†][11†]. For even in the most seemingly hermetic moments, Vallejo’s poetry is rife with signification and resonance[10†][11†].

Vallejo’s work has had a lasting impact on the literary world, and he is considered one of the world’s major twentieth-century poets[11†]. His unique fusion of Catholic rhetoric, personal strife, ontological wonder, cultural comparison, and intricate wordplay structures and sustains his oeuvre throughout its radical formal and political transformations[10†][11†].

Personal Life

César Vallejo’s personal life was marked by a series of events that deeply influenced his work. He was born into a family of mixed Spanish and Quechua Indian origins, the youngest of eleven children[1†][2†]. His experiences growing up in Peru, witnessing the injustices done to the indigenous people of the region, had a profound impact on his life and work[1†][2†].

In his personal life, Vallejo faced significant turmoil. A romantic relationship ended due to pressure from his lover’s parents, leading Vallejo to attempt suicide[1†][12†]. This event, coupled with the loss of his mother and an older brother, contributed to a state of depression that would torment him for the rest of his life[1†][2†].

Vallejo moved to Paris in 1923 in search of new experiences[1†][7†]. There, he worked for various Latin American media outlets and met his life partner, Georgette Philippart[1†][7†]. Despite the challenges he faced, Vallejo remained dedicated to his writing[1†][7†].

His personal distress and experiences with social injustice deeply influenced his work, leading him to explore themes of social oppression, the human condition, and the inherent limitations of life[1†][2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

César Vallejo, born in Santiago de Chuco, Peru, and died in Paris, France, became a major voice of social change in Spanish American literature while in exile[2†]. His commitment to portraying the human experience with empathy and insight has solidified his legacy as a poet who engages with the profound aspects of suffering and the resilience of the human spirit[2†][4†].

Vallejo’s work was characterized by its innovative use of language and form, and its exploration of themes such as social oppression, injustice, and the human condition[2†][3†]. His experiences growing up in Peru, witnessing the injustices done to the indigenous people of the region, had a profound impact on his life and work[2†][3†].

Vallejo’s final years were marked by illness and financial struggles[2†][4†]. Despite these challenges, he remained dedicated to his writing and his commitment to social justice[2†][3†]. His work continues to be celebrated for its depth of emotion, its innovative use of language, and its powerful social commentary[2†][3†].

Vallejo’s legacy is that of a poet who was always ahead of his time, whose work continues to resonate with readers around the world for its profound exploration of the human condition[2†][3†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - César Vallejo [website] - link
  2. Britannica - César Vallejo: Peruvian poet [website] - link
  3. Poetry Foundation - César Vallejo [website] - link
  4. Discover Walks Blog - Top 15 Amazing Facts about César Vallejo [website] - link
  5. Totallyhistory.com - César Vallejo: A Life of Poetic Revolution - Totally History [website] - link
  6. Academy of American Poets - About César Vallejo [website] - link
  7. ActualidadLiteratura - Biography and works of César Vallejo, the transcendent Peruvian writer. [website] - link
  8. Encyclopedia.com - Vallejo, César (1892–1938) [website] - link
  9. Postposmo - Biography and important works of the author César Vallejo [website] - link
  10. eNotes - César Vallejo Analysis [website] - link
  11. eNotes - César Vallejo World Literature Analysis [website] - link
  12. Encyclopedia.com - Vallejo, César [website] - link
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