Cambridge Book Review

[Issue #1, Winter 1997-98]

Two Poems by César Vallejo

Translated by Mary Sarko

In the autumn of 1937, César Vallejo (1892-1938) went through a period of intense poetic activity, writing his book of poetry about the Spanish Civil War, "Spain, Take This Cup From Me" (1939), as well as much of his other posthumous poetry, usually published with the title "Human Poems" (1939). In this latter collection, which Vallejo himself did not complete as a book, the hardships and cruel realities of the 1930s often form a background. This was a time not only of economic crisis but also of the advancement and solidification of Fascism in Western Europe. In his poems and essays from this period Vallejo questions the role of intellectuals in the political process and tries to forge a poetics that breaks with the rigid, conservative ideologies of the epoch. As a result, much of the poetry in the "Human Poems" collection deals with the nature of writing. If in the ideology of Fascism the individual is reduced to an essentialized category, Vallejo subverts this process by refusing to give a fundamental meaning to the writing process or the poetic subject. The following two poems, both of which subtly allude to Walt Whitman, make it clear that the poetic "I" is not a cohesive whole nor an entity that can be known empirically. In "Poem to be Read and Sung," the female persona has often been interpreted as a double of the poet, an interpretation which is supported by poems such as "Trilce IX," which ends with the poet saying: "And the soul of the absent one is female. And my soul is female."

-- M. S.

Translation: POEM TO BE READ AND SUNG / César Vallejo

Translation: I STAYED ON TO HEAT THE INK / César Vallejo


Mary Sarko is a translator by trade, living in Madison, Wisconsin. She has spent the last few years translating poetry from the Spanish Civil War.

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