YGDRASIL: A Journal of the Poetic Arts

November 2006

VOL XIV, Issue 11, Number 164

Editor: Klaus J. Gerken

Production Editor: Heather Ferguson

European Editor: Mois Benarroch

Contributing Editors: Michael Collings; Jack R. Wesdorp; Oswald Le Winter

Previous Associate Editors: Igal Koshevoy; Pedro Sena

ISSN 1480-6401



   Clayton Eshleman
      A Translation Memoir


   Selected Poems from The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo
   Translated by Clayton Eshleman and to be published in December 2006
   by University of California Press











   Order information




   For nearly forty-five years, I have been translating, off and on, the poetry 
of César Vallejo. His writing has become the kelson in the ship of poetry I 
have attempted to construct. Here I would like to offer an overview of this 
translational companionship and to evoke some of the experiences that occurred 
because of it. Finally, I would like to say what this companionship has meant 
to me, as a poet and as a human being.


   While I was a student at Indiana University in 1957, a painter friend, Bill 
Paden, gave me a copy of the New Directions 1944 Latin American Poetry 
anthology.  I was particularly impressed with the poetry of Pablo Neruda and 
César Vallejo. At the same time, I read Angel Flores' translation of Neruda's 
Residencia en la tierra, and upon comparing his version with those of H.R. Hays 
and Dudley Fitts in the anthology, I was intrigued with the differences. 
Without knowing any Spanish, I began to tinker with the versions. During the 
summer of 1959, with a pocket Spanish-English dictionary and two hundred 
dollars, I hitchhiked to Mexico. The following summer I again returned to 
Mexico, rented a room in the back of a butcher's home in Chapala, and spent 
the summer with Neruda's poetry, as well as writing most of the poems that 
were to appear in my first book, Mexico & North in 1962.

   In 1960, I edited the English Department sponsored literary tri-quarterly, 
Folio, where I printed some Neruda versions I had done with friends in Mexico 
City, and four Vallejo versions, cotranslated with another graduate student, 
Maureen Lahey. I had become aware of poetry in translation almost as soon as 
I became aware, in 1956, that poetry existed at all.

   I finished a Master's Degree in 1961, and took a job with the University of 
Maryland's Far Eastern Division, teaching literature to military personnel 
stationed in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. Before leaving, almost as an afterthought, 
I packed the copy of Poesía de America #5, Homenaje a César Vallejo, that I 
had found in a Mexico City bookstore. 

   The following year, with the help of Gary Snyder in Kyoto, my first wife 
Barbara and I moved to Kyoto where for the next two years I studied and wrote, 
making a living teaching English as a second language at various Japanese 
companies. Having completed a small collection of Neruda translations (published 
in San Francisco by George Hitchcock's Amber House Press as Residence on Earth), 
I decided to investigate the Vallejo poems in the Mexican journal.

   The first poem I tried to read was "Me viene, hay dias, una gana uberrima, 
politica..." It was as if a hand of wet sand came out of the original and 
"quicked" me in-I was quicksanded, over my head. Or was it a spar Vallejo 
threw me? Each move I tried to make drew me farther in, or farther out. I 
could not tell where the focus lay, between Vallejo's poetry and my desire to 
write poetry, or in that part of me that wanted to evade the hard work of 
doing my own poetry. And how much of this difficulty had to do with my 
inability to read complex Spanish? I had been able to read Neruda with the 
help of a dictionary and my friends. With Vallejo, I was lost. Yet to turn 
away from him was to be more lost, found out by my inability to express 
anything that was "my own."  

   In this poem, Vallejo was claiming that he desired to love, and that his 
desire for desire led him to imagine all sorts of "interhuman" acts he desired 
to perform, like kissing a singer's muffler, or kissing a deaf man on his 
cranial murmur. He wanted to help everyone achieve his goal, no matter what 
it was, even to help the killer kill-and he wanted to be good with himself in 
everything. These were thoughts that, had I had them myself, I would have 
either dismissed or so immediately repressed that they would have evaporated. 
But now I realized that there was a whole wailing cathedral of desires, 
half-desires, mad-desires, anti-desires, all of which, in the Vallejo poem, 
seemed caught on the edge of no-desire. And if so, what made him reach 
desiring desire?  The need to flee his body? A need to enter his body? To 
enter another body? I did not know what he meant, but trying to read him made 
me feel that I was in the presence of a mile-thick spirit. So I kept at it.

   In the afternoon I would ride my motorcycle downtown and work on translations 
in the Yorunomado coffee-shop. I would always sit by the carp pond on the 
patio. There I discovered the following words of Vallejo: "And where is the 
other flank of this cry of pain if, to estimate it as a whole, it breaks now 
from the bed of a man?" I saw Vallejo in a birth bed in that line, not knowing 
how to give birth, which indicated to me a totally other realization, that 
artistic bearing and fruition were physical as well as mental, a matter of 
one's total energy. I was learning that I had to become a sexual traveler as 
well as a mental one. For most of 1963 and the first half of 1964, everything 
I saw and felt clustered about this feeling; it seemed to be in a phrase from 
the I Ching, "the darkening of the light," as well as in the Kyoto sky,  gray 
and overcast yet mysteriously luminous.

   As I struggled to get Vallejo's involuted Spanish into English, I increasingly 
had the feeling that I was struggling with a man more than with a text, and 
that this struggle was a matter of my becoming or failing to become a poet. 
The man I was struggling with did not want his words changed from one language 
to another.  I realized that in working on Vallejo's Poemas humanos I had 
ceased to be what I was before coming to Kyoto, that I had a glimpse now of 
another life, a life I was to create rather than to be given, and that this 
other man I was struggling with was the old Clayton who was resisting change. 
The old Clayton wanted to continue living in his white Presbyterian world of 
"light"-not really light, but the "light" of man associated with 
day/clarity/good and woman associated with night/opaqueness/bad. The darkness 
that was beginning to make itself felt in my sensibility could be viewed as 
the breaking up of that supremacy "light."

   In the last half of the only poem I completed to any satisfaction while 
living in Japan, I envisioned myself as a kind of angelless Jacob wrestling 
with a figure from an alien alphabet, trying to take its meaning from him. I 
lose the struggle and find myself on a seppuku platform in medieval Japan, 
being condemned by Vallejo (now playing the role of a "karo," or overlord) 
to disembowel myself. I do so, cutting my ties to the "given life," and 
releasing a visionary figure of the imagination, named Yorunomado (in honor 
of my working place), who had to that point been chained to an altar in my 
solar plexus. In early 1964, the fruit of my struggle with Vallejo was not a 
successful linguistic translation but an imaginative advance in which a third 
figure had emerged from my intercourse with the text. Yorunomado then became 
my guide in the ten-year process of developing a "creative life," recorded in 
my book-length poem, Coils (1973).

   I was close to completing a first draft of the Poemas humanos in March 1963 
when I had a strange experience. After working all afternoon in Yorunomado, I 
cycled over to the pottery manufacturer where I taught English conversation 
once a week. Whenever I had things to carry on the cycle, I would strap them 
with a stretch-cord to the platform in back of the seat. That evening I 
strapped on the poem-filled notebook, my dictionary and a copy of the 
original, when I left the company. It was now dark and the alley was poorly 
lit. I had gone a half block when I heard a voice in Japanese cry: "Hey, you 
dropped something!" I stopped, swerved around, to find the platform empty-even 
the stretch-cord was gone! I retraced my direction on foot-nothing. I looked 
for the person who had called out. No one was there. While I was walking 
around in the dark, a large skinny dog began to follow me. I was reminded of 
the Mexican pariah dogs and that gave an eerie identity to this dog. Was it 
Peruvian? Was it-Vallejo? I went back  the next morning when it was light out 
and of course there was not a trace of the things I had lost.

   In the following year, I completed three more drafts of the book.  Cid 
Corman went over the second and third drafts and to Cid I owe a special debt, 
not only for the time he put in on the manuscript but what I learned about 
the art of translation from him. He too lived in Kyoto at this time, and used 
another coffee-shop, The Muse, as his "office" every evening. If you wanted 
to see Cid, you visited him there. At this time he was translating Eugenio 
Montale and Basho's last hike journal, which included some of his most famous 
haiku poems, Back Roads to Far Towns. I spent an evening with Cid about once 
a week.

   Previous to talking with him about translation, I thought that the goal of 
a translating project was to take a literal draft and interpret everything 
that was not acceptable English. By interpret I mean to monkey with words, 
phrases, punctuation, line breaks, even stanza breaks, turning the literal 
into something that was not an original poem in English but-and here is the 
rub-something that because of the liberties taken was also not accurate to 
the original itself. Ben Belitt's Neruda translations or Robert Lowell's 
Imitations come to mind as interpretative translations. Corman taught me to 
respect the original at every point, to check everything (including words 
that I thought I knew), to research arcane and archaic words, and to invent 
English words for coined words in the original. In other words, to aim for a 
translation that was absolutely accurate and up to the performance level of 
the original (at times, quite incompatible goals). I learned to keep a notebook 
of thoughts and variations on what I was translating, while I was working, 
to keep this material separate, for there are impulsive urges in every 
translator to fill in, pad out, and make something "strong" that more 
literally would fall flat, in short, to explain a word instead of translating 
it. By reinterpreting the original, the translator implies that he knows 
better than the original text does, that, in effect, his mind is superior to 
its mind. The "native text" becomes raw material for the colonizer-translator 
to educate and re-form.

   During these years I was undergoing a double apprenticeship: to poetry and 
to translation. Since I was so psychically affected by Vallejo, and was 
turning him into a figure in my own poetry, it was very important to keep 
this use of him and his work out of the translating proper. 


   I returned to Bloomington, Indiana, in the fall of 1964 and lived there until 
the end of the following summer at which time Barbara and I went to Peru. At 
this point a few textual details need to be mentioned concerning Poemas humanos. 
The poems that made up this manuscript were left by Vallejo at the time of his 
death in April 1938 in a heavily, hand-corrected typescript. When his widow 
Georgette published them in 1939 there were many errors and the poems were 
presented out of chronological order. These errors were repeated and amplified 
in subsequent editions mainly because Georgette would not cooperate with 
publishers, leading to some pirated editions. By the spring of 1965, I was 
working from four textually differing editions of Poemas humanos, having seen 
neither the first edition or the worksheets.

   Instead of shaping up as I worked along, the whole project was becoming a 
nightmare. I was having dreams in which Vallejo's corpse, with muddy shoes, was 
laid out in bed between Barbara and myself. By this time I had gotten in touch 
with Georgette Vallejo and explained that I did not see how I could complete 
the translation effectively unless I came to Peru and examined the worksheets. 
I hired a lawyer to draw up a contract, and mailed it to her along with samples 
from my fourth draft. I received one reply from her that did not respond to 
any of my requests. But I was determined to go, and with Barbara several months 
pregnant, and a few hundred dollars, we left in August. Once in Lima, I got a 
job editing a new bilingual literary magazine to be called Quena at the 
Peruvian North American Cultural Institute and we moved into a small apartment 
next to a grade school playground on Domingo Orue in the Miraflores district.

   Georgette Vallejo was a small, wiry middle-class French woman in her late 
fifties. Supported by the Peruvian government, she lived rather spartanly, 
yet not uncomfortably, in an apartment also in Miraflores appointed with 
pre-Incan pottery and weavings. I was in a very delicate position with her, 
because I not only needed to see the first edition and the worksheets, but 
also needed her permission to be able to get a publishing contract. I had not 
been in her apartment for fifteen minutes when she told me that my translations 
were full of "howlers," that Vallejo was untranslatable (she was at this time 
working on a French translation of his poetry), and that neither the first 
edition nor the worksheets were available to be seen.

   The months that followed were stressful and cheerless. Because I was working 
for the Institute (which turned out to be attached to the American Embassy in 
Lima), most of the Peruvian writers and critics that I met thought I was an 
American spy. I only realized who I was really working for when I turned in 
the 300 page manuscript for the first issue of Quena to my boss at the Institute. 
He told me that translations of the poems of Javier Heraud could not be published 
in the magazine because, although they were not political themselves, Heraud 
after visiting Cuba had returned to Peru and after joining a guerrilla movement 
in the jungle had been killed by the army. Because his name was linked with 
Cuba and revolution, my boss told me, the Institute did not want to be involved. 
I refused to take the translations out of the manuscript and was fired.

   One bright spot in the situation was that at the end of 1965 I met Maureen 
Ahern, an American with a PhD from San Marcos University, who was then married 
and living with her family on a chicken farm in Cieneguilla, about twenty miles 
outside of Lima. Maureen agreed to read through my sixth and seventh drafts of 
the manuscript with me, so I began spending a full day each week at her place, 
riding out and back with her husband Johnny who worked in Lima.  While this 
arrangement for the most part worked out very well, a near disaster occurred 
in early March, a week after my son Matthew was born. The night that I was to 
go to Maureen's I stayed home because her husband was unavailable. Around 9 PM, 
Barbara began to bleed from her vagina, and after attempting unsuccessfully to 
staunch the flow I realized that if I did not get her into a hospital immediately 
she was going to bleed to death. I raced out of our apartment and ran through 
the halls of the building across the street screaming for help.  A door opened,
a doctor came out, we bundled her into the back of his Volkswagen, and sped to 
the nearest clinic. We saved her life, barely. Had I gone to Cieneguilla that 

   One afternoon someone knocked on our door, and I opened it to be told by a 
stranger that Georgette Vallejo wanted to see me in her apartment that evening. 
When I arrived, I found there a small group of Peruvian writers and intellectuals, 
such as Javier Sologuren, Carlos Germán Belli, and Emilio Adolfo von Westphalen. 
Georgette explained she had assembled everyone to try to determine what poems I 
could be given permission to translate. This turned out to be a ridiculous and 
impossible task, with the men arguing for hours over why X poem could be 
translated and Y poem could not. At one point, when they all agreed that a 
particular poem could absolutely not be translated, Georgette cried out, "but 
I just translated that poem into French!" Nothing was resolved, and after the 
writers left, I found myself sitting there alone with her. She asked me if I 
would like a pisco, and brought out a bottle. We began drinking and I recalled 
that the editor of Perú Nuevo, a press that had published a pirated edition of 
Poemas humanos, had told me that Georgette and César had never been formally 
married, and because of this Georgette did not have any legal control over the 
estate. I think I blurted out: "Well, I really don't need your permission it 
turns out, as Gustávo Valcárcel told me you and Vallejo were never actually 
married!"  At this point, she jumped up, ran to the bedroom, and began bringing 
in shoeboxes of memorabilia, looking for the marriage certificate. She couldn't 
find it. But the next morning, of course, she was furious over my confrontation. 
I never saw her again.

   When we returned to the States in the spring of 1966 and moved to New York 
City, Grove Press expressed interest in the translation. I prepared a seventh 
draft, and after having it checked by readers, Dick Seaver, then the senior 
editor at Grove, offered me a contract-contingent upon Mme. Vallejo's signature. 
I wrote to Maureen and asked her if there was anything she could do. She offered 
to go and meet Georgette. Over the next six months, Maureen must have seen 
Georgette almost weekly and she did this while taking care of her kids, teaching 
fulltime, battling illness and trying to save a floundering marriage. 

   Seaver was now sending letter after letter to Mme. Vallejo trying to convince 
her that the translation Grove wished to publish was not the one I had sent her 
from Bloomington in 1964. Maureen and Johnny were inviting her out to the farm 
for holiday weekends, and sending her back home with chickens and eggs. Since 
Seaver was getting nowhere, Maureen eventually had to mention that she was a 
friend of mine and that she had worked on the translation. Georgette protested 
that she had been betrayed and once again it looked as if everything was off. 
But Maureen kept after her and one day, Américo Ferrari, a Peruvian scholar who 
had written on Vallejo (and worked with Georgette on her French edition of 
Vallejo's poetry), appeared in the Grove offices and told Seaver that Mme. 
Vallejo had asked him to check the translation. Apparently he wrote her that 
it was publishable, for a week or so later, she wrote Seaver that she would 
sign a contract if Grove would include the following clause: when and if she 
found a better one, Grove must destroy mine and publish the other one. Seaver 
told me that he had had it with her. So I wrote Maureen that unless a signed 
contract appeared within a month, the whole project would be off. Maureen 
continued to plead with her. One day Georgette said that if Johnny would type 
up the contract she wanted, she would sign it. He did, she signed it, and a 
couple of weeks later Seaver called me and said that while it was not their 
contract, Grove found it acceptable and their lawyer had determined it was 
legal. He wrote Mme. Vallejo, enclosing her part of the advance. Subsequently, 
Maureen wrote that Georgette had called her up, extremely upset, saying that 
she thought the contract Johnny had typed up was "only a gesture," and that 
she had signed it so that Maureen would not be "upset," and that she had never 
intended, at any point, to sign a legal contract! Grove went ahead and Human 
Poems was published in the spring of 1968.


   In 1970, I took a job at the new California Institute of the Arts outside 
of Los Angeles, and my present wife Caryl and I moved to the San Fernando Valley. 
I had done a little work on Vallejo's sheaf of poems on the Spanish Civil War 
(written in 1937 and 1938, while he was working on Poemas humanos) in the 
mid-1960s, and after making a new draft of a translation of España, aparte de 
mi este caliz, I once again found myself looking for someone to check it with. 
I was introduced to José Rubia Barcia, a Spanish poet and essayist, in exile 
since the Spanish Civil War, who had been teaching at UCLA for years. While 
going over the draft with Barcia, I was so impressed with his honesty, 
scrupulosity and literary intelligence, that I suggested we work together as 

   We completed a translation of Spain, Take this Cup from Me and Grove Press 
published it in 1974. While José and I were working on the these poems, I showed 
him the 1968 translation of Human Poems, which he carefully went over, penciling 
in the margins around 2000 queries and suggestions for changes. He felt that 
what I had accomplished was meaningful but that we could do a better job working 
together. We worked from roughly 1972 to 1977 (other than during the year that 
Caryl and I were in France).  The University of California Press brought out 
César Vallejo: The Complete Posthumous Poetry in 1978, including what had 
previously been called Human Poems along with Spain, Take this Cup from Me.

   There were some good scholarly reasons for a retranslation as well, and I 
have presented these in the Note on Human Poems.

   In 1988 I arranged with Paragon House in NYC to bring out a selection of my 
translations of poets who could be thought of as "conductors of the pit," 
conductors and inductors of the abyss, as it were, versus the symphony. 
Conductors of the Pit included selections from Arthur Rimbaud, Vallejo, 
Aimé Césaire, Antonin Artaud, and Vladimir Holan. When making the Vallejo 
selection, I got involved, once again, in revising previous versions, this time 
the ones that I had done with José. Some of these changes today strike me as 
less effective than the Eshleman/Barcia translations they were based on, and I 
have again, and now clearly for the last time, revised this work.  But I do 
understand my dilemma: given the contextual density of Vallejo's European 
poetry, there are often multiple denotative word choices, and at one time 
choice X is going to look better than choice Y. Not only this, but in 
continuing to read Vallejo scholarship over the years, I have occasionally 
picked up a lead on a particular word that has made me re-think the word and 
sometimes revise my version of it.

  Up to the late 1980s, all of my translational attention to Vallejo had been 
confined to the European poetry. However, I had been circling around his second 
book, Trilce (1922), for many years, realizing in the 1960s and 70s that since 
it was a much more difficult book to translate than Poemas humanos, I should 
leave it alone. In 1988, I decided that if I could work with a Peruvian, a 
translation of Trilce could be attempted, so I teamed up with Julio Ortega 
(one of the few Peruvian writers in Lima in the 1960s who did not think I was 
a spy!), and we decided to do it together. We worked out a first draft of the 
book in the fall of 1989.  Caryl and I moved to Boston for a month, and every 
morning I took a bus into Providence, and climbed the hill to Julio's office 
at Brown University where we would work for several hours. Once back in Michigan, 
I went over our work and realized that I often had questions about several 
words in a single line. While Julio would occasionally respond to my queries, 
it was clear by the end of 1990 that he had decided that I should finish Trilce 
on my own. And by then I needed his, or someone's help, even more than I had 
needed it in the beginning. There are still many words in this book that have 
gone uncommented upon in Vallejo scholarship (or have been wildly guessed at), 
and while critics can generalize and address Vallejo in terms of themes and 
preoccupations, a translator must go at him word by word, revealing all of his 
choices in English without being able to dodge a single word.  This is 
especially true in the case of Trilce, with intentionally misspelled words 
(often encasing secondary puns), neologisms, arcane and archaic words. 

  At this point I contacted Américo Ferrari who was then teaching translation at 
a university in Geneva. He is the Vallejo scholar who had inspected  my manuscript 
at Grove Press in the late 1960s. Ferrari had brought out an edition of Vallejo's 
Obra Poética Completa in 1988, and I figured he knew more about Vallejo's poetry 
than anyone else. I asked him if he would respond my questions, and he agreed to. 
I would write him in English and he would respond in Spanish. He was willing to 
go to the library and research words he thought he was familiar with but when 
confronted by my questions became unsure. We had a wonderful exchange and around 
two years later, after doing up to thirty versions of the most complex poems, I 
had something that I thought was publishable. Marsilio brought out a bilingual 
edition of Trilce, with an Introduction by Ferrari, in 1992. They let it go out 
of print, and Wesleyan brought out a second edition, with around one hundred word 
changes, in 2000.

  At that point, I felt once more that my involvement with Vallejo had come to an 
end. The only poetry of his that I had not translated was Los heraldos negros  
(1918), his first book, which had always struck me as more conventional by far 
than Trilce or the European poetry. Much of it is rhymed verse which presents, in 
translation, its own problems: a sonnet is a little engine of sound and sense, 
and if you rhyme it in translation, you will inevitably have to change some or 
much of its meaning. If you translate it for meaning alone, there is a chance that 
you will end up with atonal free verse. 

  But as Michael Corleone says midway through Godfather III, "just when you think 
you're out, they pull you back in!" In 2003, I began to realize that all of the 
years I had put in on this body of work had brought me very close to "a complete 
poetry of César Vallejo," and that it would be appropriate to review all of my 
previous translating, and to add to it a version of Los heraldos negros. Once I 
began to work on The Black Heralds, I found them more interesting than I had 
thought they were, and since they were relatively easy to render, I took some 
pleasure in what could be thought of as a level playing field rather than climbing 
a vertical wall. When I could rhyme certain words in a sonnet and not change the 
meaning, I did so, and I constantly made myself aware of sound possibilities, 
attempting to make the translations as sound rich in English as I could without 
distorting Vallejo's intentions. Efrain Kristal, a Latin American scholar at UCLA 
who has recently edited a Spanish edition of Los heraldos negros, went over my 
third draft and made some very useful suggestions.  José Cerna-Bazán, author 
of Sujeto a cambio / de las relaciones del texto y la sociedad en la escritura 
de César Vallejo, has inspected my Trilce version word for word and proposed 
around a hundred changes, nearly all of which I have accepted.  At the end of my 
Introduction to the 1968 Grove edition of Human Poems, I wrote "My work is done."  
Assuming that Vallejo is not writing poems in his Montparnasse tomb, I now should 
be able to make such a statement stick.


   With an overview in mind, it is worth noting that Vallejo's poetic development 
is quite unusual. Based on the conventional, if well-written and passionate, rhymed 
verse in Los heraldos negros, the reader is completely unprepared for Trilce, which 
is still the most dense, abstract, and transgression-driven collection of poetry in 
the Spanish language. For Vallejo to have gone beyond Trilce, in the experimental 
sense, would have involved his own version of the made-up language one finds at 
the end of Huidobro's Altazor. On one level, then, Vallejo took a step back from 
Trilce in his European poetry, but not as far back as Los heraldos negros. In 
moving from Lima to Paris, the poet hit the aesthetic honey head of the European 
colonial world at the moment it was being rocked by political revolution in Russia. 
Given the non sequitur shifts in Trilce's compositional procedure, it is possible 
to see him forming some sort of relationship with French Surrealism (the first 
Manifesto having appeared a year after he arrived). However, Vallejo had nothing 
but contempt for Surrealism which he seems to have regarded pretty much as Antonin 
Artaud did: an amusing parlor-game, more concerned with pleasure and freedom than 
with suffering and moral struggle. The advance in the European poetry is into an 
ontological abyss which might be briefly described as follows:

   Man is a sadness-exuding mammal, self-contradictory, perpetually immature, 
equally deserving of hatred, affection, and indifference. His anger breaks any 
wholeness into warring fragmentation, and its only redeeming quality is that it is, 
paradoxically, the weapon of the poor, almost always impotent against the military 
resources of the rich. Man is in flight from himself: what once was an expulsion 
from paradise has become a flight from self as the worlds of colonial culture and 
colonized oppressiveness intersect. At the core of life's fullness is death, the 
"never" we fail to penetrate, "always" and "never" being the infinite extensions 
of "yes" and "no."  Sorrow is the defining tone of human life. Poetry thus becomes 
the imaginative expression of the irresolvability of the contradictions of man as 
an animal, divorced from nature as well as any sustaining faith, and caught up in 
the trivia of socialized life.

   I have thought more about poetry while translating Vallejo than while reading 
anyone else. Influence through translation is different than influence through 
reading masters in one's own tongue. I am creating an American version out of a 
Spanish text, and if Vallejo is to enter my own poetry he must do so via what I 
have already, as a translator, turned him into. This is, in the long run, very 
close to being influenced by myself, or better, by a self I have created to mine. 
In this way, I do not feel that my poetry reflects that of Vallejo's.  He taught 
me that ambivalence and contradiction are facets of metaphoric probing, and he 
gave me permission to try anything in my quest for an authentic alternative world 
in poetry.

   Human Poems redefine the "political" poem. With one or two exceptions, they 
are without political position or agenda in the traditional sense. Yet they are 
directly sympathetic, in a way that does not remind us of other bodies of poetry,  
with the human situation I have briefly described above. In fact, they are so 
permeated by Vallejo's own suffering as it is wedded to that of other men and 
women that it is as if the dualisms of colonial/colonized, rich and poor, fuse 
at a level where the human animal aware of his fate is embraced in all his 
absurd fallibility. Whitman comes to mind, from time to time, in terms of his 
adhesive bond with others, but Whitman used his "democratic vista" to express 
an idealism that is foreign to the world Vallejo saw around him growing up in 
Peru, and the even darker world he encountered as a poor man in Paris, whose 
barely hanging on imploded facing the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. 

   I think that the key Vallejo lesson today may lie in a poet learning how to 
become imprisoned, as it were, in global life as a whole, and in each moment 
in particular.  All of his poetry, including the blistering Eros that opens up 
a breach in the wall separating mother and lover in Trilce, urges the poet to 
confront his own destiny and to stew in what is happening to him-and to also 
believe that his bewildering situation is significant. To be bound to, or 
imprisoned in, the present, includes confronting not only life as it really 
is but psyche as it really is not-weighing all affirmation against, in an 
American's case, our imperial obsessions and one's own intrinsic dark.

                                                 Ypsilanti, March 2005

Selected Poems from The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo
Translated by Clayton Eshleman 

César Vallejo Oh bottle without wine! oh wine the widower of this bottle! Afternoon when the dawn of the afternoon flamed fatally 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, adz asinine, inferior, betrayed, lawful, thief, lowering and groping what used to be my ideas! You and he and they and everyone, nevertheless, 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
I stayed on to warm up the ink in which I drown and to listen to my alternative cavern, tactile nights, abstracted days. The unknown shuddered in my tonsil and I creaked from an annual melancholy, solar nights, lunar days, Parisian sunsets. And still, this very day, at nightfall, I digest the most sacred certainties, maternal nights, great-granddaughter days, bicolored, voluptuous, urgent, lovely. And yet I arrive, I reach myself in a two-seated plane under the domestic morning and the mist which emerged eternally from an instant. And still, even now, at the tail of the comet in which I have earned my happy and doctoral bacillus, behold that warm, listener, male earth, sun and male moon, incognito I cross the cemetery, head off to the left, splitting the grass with a pair of hendecasyllables, tombal years, infinite liters, ink, pen, bricks and pardons. 24 September 1937
THE BOOK OF NATURE Professor of sobbing-I said to a tree- staff of quicksilver, rumorous linden, at the bank of the Marne, a good student is reading in your deck of cards, in your dead foliage, between the evident water and the false sun, his three of hearts, his queen of diamonds. Rector of the chapters of heaven, of the ardent fly, of the manual calm there is in asses; rector of deep ignorance, a bad student is reading in your deck of cards, in your dead foliage, the hunger for reason that maddens him and the thirst for dementia that drives him mad. Technician of shouts, conscious tree, strong, fluvial, double, solar, double, fanatic, connoisseur of the cardinal roses, totally embedded, until drawing blood, in stingers, a student is reading in your deck of cards, in your dead foliage, his precocious, telluric, volcanic, king of spades. Oh professor, from having been so ignorant! oh rector, from trembling so much in the air! oh technician, from so much bending over! Oh linden, oh murmurous staff by the Marne! 21 October 1937
I have a terrible fear of being an animal of white snow, who supported father and mother, with only his veiny circulation, and that, this splendid day, solar and archiepiscopal, day that thus represents the night, it lineally eludes this animal to be happy, to breathe, to transform himself and to have money. It would be a great pity if I were a real man to that degree. A folly, a most fruitful premise to whose occasional yoke the spiritual hinge of my waist succumbs. A folly... Meanwhile, it's like that, this side of the head of God, in the tabula of Locke, of Bacon, in the livid neck of the beast, in the snout of the soul. And, in aromatic logic, I have this practical fear, this splendid lunar day, of being that one, this one perhaps, to whose nose the ground, the alive folly and the dead folly smell of death. Oh to roll about, to exist, to cough, to bind, to bind the doctrine, one's temple, from shoulder to shoulder, to move away, to weep, to let it go for eight or for seven or for six, for five, or to let it go for the life that holds three powers. 22 October 1937
GUITAR The pleasure of suffering, of hating, dyes my throat with plastic venoms, but the bristle that implants its magic order, its taurine grandeur, between the first string and the sixth and the mendacious eighth, suffers them all. The pleasure of suffering... Who? Whom? who, the molars? whom society, the carbides of rage in the gums? How to be and to be here, without angering one's neighbor? You are worthier than my number, man alone, and worthier than all the dictionary, with its prose in poetry, its poetry in prose, are your eagle display, your tiger machinery, bland fellow man. The pleasure of suffering, of hoping for hope at the table, Sunday with all its languages, Saturday with Chinese, Belgian hours, the week, with two hockers. The pleasure of waiting in slippers, of waiting contracted behind a stanza, of waiting empowered with a sick pintle; the pleasure of suffering: hard left by a female dead with a stone on her waist and dead between the string and the guitar, crying the days and singing the months. 28 October 1937
A man is looking at a woman, is looking at her immediately, with his sumptuous homesickness and he looks at her two-handedly and he knocks her down two-chestedly and he moves her two-shoulderly. I ask myself then, overpowering my enormous, white, zealous rib: And this man hasn't he had a child as a growing father? And this woman, a child as a builder of her evident sex? Because I see a child now, a centipede child, impassioned, energetic: I see that they do not see him blow his nose between them, wag his tail, get dressed; because I accept them, her in an augmentative condition, him in the flection of golden hay. And I exclaim then, without ceasing even once to live, without turning even once to tremble in the joust I venerate: Happiness followed belatedly by the Father, by the Son and by the Mother! Round familiar instant, that no one any longer feels or loves! From what an aphonic, dark red dazzle the Song of Songs is performed! From what a trunk, the florid carpenter! From what a perfect axial, the fragile oar! From what a hoof, both forehoofs! 2 November 1937
Today a splinter has gotten into her. Today a splinter has gotten into her close, striking her close, hard, in her way of being and in her now famous penny. Fate has pained her terribly, all over; the door has pained her, the girdle has pained her, giving her thirst, afflixion and thirst for the glass but not for the wine. Today, secretly, the smoke of her dogma poured out of the poor neighbor of the air; today a splinter has gotten into her. Immensity pursues her at a superficial distance, at a vast linkage. Today on one cheek, north, and on one cheek, east came out of the poor neighbor of the wind; today a splinter has gotten into her. Who will buy, in these harsh, perishable days, a bit of coffee with milk, and who, without her, will descend her path until giving birth? Sad are the splinters that get into her all at once, exactly there precisely! Today a flame quenched in the oracle entered the poor neighbor of the voyage; today a splinter has gotten into her. The pain has pained her, the young pain, the child pain, stabbing pain, striking her in the hands and giving her thirst, afflixion and thirst for the glass but not for the wine. The poor, poor little thing! 6 November 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 triumphs lose, the doctors die; put milk in blood; add a candle to the sun, eight hundred to twenty; let eternity pass under the bridges! Scorn whoever gets dressed, crown feet with hands, fit them in their size; let my personality 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; let the sea, contrary to the circle, defeat his son and weeping, gray hair; leave the asps alone, gentle sirs, furrow your flame with seven logs, live, raise the height, lower the deepage deeper, let the wave accompany its momentum 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 an aviator! Give off rain, give off 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 it, 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
SERMON ON DEATH 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 as a white bedpan, 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 skull broke down? 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


Clayton Eshleman's translation of The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo, with 
a Foreword by Mario Vargas Llosa, an Introduction by Efrain Kristal, and a 
Chronology by Stephen Hart, will be published December 2006 by University of 
California Press. 

Copies can be ordered online at http://www.ucpress.edu . 
Toll-free phone is 800 777 4726.  When ordering enter the following code in 
the special instructions box: 06D3136. The cloth edition is 704 pages, 
bilingual, and costs $49.95 plus $4.00 shipping charge.

Other publications by Clayton Eshleman include:

Mexico & North (1962)
Indiana (1969)
Altars (1971)
Coils (1973)
The Great Wall (1975)
What She Means (1978)
Hades In Manganese (1981)
Fructure (1983)
The Name Encanyoned River (1986)
Hotel Cro-Magnon (1989)
Under World Arrest (1994)
From Scratch (1998)
Everwhat (2003)
My Devotion (2004)

Antiphonal Swing (1989)
Companion Spider (2002)
Juniper Fuse, Upper Paleolithic Imagination &
   the Construction of the Underworld (2003)

Pablo Neruda, Residence on Earth (1962)
César Vallejo, The Complete Posthumous Poetry (with José Rubia Barcia, 1978)
Aimé Césaire, The Collected Poetry (with Annette Smith, 1990)
Michel Deguy, Given Giving (1984)
Bernard Bador, Sea Urchin Harakiri (1986)
Aimé Césaire, Lyric & Narrative Poetry 1946-1982 (with Annette Smith, 1990)
Antonin Artaud, Watchfriends & Rack Screams (with Bernard Bador, 1995)
César Vallejo, Trilce (1992, 2000)
Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (with Annette Smith, 2001)

Folio (Bloomington, Indiana, 3 issues, 1959-1960)
Quena (Lima, Peru, 1 issue edited, suppressed by the North American
   Peruvian Institute, 1966)
Caterpillar (NYC-Los Angeles, 20 issues, 1967-1973)
A Caterpillar Anthology (Issues #1-12, 1971)
Sulfur (Pasadina-Los Angeles-Ypsilanti, 46 issues, 1981-2000)

Clayton Eshleman's Official Website may be found at:



  All poems copyrighted by their respective authors. Any reproduction of
  these poems, without the express written permission of the authors, is

  YGDRASIL: A Journal of the Poetic Arts - Copyright (c) 1993 - 2006 by 
  Klaus J. Gerken.

  The official version of this magazine is available on Ygdrasil's 
  World-Wide Web site http://users.synapse.net/~kgerken.  No other 
  version shall be deemed "authorized" unless downloaded from there. 
  Distribution is allowed and encouraged as long as the issue is unchanged.


    * Klaus Gerken, Chief Editor - for general messages and ASCII text
    submissions: kgerken@synapse.net

    Or mailed with a self addressed stamped envelope, to: