César Vallejo

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By DANIEL BRAZIL*

Commentary on the new Brazilian editions of the work of the Peruvian poet

Few names in Latin American literature are as recognized worldwide and as little publicized in Brazil as César Vallejo (1892-1938). Elevated to the level of poets like Neruda, Girondo and Huidobro, the Peruvian sowed his troubled life with poetry, prose, theater and militant articles.

The first complete edition of his poems in Brazil was translated by Thiago de Melo, published in 1984. Due to the avant-garde character of his poetry, with innovative formal elements, he had already attracted the attention of Brazilian concretists. A new translation was launched this year by Fabricio Corsaletti and Gustavo Pacheco (Editora 34). In 2021, the publisher Iluminuras released the novel Tungsten, which addresses the exploitation of Peruvian mines and the misery of indigenous workers.

César Vallejo's prose has just won a precious edition by Bandeirola publishing house. the volume gathers melographed scales, short narratives written in prison, and Wild Fable, published in 1923. That same year the author left Peru for Europe. First to France, where he was expelled, and then to Spain, where he met Garcia Lorca and Rafael Alberti, and joined the anti-fascist movement.

In the 112 days that he was imprisoned in Trujillo, Peru, accused of “intellectual instigation”, Vallejo produced the fantastic short narratives of the scales, which bear the suggestive names of Northwest Wall, Antarctic Wall, East Wall, Double Wall e western wall, which is composed of just one mysterious phrase. The exception is the pungent parapet, where a childhood episode is recalled in a… shall we say, Vallejian way.

In the second part, chorus of winds, are some of the most famous Peruvian tales, where madness seems to surround several characters. Mirtha, the beautiful young woman from the eponymous tale, may well have inspired Buñuel's last work, This obscure object of desire, where a man gets involved with a woman, who is played by two actresses. In the short story, all of the protagonist's friends see two women, except him, in love. Although the film's credits indicate that it was inspired by a novel by the French Pierre Louÿs (La femme et le pantin), the poetic and affective links between the Buñuelesque universe and the literature of César Vallejo do not seem to be just a coincidence.

Surrealism? Not in the strict sense. The literature of the Andean mestizo rather plunges into the mysteries of reality, into the shattered mirror of life, in which the images do not form a coherent Cartesian whole. As Mariátegui pointed out, “in his literature, Vallejo is always a soul eager for the infinite, thirsting for truth. Creation is in him at once ineffably painful and exultant”.

the narrative Wild Fable, published in the same year as melographed scales, works precisely with the symbolism of the mirror, which, when broken, begins to transform the life of the peasant Balta. He begins to feel haunted by a stranger seen in the shards, who may or may not be real. Unconscious projection, ancestral shadow of a rival who will disturb his happy marriage with Hello Adelaide. Describing in detail the Andean rural environment, it is the last work published by the author in his homeland. He goes into exile in the same year, uniting political militancy and poetry in a suffering and miserable life, and always non-conformist.

César Vallejo's writing sometimes reminds us of Franz Kafka, sometimes reminds us of Edgar Alan Poe, and in many moments anticipates the fantastic realism that would become a style of Latin American literature. Its most original feature is the ostensive presence of poetry, whether through images, unusual constructions or metaphorical adjectives. High caliber poetic findings sparkle on each page. A shepherd whips “the ribs of the wind”, the lover takes shelter “under the indigo nail of the firmament”, the Chinese bet everything on “beautiful divine cubes”, we feel the “color of the lemon afternoon harvests”. Vallejo reveals himself to be a profoundly original and surprising author, in these times so devoid of beauty.

The special edition of the Spaniard Antonio Merino for melographed scales e Wild Fable served as the basis for the publishing house Bandeirola. The translation is by Ellen Maria Vasconcellos, and has an illuminating preface by João Mostazo (“Literature in which the ethical, the poetic and the political complement each other”), which places César Vallejo precisely in history and in the world literary panorama.

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.

 

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