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César Vallejo (1892-1938) – Born in Santiago de Chuco, a small town in the Andean sierra of northern Peru, César Vallejo is the best-known Peruvian poet of the twentieth century. His 1922 book-length sequence Trilce was one of only two collections of his poetry published during his lifetime, the other being Los heraldos negros (The Black Heralds). Vallejo was a political radical and a communist, and for part of his life lived in exile in Paris where he studied Marxism, leaving to visit Russia three times in the 1930s to observe for himself the great Soviet experiment in social engineering. In those years, he met Antonin Artaud, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau and fell in love with, and married, a French girl named Georgette Philippart. Vallejo wrote stories, essays, a novel and several plays, but did not collect any of his subsequent poems for book publication. Since his death, these poems have usually been referred to as the Poemas humanos after the title of one of the posthumous volumes.

The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition

University of California Press
2008 Shortlist
United States

Judges’ Citation

The result has been the wonderfully rendered complete work of a very complex poet in terms of imagination and style, of multilayered registers – a poet who aspires to wholeness of expression…

When Mario Vargas Llosa refers to the work of Clayton Eshleman as a sort of heroic enterprise, he is hitting the target – life given as an act of love. Here are more than five decades of perseverance, polishing and devotion to translation of someone who has been called inexplicable. And if we had untranslatability, we have what would seem to be an impossible task. Eshleman’s versions deserve not only praise, but many readers. Without boasting about talent, intelligence, ear, or personal creative powers, he has applied these characteristics to the meticulous, slow, unrewarding, never sufficiently recognized or valued work of an ant constructing a palace. Most important, he has followed Cid Corman’s teachings: respect for the original, verification and confirmation not only of what one recognizes as alien or unknown, but of which one seems to know, invention of words in English that will work in a way similar to the Spanish words coined by Vallejo, absolute awareness of the fact that one is creating something else, a different music, different possibilities of sound, wanting only to stay level with the original intentions, turning the already said into something sayable again. The result has been the wonderfully rendered complete work of a very complex poet in terms of imagination and style, of multilayered registers – a poet who aspires to wholeness of expression, the world and his perception as the same thing, full of ambivalence and contradiction, a poet who deep down didn’t want to be translated, having enormous doubts as to the capacity even of one’s own language to confront sadness and human grief. Eshleman has opened, as have few others, a window to another life, a new one, not necessarily his nor Vallejo’s.