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This review is taken from PN Review 159, Volume 31 Number 1, September - October 2004.

DOWN TO THE STONES CÉSAR VALLEJO, The Black Heralds, translated by Rebecca Seiferle (Copper Canyon Press) $16.00

T.S. Eliot famously said that Shakespeare and Dante divide the modern world between them. If we limit ourselves to Latin American poetry in the twentieth century, I think it is no exaggeration to say that Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo divide Latin America between them. Neruda, of course, has been translated by many poets, and his every book has been translated by more than one translator. César Vallejo, on the other hand, has been virtually ignored in comparison. Vallejo's first book, The Black Heralds, came out in 1919 when he was twenty-seven years old. Three years later he published Trilce, and together with his posthumous poems, their influence on Spanish poetry has been no less than Neruda's. And yet, translations of Vallejo have been very few, very poor, and they have often gone out of print.

Why has Vallejo been so neglected in comparison to Neruda? Neruda, of course, was a great love poet, a Whitmanesque bard of joy whose poems swell with the sea, with mountains, with birds, with flora and fauna of all kinds. Vallejo was a poet of death. There are no love poems in Vallejo. (As he himself said in one of his posthumous poems, `Everything is joyful, except my joy.') The sea appears nowhere in Vallejo's poems, although rain is a constant. Nature itself seems not to exist. There is only a voice in an abyss, the mind of a solitary man confronting God and loneliness. Even the darkest poems in Neruda's ...


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