The Black Heralds is published by www.coppercanyonpress.org
The Black Heralds
By César Vallejo
Under the Poplars
for Jose Garrido
Like priestly imprisoned poets,
the poplars of blood have fallen asleep.
On the hills, the flocks of Bethlehem
chew arias of grass at sunset.
The ancient shepherd who shivers
at the last martyrdoms of light,
in his easter eyes has caught
a purebred flock of stars.
Formed in orphanhood, he goes down
with rumors of burial to the praying field,
and the sheep bells are seasoned with shadow.
It survives, the blue welded
in iron, and on it, pupils shrouded,
a dog etches its pastoral howl.
Throughout his life, Cesar Vallejo (1892-1938) focused on human suffering and the isolation of people victimized by inexplicable forces. One of the great Spanish language poets, he merged radical politics and language consciousness, resulting in the first examples of a truly new world poetry. The Black Heralds is Vallejos first book and contains a wide range of poems, from love sonnets in which he struggles to free his erotic life from the bounds of Spanish Catholicism to the linguistically inventive sequence, Imperial Nostalgias, where he parodies with considerable savagery the pastoral romanticism of Indian and rural life.
In this bilingual volume, translator Rebecca Seiferle attempts to undo the colonization of Vallejo in other translations. As Seiferle writes in her introduction: Reading and translating Vallejo has been a long process of trying to meet him on his own terms, to discover what those terms were within the contexts of his particular time and, finally, taking his word for it.
The janus-like nature of Vallejos first collection has often attracted comment. This, and the fact that his subsequent volume, Trilce, is one of the greatest masterworks of 20th Century hispanophone poetry, has tended to obscure the intrinsic qualities of the earlier book. . .Vallejo was the real thing astoundingly original. . . Rebecca Seiferle does an excellent job with her introduction, placing the work in context and explaining the complications of the texts clearly. Her notes are full and to the point. And, to come to the real point, her translations are excellent.
Tony Frazer Shearsman Shearsman Book of the Month.
"César Vallejos poems have an anguished power, a rebellious lexical energy and a wild, freewheeling emotionalism... Seiferle is wonderfully alert to the indigenous elements in Vallejos work. Edward Hirsch, The Washington Post
In The Black Heralds, Seiferle labors in her introduction and translations at freeing Vallejos work from what she calls the poetry of colonialism and its tourist-like tropes. There is no doubt that Vallejo miraculously combined radical Marxist politics with a Latin American consciousness that incorporated indigenous languages (like Quechua) into an astonishing natural lyricism and symbolism. Also miraculous is the poems resistance to reductionist impulses; the mode of expression remains deeply romantic in its surreality... Translation of poems is always a challengetranslating the wild anarchical Vallejo may be close to impossible. Still, this book is a long overdue re-envisioning of Vallejo. It will fall to his readers, in Spanish and English, to ultimately judge this latest attempt at embodying him on the page. Carol Muske-Dukes, Los Angeles Times Book Review
The word complex only begins to describe César Vallejo (1892-1938) as seen in Rebecca Seiferles bilingual translation of the poems in his first book, The Black Heralds. Originally published in 1918, this blend of sex, sin, mysticism and myth is divided into six sections and includes everything from Vallejos disenchantment with his homeland and religion, to his fathers old age and his mother's, brothers and lovers deaths. San Francisco Chronicle
In the continuing struggle over who owns César Vallejo's work and who has or has not colonized it, veteran translator Rebecca Seiferle presents Vallejos overlooked first book. Along with Pablo Neruda, Vallejo is one of South Americas mythical poets and has long been attractive to translators who approach his difficult Spanish with various styles. Seiferle presents a contemporary Vallejo by sticking to short stanzas, typical free-verse forms, and few digressions from the original language. This book is essential to Vallejo studies and sets the stage for his later, better known work. The Bloomsbury Review
Seiferle is a gifted poet herself, and she brings her exquisite sense of timing and precision to Vallejos poems. In her lucid introductory essay, she claims Vallejos work has been translated into English by American poets who impose their own feverish assumptions about poetic practice on his work and have misrepresented the autochthonic nature of his poetic project, that is to say the indigenous or native foundation and impulses of his writing. She has clearly researched Vallejos work with sensitivity and insight in order to render the most authentic versions possible. For this reason, I trust her choices... I had forgotten how utterly moving Vallejos work can be, and I am grateful for this new and very fine translation." Sima Rabinowtiz for NewPages
Sometimes blasphemous, other times merely irreverent, The Black Heralds in its surrealistic imagery, tone, diction and themes confronts pastoral traditions, colonialism and religious conformity. Under the Poplars glistens with explosive, religious metaphor. . . The juxtapositions inflame the differences between religious and naturalistic impulses. For instance, pastoral howl combines the simple and idyllic pastoral with the violent and despairing howl. A poem such as this isnt built on a preconceived understanding of craftsmanship, artistic decorum or reality. Instead, its ripped through with brute gestures of super- or hyper-reality.
At its best, Vallejos poetry can release you from narrow expectations of the censoring, rational parts of your psyche. Under the Poplars urges the exploration of what Andre Breton calls the hidden places of the psyche, where contradictions (past and future, real and imaginary) are wiped out. What remains is a perilous, thrilling and surreal confluence of language and imagination.
David Biespiel,The Oregonian
To return to Seiferles webpage
To return to The Drunken Boat