Trilce cover

1992 Finalist PenWest Translation Award

by César Vallejo, translated by Rebecca Seiferle


Finished the stranger, with whom, late
at night, you returned to words for words.
Now there won’t be anyone who waits for me,
readies my place, good itself ill.

Finished the heated afternoon;
your great bay and your clamor; the chat
with your exhausted mother
who offered us a tea full of evening.

Finally finished everything: the vacations,
your obedience of hearts, your way
of demanding that I not go out.

And finished the diminutive, on behalf of
my majority in the endless ache
and our having been born like this for no cause.

Copyright © 1992. Rebecca Seiferle. All Rights Reserved.

"The book was born in a complete void. I am responsible for it. I assume all responsibilites for its esthetics. Today, more than ever, I feel a sacred obligation, until now unknown, weighing upon me; that of being free! If I am not free today, I will never be. I feel the arch of my forehead desiring its heroic imperative strength . . . God knows what horrifying borders I have approached, filled with fear, terrified that everything was going to die completely so that my poor soul would live . . . I want to be free . . . But being free, at times, I feel surrounded by a dreadful ridicule with the air of a child that carries a spoon in his nostrils . . ."

— César Vallejo

Reviews and comments:

Trilce is known as the greatest Spanish poem of the twentieth century. Rebecca Seiferle evokes the heart of the matter, Vallejo’s struggle to integrate, at least for his own resolution, two opposing, irreconcilable cultures, the Incan and the Spanish. I think it is an amazing accomplishment. As with the original, the poem in translation is a stark light on a profound, explosive issue in our hemisphere.— David Ignatow

Vallejo, as a half Inca, half Spaniard, attacks the Spaniards through their language, Spanish, for having invaded and destroyed Inca America, so the language of his poems is often broken, lisping, distorted, and sometimes, it tries to be educated scientific Spanish; all for political, sexual, and family reasons.... I found reading this book like riding an emotional rollercoaster of yes! Yes! No! No! She’s right! She’s wrong! She doesn’t understand! I don’t understand! Ah, we understand! This is a very important working translation. — Alan Dugan

What wonderful translations Rebecca Seiferle has made of César Vallejo’s great, and difficult, and breathtakingly human book Trilce. She helps these poems come alive, in English, in ways, I never thought possible. A tremendous achievement. — Thomas Lux

Vallejo’s Trilce speaks for itself—and therein is the power of this translation. It is a muscular, accomplished cultivation, yet rendered quiet in relation to what it allows: Vallejo. — Alberto Rios

In Trilce, César Vallejo tears the language of his poetry out of Spanish and Peruvian Quechua. He fights a revolution in words not unlike that which Paul Celan was to fight in the sidestreets of the German language some years later. Rebecca Seiferle is a New Mexico poet uniquely suited to the hazards of this translation. Its pages are open to anyone who wants to read poetry at its bravest." — Stanley Moss.

“César Vallejo is a high priest of heresy. The poems in Trilce break code after code—syntax, Western disciplines, and Christianity are routinely betrayed into new meanings. Vallejo’s subversions constitute the special treason of the insider, the expert, the heir.” — Geoffrey Gordon O’Brien

Vallejo’s poetry combines excruciatingly personal emotions with imagery that at first appears facetious but turns out to be wordplay with a larger purpose...The 77 poems reflect upon the poet’s dual Spanish and Peruvian Indian heritage in a dialect that mocks Spanish grammar with Incan idioms, plays on the similarity between words and tosses in medical enhance the surreal effect. Seiferle’s insightful introduction and footnotes serve as necessary maps to the book’s political context—Vallejo’s assertion of the Incan side of his identity-and intellectual strengths. The sensitive translation of an extremely difficult text in this bilingual edition commemorates the centennial of Vallejo’s birth and the 70th anniversary of the book’s original publication; ironically, it also coincides with the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. — Publishers Weekly.

Seiferle’s version is attuned to more standard English. Without shirking the author’s perplexities, she opts for straightforward and orderly phrasing. “Close to where the water beats the shore” offers an entry to number XX more concrete and elemental than Eshleman’s “Flush with bubbling milk scum.” Her introduction, addressing the sexual underpinnings and Quechua linguistic background of Vallejo’s book is valuable and convincing. — LA Weekly.

Translator’s note:
I began reading Vallejo in the Spanish in 1970 but was only persuaded to undertake the translation of this, his most difficult work, nearly twenty years later, in graduate school. I discovered that it was impossible to write critically of Vallejo’s work while relying on the available translations. My aim in translating was to create English poems, poems that would work in English in the same way that the original works in Spanish. I also hoped that I would be able to convey the multidimensionality of Vallejo’s poems, and, that the reader who is able to read both English and Spanish, would hear in the dialogue between the original and my translation, another third possibility, even though I knew that this was to take the “risk” of being thought wrong. Vallejo’s work has long been deprived of its proper context. He himself wrote of the “indigenous thread of blood” and demanded an “autocthonic” poetry from Latin American writers. Yet that aspect has been critically overlooked, despite his own words on the subject, in favor of emphasizing his connection to European writing and Modernism.

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