CESAR VALLEJO: THE POET, THE MILITANT, THE COMMUNIST

1892-1938

"...As of Peruvian poetry, for me, Vallejo is extraordinary. Yes, he is ours, and besides, he was a Communist," said President Gonzalo. José Carlos Mariátegui, the founder of the PCP, considered Vallejo to be "an absolute creator." Cesar Vallejo, the poet, the militant, the Communist, is being remembered by the proletariat and the people in the 106th anniversary of his birth. Today, that the Peruvian people led by the PCP are fighting 18 years of the glorious People's War, this greeting has greater significance. Vallejo, who knew how to sing and communicate with his poetry and activism with the people, workers, peasants, and students also struggled with his cells, "his no's," "his stills," his hungers, his pieces. He struggled so consciously that this artist is inevitably a political subject to whom neutrality and a lack of political sensibility are proof of spiritual shortness, human mediocrity, and aesthetical inferiority.

Vallejo wrote: "I know more than a modern poet who usually locks himself in his cabinet to produce verses of astounding originality, masterful rhythms, sentences in which fantasy reaches formidable spasms. His life? The life of this poet consists of sleeping until 2:00 in the afternoon; then he gets up, without the least worry, or at most, yawning from peace and boredom to then have lunch with good cigars until 4:00 in the afternoon. Then he reads the newspapers and returns to his room to forge his ultramodern verses, until he feels hungry again by 8:00 in the evening. At 10:00 P.M. he is already in an artist's caf‚, joyously commenting on the sayings and deeds of friends and colleagues and by one in the morning he returns to his room to forge new wondrous verses, until 6:00 in the morning at which time he falls asleep. From such an existence as I have said, comes a work full of imagination, outpouring techniques, outshining with metaphors and imageries. But that's all that ever comes out of that sort of existence ( . . . ) The lackey and sensuous fare of the worst courtesan times is preserved in these bourgeois poets who live from a government salary or a pension from their families."

Against this kind of parasites, Vallejo rose his powerful voice and took a clear political position, which the present system's lackeys (reactionaries and revisionists) forget when they try to eschew their "homages to the death of Vallejo."

Contrasting the capitalist literary process, which as Vallejo pointed out cannot escape the germs of decadence, he hammered in the importance of the development of socialist aesthetics. Vallejo underscored that the latter must depart exclusively from deep sensibility, which is explicitly socialist, that is new sensibility. He stated: "Only a man who is socialist in the blood, whose conduct public and private reflects his ideas, who in the way he looks up a star, understands a car's turning, performs an arithmetic operation, loves a woman and raises a stone, remains silent or puts a crumb in the mouth of a passer by, are organically socialist. He is the only one able to create an authentically socialist poem. The socialist poet cannot project his ideas only at the time of writing a poem, but in all his acts, big and small, internal and visible, conscious and subconscious, and even when he sleeps and when he errs or betrays himself."

Facing the vacuum of the word and the social exhaustion of literature suffering from an acute and incurable social consumption, Vallejo highlights the most striking feature of the emerging proletarian literature, consisting of "its returning their universal social contents to words, filling them up with a new collective substratum, purer and more exuberant and providing them with a clearer and more human eloquence and expression."

Vallejo asked himself if proletarian literature would be able to achieve this renaissance and this purification of the word, this being the supreme and most fruitful form of the instinct of solidarity in men. His answer was firm: "Yes, it will achieve it. It is achieving it already."

President Mao Tse-tung held that the revolutionary art and literature are products of the reflection of the people's life in the brains of revolutionary artists and writers. He added that, in the daily life of the people, the foundations are already found of raw materials for art and literature, inexhaustible material, in its natural state, not polished, but in turn are alive, and are the richest and most basic.

The work of Cesar Vallejo is found in this perspective, which by its intensity and height shows the reality of the daily struggle for life in more universal terms, and therefore, at an unperishable level.

VALLEJO PROPOSES THE NEW REVOLUTIONARY WRITER

In an interview done years ago, Miguel Gutierrez Correa, a professor, a good writer and literary critic in Peru, had this to say about the life and work of Vallejo:

"Question (Q):Precisely we wanted your appreciation on this subject, because some bourgeois writers say that whoever becomes a militant and joins a given political organization, writes according to slogans or becomes a pamphleteer. In that regard, Vallejo stated in his work `Art and Revolution': 'The perfect kind of revolutionary intellectual is the man who struggles by simultaneously writing and being a militant.' What is your opinion on these considerations?

Answer (A): I think the bourgeois positions about a supposedly 'objective' and 'impartial' criticism, was refuted by the two greatest representatives of Peruvian culture: Vallejo and Mariátegui. To both of them, each in his respective field, their upholding of Marxism did not prevent, but on the contrary, enabled them to make a scientific analysis (a qualitative leap.) In the case of Mariátegui, he upheld Marxism due to the development of his thought; in the case of Vallejo, it was due to the renewing development of his expressive resources. In that sense, Vallejo is the rebuttal to the assertion that militancy in a Party castrates the development of an artist. Naturally, if an artist has no talent, Marxism will not make him better.

Q: There is a letter from Vallejo to Pablo Abril de Vivero, already well known, dated 1929, in which Vallejo calls for the destruction of the capitalist world, including his own self-destruction, as the only way to redeem mankind, something that he reaffirms in his work `Art and Revolution' and in `Spain Take this Cup Away from Me.' How would you frame this kind of thought in the light of the current political and social events in the country?

A: Once Vallejo upholds Marxism, he advances. And as a necessary stage of this advance, he even considers the self-destruction of his conscience, that is, of all that which represents the old, in order to assume the new.

In my understanding, two aspects characterize the times Perú is going through now: On one side, there is a general decomposition of the State, manifested in its institutions and in private life, in the social relations, and in family relationships. On the other hand, it applies to the situation of the war in which we are immersed.

Confronting all of this, of course, proposes some positions. To follow one road or the other is an option. It is also an act of freedom. Vallejo and Mariátegui opted, precisely, for that which represented the new, even when such meant a painful and even contradictory process.

We can understand better the process followed by Vallejo in the light of the experiences in the development of the International Communist Movement, in which during the 50's and 60's, the phenomenon known as Revisionism is openly manifested. What are the cultural revolutions? They are political-ideological revolutions that also work on the conscience to destroy what is obsolete, what is old, that still remains in the stage of transition to Communism; that is, in the socialist stage. This thesis by Vallejo should, then, encourage all writers to meditate, all of them, according to the situation the country is going through.

Q: In his work "Art and Revolution," Vallejo states that art is "a reflection of the economic, social, political, religious, and of all life."In light of this premise, what is your appreciation of the development of culture, of literature and art?

A: We have the famous verse by Vallejo: "Every genial act or voice, comes from the people and flows toward them." The people are the great source of all literature, directly or indirectly. I think the new culture that is emerging in the revolutionary process itself, rescues the people's values and goes on developing them artistically.

Well, we cannot all write like Vallejo. Each artist must walk on his own path. One cannot walk the same path twice in poetry. I refer to the way in which Vallejo writes. But the important thing is to follow the example set forth by Vallejo, how he transformed his conscience, and how that in turn, helped to transform his own poetry. This example can help us understand the present circumstances, and the inevitable transformations coming ahead."

Vallejo died in exile in Paris, in a rainy day on April 15, 1938. The bourgeois dictatorships in Peru did not allow his return to his homeland, nor even his bones after his death. But it is in vain, Vallejo lives in his poetry, and 42 years later (ILA-1980) the truthfulness of his message is today irrefutable: "I am like the pigeon of a condor whose feathers were stripped by a Latin handgun; like humanity's flower, I fly over the Andes like the eternal light of Lazarus ..." In Spanish, "Yo soy el pichón de un condor desplumado por un arcabuz latino; a flor de humanidad, sobrevuelo los Andes como un eterno L'azaro de luz...," and to the international proletarian, "Workers, saviors, our redeemers, brothers, forgive us of our debts! ¡Obrero, salvador, redentor nuestro, perdónanos, hermano, nuestras deudas! Como dice un tambor al redoblar, en sus adagios: ¡que jamás tan efímero, tu espalda! ¡Qu'e siempre tan cambiante, tu perfil!

Vallejo lives in the struggle of our heroic people, and in each battle of the invincible People's War!

THE BLACK MESSENGERS


There are in life such hard blows . . . I don't know!
Blows seemingly from God's wrath; as if before them
the undertow of all our sufferings
is embedded in our souls . . . I don't know!

There are few; but are . . . opening dark furrows
in the fiercest of faces and the strongest of loins,
They are perhaps the colts of barbaric Attilas
or the dark heralds Death sends us.

They are the deep falls of the Christ of the soul,
of some adorable one that Destiny Blasphemes.
Those bloody blows are the crepitation
of some bread getting burned on us by the oven's door

And the man . . . poor . . . poor!
He turns his eyes around, like
when patting calls us upon our shoulder;
he turns his crazed maddened eyes,
and all of life's experiences become stagnant, like a puddle of guilt, in a daze.

There are such hard blows in life. I don't know!

LOS HERALDOS NEGROS


Hay golpes en la vida tan fuertes . . . ¡Yo no se!
Golpes como del odio de Dios; como si ante ellos;
la resaca de todo lo sufrido se empozara en el alma
¡Yo no se!

Son pocos; pero son . . . abren zanjas oscuras
en el rostro mas fiero y en el lomo mas fuerte,
Serán talvez los potros de bárbaros atilas;
o los heraldos negros que nos manda la Muerte

Son las caídas hondas de los Cristos del alma,
de alguna adorable que el Destino Blasfema,
Esos golpes sangrientos son las crepitaciones
de algún pan que en la puerta del horno se nos quema

Y el hombre....pobre...¡pobre!
Vuelve los ojos,
como cuando por sobre el hombro
nos llama una palmada;
vuelve los ojos locos,
y todo lo vivido
se empoza, como charco de culpa,
en la mirada.

Hay golpes en la vida, tan fuertes . . . ¡Yo no se!

PORTRAIT OF VALLEJO DONE BY PABLO PICASSO (Paris, June 9, 1938)
THE REVOLUTIONARY POET

THE HUMBLE HOUSE WHERE VALLEJO WAS BORN (SANTIAGO DE CHUCO, LA LIBERTAD)
LA CASA DEL POETA


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Cesar Vallejo.