Poetry Corner: Masses by César Vallejo

Masses by César Vallejo, 1939, translation by Robert Bly.

César Abraham Vallejo Mendoza was a Peruvian poet, writer, playwright, and journalist.
Born the 11th child to parents who were both of mixed Spanish and Quechua Native origins, Vallejo as a child witnessed at first hand hunger and poverty and the injustices done to the indigenous peoples of the region.

Vallejo attended the University of Trujillo, where he studied both law and literature, writing a thesis entitled El romanticismo en la poesía castellana (“Romanticism in Castilian Poetry”; published 1954).

Although he published only three books of poetry during his lifetime, he is considered one of the great poetic innovators of the 20th century in any language. He was always a step ahead of literary currents, and each of his books was distinct from the others, and, in its own sense, revolutionary.

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César Vallejo, 1892 – 1938

When the battle was over
And the fighter was dead, a man came toward him
And said to him: “Do not die; I love you so!”
But the corpse, how sad! went on dying.

And two came near, and repeated it.
“Do not leave us! Courage! Return to life!”
But the corpse, how sad! went on dying.

Twenty arrive, a hundred, a thousand, five hundred thousand,
Shouting: “So much love, and it can do nothing against death!”
But the corpse, how sad! went on dying.

Millions of persons stood around him,
All with the same request: “Stay here, brother!”
But the corpse, how sad! went on dying.

Then all the men on the earth
Stood around him; the corpse looked at them sadly, deeply moved;
He sat up slowly,
Put his arms around the first man; started to walk.…

César Vallejo

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