Posts filed under ‘Clayton Eshelman’

Los Heraldos Negros

Cesar Vallejo

Listen (to Cesar Ferreira read (in Spanish) and Eshelman read (in English))

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

Son pocos; pero son… Abren zanjas obscuras
en el rostro más fiero y en el lomo más 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 fe 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 sé!

In English, as translated by Clayton Eshelman.

The Black Heralds

There are blows in life, so powerful . . . I don’t know!
Blows as from the hatred of God; as if, facing them,
the undertow of everything suffered
welled up in the soul . . . I don’t know!

They are few; but they are . . . They open dark trenches
in the fiercest face and in the strongest back.
Perhaps they are the colts of barbaric Attilas;
or the black heralds sent to us by Death.

They are the deep falls of the Christs of the soul,
of some adored faith blasphemed by Destiny.
Those bloodstained blows are the crackling of
bread burning up at the oven door.

And man . . . Poor . . . poor! He turns his eyes, as
when a slap on the shoulder summons us;
turns his crazed eyes, and everything lived
wells up, like a pool of guilt, in his look.

There are blows in life, so powerful . . . I don’t know!


Thought I would share this, certainly one of the most amazing poems
(and poetry recordings) I’ve heard in a while, by the great Peruvian
poet, Cesar Vallejo.

Not much that I can or ought to say in “analysis” of this piece,
except to say that it seems to rely especially on intonation (and
performance, I guess), such as in the famous first and last lines,
which come with such a force that the listener / reader has no choice
to accept them as something that the writer has actually lived. Raw.
Perhaps intonation can allow for a poem to be avant-garde, even
obscure and opaque, and shockingly immediate at the same time. It
helps to hear it out loud, of course. There’s only one other person I
can think of immediately who could pull something like this off, and
that is the singular Eugenio Montale, albeit in a different, intimate

The poem is from Vallejo’s first book, and is from the Collected Poems
(2006) translated by the amazing Clayton Eshelman, whose translations
of Aime Cesaire haunted my teenage years, and who was the editor of
Sulfur, considered by some to be one of the best journals of
international literature ever. I like the way he reads his
translations, too. The whole of Eshelman’s Vallejo reading can be
found on the Penn Sound site (
), which is fast turning into the numero uno site for online recorded
poetry. (You’ll find that they have the COMPLETE recordings of
William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound, and that really is pretty hard
to beat.) Oh, and Efrain Kristal in APR has some very interesting
things say about this poem and about Vallejo and Eshelman at:

Do read Equivocal’s post on Performing Poetry.


June 8, 2007 at 4:40 pm 9 comments