I first read this poem in my favorite anthology and quickly became obsessed with Cesar Vallejo. Even in translation, his language is unbelievably forceful, but it’s worth buying the anthology to read it in its original Spanish and hear the music that he intended. Vallejo was not a minor poet and this is not a minor work, but it’s been a rough month and this poem has been on my mind, so I thought I’d share it.
“I am going to talk about hope”
I do not feel this suffering as Cesar Vallejo. I am not suffering now as a creative person, or as a man, nor even as a simple living being. I don’t feel this pain as a Catholic, or as a Mohammedan, or as an atheist. Today I am simply in pain. If my name weren’t Cesar Vallejo, I’d still feel it. If I weren’t an artist, I’d still feel it. If I weren’t a man, or even a living being, I’d still feel it. If I weren’t a Catholic, or an atheist, or a Mohammedan, I’d still feel it. Today I am in pain from further down. Today I am simply in pain.
The pain I have has no explanations. My pain is so deep that it never had a cause, and has no need of a cause. What could have its cause been? Where is that thing so important that it stopped being its cause? Its cause is nothing, and nothing could have stopped being its cause. Why has this pain been born all on its own? My pain comes from the north wind and and from the south wind, like those hermaphrodite eggs that some rare birds lay conceived of the wind. If my bride were dead, my suffering would still be the same. If they had slashed my throat all the way through, my suffering would still be the same. If life, in other words, were different, my suffering would still be the same. Today I’m in pain from higher up. Today I am simply in pain.
I look at the hungry man’s pain, and I see that his hunger walks somewhere so far from my pain that if I fasted until death, one blade of grass at least would always sprout from my grave. And the same with the lover! His blood is too fertile for mine, which has no source and no one to drink it.
I always believed up till now that all things in the world had to be either fathers or sons. But here is my pain that is neither a father nor a son. It hasn’t any back to get dark, and it has too bold a front for dawning, and if they put it into some dark room, it wouldn’t give light, and if they put it into some brightly lit room, it wouldn’t cast a shadow. Today I am in pain, no matter what happens. Today I am simply in pain.
Translated from the Spanish by Robert Bly