Born in the mountains of northern Peru in 1892, César Vallejo lived in France as a journalist from 1923, where his commitment to international communism was strengthened by several trips to the Soviet Union and above all by the Spanish Civil War. When he died in Paris in 1938, his major collections, Poemas humanos and España, aparta de mí este cáliz, were still unpublished. Yet by the time a rehable Spanish language edition, Obra poética completa, (Lima, 1968) was finally printed, Vallejo criticism and scholarship had become swamped in “a cult and a legend that was to stand awkwardly between readers and his poetry” (p. 255). Today the poetry of César Vallejo is recognized as perhaps the most influential and vital poetic corpus the Spanish language has produced in this century, a poetry that responds to questions his contemporaries “had not yet begun to ask” (p. vii).
“Vallejo’s great achievement as a poet is to have interrupted that easy flowing current of words which is both a solace and the mark of our despair, to have made each poem an act of consciousness which involves the recognition of difficulty and pain. The poems do not demand that we use Vallejo as a scapegoat in order to release ourselves from experiences, but that we take up the challenge of the text” (p. 258). The analogy of the text within the complex texts of Vallejo is the focus of Professor Franco’s study, the first full-length monograph in English on the poetry of Vallejo. Nine chapters explore the problems of Vallejo’s poetic production from the earliest Los heraldos negros and the experimental Trilce, to Poemas humanos where “the poetic subject loses all connection with a structured world” (p. ix) and the last great, España, aparta . . . where Vallejo “envisaged the possibility of a new scripture inscribed by the collective sacrifice in the book of humanity” (p. ix). A tenth chapter demythologizes “the invention of Vallejo,” while an appendix provides an extremely useful “Guide to Texts and Criticism.” Professor Franco’s study is a major contribution to hispanic literary scholarship. It is an essential reference for both the specialist and the reader who encounters Vallejo’s extraordinary poetry for the first time.