Cesar Vallejo (March 16, 1892 - April 15, 1938) published only three books of poetry but is nonetheless considered one of the great poetic innovators of the 20th century. Always a step ahead of the literary currents, each of his books was distinct from the others and in its own sense revolutionary.
César Vallejo was born the youngest of eleven children in Santiago de Chuco, a remote village in the Andes of Peru. He studied literature in the Universidad de la Libertad in Trujillo, Peru. The poet dropped out of the university several times, working at a sugar plantations where he saw firsthand the exploitation of agrarian workers, a sight that would influence his politics and aesthetics. Vallejo received a masters degree in spanish literature in 1915.
Later, Vallejo moved to Lima, where he lived a Bohemian lifestyle, meeting important members of the intellectual left, and working as a tutor and then a professor. The poet suffered a number of calamities in the years leading up to the publication of Los Heraldos Negros: He lost his teaching post after having refusing to marry a woman with whom he had an affair, his lover died of a failed abortion which he had forced her to undergo, his mother died in 1920, and he was imprisoned for 105 days after returning home to Santiago de Chuco and igniting a scandal there.
After publishing Trilce in 1923, the poet, having lost another professorship in Lima, emigrated to Europe, where he lived until his death in Paris in 1938. He is interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse.
Los heraldos negros (1918)
Los heraldos negros is a book with traces of Spanish Modernism in the structure of its poems. In it, the poet confronts existential anguish, personal guilt, and pain, writing famously, "Hay golpes en la vida, tan fuerte..., yo no sé" ("There are blows in life, so hard... I don't know") and "Yo nací un día / que Dios estuvo enfermo" ("I was born on a day / when God was sick"). The book of poetry sold relatively few copies, but was critically well received.
Trilce, published in 1922, anticipated much of the avant-garde movement that would develop in the 1920s and 30s. Vallejo's book takes language to a radical extreme, inventing words, stretching syntax, using automatic writing and other techniques now known as "surrealist" (though he did this before the Surrealist movement began). The book put Latin America at the center of the Avant-garde. Like James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake and Vicente Huidobro's Altazor, Trilce borders on inaccessibility.
Poemas humanos (1939)
Poemas humanos, published by the poet's wife after his death, is a leftist work of political, social poetry.