César Vallejo

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César Abraham Vallejo Mendoza (March 16, 1892 – April 15, 1938) was a Peruvian poet. 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. Thomas Merton called him "the greatest universal poet since Dante". Always a step ahead of the literary currents, each of his books was distinct from the others and, in its own sense, revolutionary. Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia's translation of The Complete Posthumous Poetry of César Vallejo won the National Book Award for translation in 1979. The late British poet, critic and biographer Martin Seymour-Smith, a leading authority on world literature, called Vallejo "...the greatest twentieth-century poet in any language."



César Vallejo was born the youngest of eleven children in Santiago de Chuco, a remote village in the Andes of Peru. He studied literature at University of Trujillo in Trujillo. Lack of funds forced him to withdraw from studies for a time and work at a sugar plantation, the Hacienda Roma, where he saw firsthand the exploitation of agrarian workers, an experience which had an important impact on his politics and aesthetics. Vallejo received a BA in Spanish literature in 1915, the same year that he became acquainted with the bohemia of Trujillo, in particular with APRA co-founders Antenor Orrego and Victor Raul Haya de la Torre.

In 1916 Vallejo moved to Lima, where he studied at National University of San Marcos, read, worked as a schoolteacher, and came into contact with artistic and political avant-gardes. While in Lima, he also managed to produce his first poetry collection, Los Heraldos Negros. Despite its printed publication year of 1918, the book was actually published a year later (see below); it owes much to the influence of the poetry and other writings of fellow Peruvian Manuel González Prada, who had only recently died. Vallejo then suffered a number of calamities in the next few years: he refused to marry a woman with whom he had an affair and thus lost his teaching post, he suffered the death of his mother in 1920, and he went to prison for 105 days for alleged intellectual instigation of a partisan skirmish in his hometown, Santiago de Chuco. In 1922 he published his second volume of poetry, Trilce, still one of the most radically avant-garde collections in the Spanish language. After publishing the short story collections Escalas melografiadas and Fabula salvaje in 1923, the poet emigrated to Europe under the threat of further incarceration and remained there until his death in Paris in 1938.

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