The Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo (1892-1938) was a very innovative poet who write lines praised for their authenticity. Edith Grossman says, he “created a wrenching poetic language for Spanish that radically altered the shape of its imagery and the nature of its rhythms […] He saw the world in piercing flashes of outrage and anguish, terror and pity. . . . A passionate, tragic poet, he mourned our loss of moral innocence and despaired of the injustice that moves the world.” I read a poem named Under the poplars today:
Under the poplars
Like priestly imprisoned poets,
the poplars of blood have fallen asleep.
On the hills, the flocks of Bethlehem
chew arias of grass at sunset.
The ancient shepherd, who shivers
at the last martyrdoms of light,
in his Easter eyes has caught
a purebred flock of stars.
Formed in orphanhood, he goes down
with rumors of burial to the praying field,
and the sheep bells are seasoned with shadow.
It survives, the blue warped
In iron, and on it, pupils shrouded,
A dog etches its pastoral howl.
Vallejo had been imprisoned himself in Trujillo. The poets are here a metaphor for the sleeping poplars of blood, because many people have been killed on the hills. Vallejo adds the biblical image of flocks of Bethlehem, so we think of the birth of Christ. Then back to surrealist painting: They chew arias of grass at sunset.
Next, the stars become visible. The shepherd shivers at the martyrdoms of light. Can we read that like the light died because it wouldn’t let go of its ‘religion’? The flock of sheep has become a purebred flock of stars, so the dying light appears to be back in a truer form. And we’re talking Easter eyes, going from the birth of Christ straight to his ultimate sacrifice.
The sheperd was an orphan and his sheep are seasoned with shadow. What happens when he goes down and takes a look? “It” survives. What? I think of Stephen King’s “It” because I don’t want to be too serious here. But we might be talking about the sheep bells, the blue warped / in iron and pupils shrouded like a body when it is dead. Shrouded pupils can’t see the light. They are the pupils of the dog who etches its pastoral howl. The poplar-poets are still imprisoned and asleep, so beyond the pastoral howl there is nothing to say.