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Two poems that I come back to again and again Mar 3, 2005
There has been no experience in my life so transforming as my three years of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru thirty-five years ago, and one of the parts of that experience that still speaks to me most is having had the opportunity to hear César Vallejo's poems recited in their original language in the Andean world in which they were conceived.
The two poems in this collection that I come back to again and again are "Piedra Negra sobre una Piedra Blanca" and "The Heraldos Negros."
The poem "Piedra Negra sobre una Piedra Blanca" distills the suffering and demonstrates the courage with which César Vallejo faced life. Composed in 1936 while he was absorbed by the Loyalist cause in Spain, Vallejo foresaw his own death in the poem when he wrote: "Me moriré en París con aguacero, un día del cual tengo ya el recuerdo" - a death that was to occur two years later at age 46 when he died of an intestinal infection in a Paris sanitorium.
"Los Heraldos Negros" contains only 17 lines and takes less than a minute to recite, but those 17 lines have taken me a lifetime to understand. Once again Vallejo delivers a shocking first line - "Hay golpes en la vida, tan fuertes... ¡Yo no sé!" - that the rest of the poem expands with violent imagery. If the measure of a poem is to how deeply it touches your soul, then I consider this poem to be one of the greatest I have heard.