Exhuming Vallejo, Or: The Third Way

I have an essay in this month’s issue of Poetry that begins like this:Ceoec

“I first read César Vallejo in college, when a Peruvian friend presented me with several of his poems as if they were national treasures she had smuggled through customs. I was struck most forcefully by a strange sonnet called “Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca,” and though I knew none of the existing translations, I was minoring in Spanish and could read the original well enough. Here is that original followed by my latest attempt at a translation of my own:

I recall my younger self being astonished by this: the arresting vatic opening, the disorienting shift of both perspective and tense at the turn, the cosmic trial implicit in the final tercet. But I was also puzzled by some parts (the title and the often mistranslated line about the humerus bones) and repelled by others: I thought I saw, particularly in the sestet, self-pity of a high order, and I felt a callow urge, not well received by my Peruvian friend, to mock poor, whiny César.”