Che’s Poetry (3): The Black Heralds – César Vallejo

Here’s another poem from Che Guevara’s Cuaderno Verde, written by César Vallejo (1892-1938). Vallejo was Peruvian, and was called by Thomas Merton “the greatest universal poet since Dante”. Pretty strong words. The first line of The Black Heralds is also one of the most recalled in Spanish poetry. Che used this poem to open his collection, and so I imagine that he liked the opening phrase too. Yet in my opinion, the English “I don’t know” doesn’t work as well as the original Spanish “no lo sé”. Here is the original Spanish, if you’re interested. Apologies if my translation is a bit iffy at times!

The passage “dark furrows/in the fiercest of faces” seems
particularly applicable here, no offence César.

The Black Heralds (Los Heraldos Negros)
There are such powerful blows in life… I don’t know!
Blows seemingly from God’s hatred; as if, facing them,
the undertow of everything suffered
is welled up in our souls… I don’t know!
They are few; but they exist . . . They open dark furrows
in the fiercest of faces and the strongest of loins.
Perhaps they are the colts of barbaric Attilas;
or the black heralds sent to us by Death.
They are the deep falls of the Christs of the soul,
of some adored faith blasphemed by Destiny.
Those bloodstained blows are the crackling of
bread burning us by the oven door.
And the man… he is poor… poor! He turns his eyes, as
when a slap on the shoulder summons us;
he turns his crazed eyes, and all of life’s experiences
well up, like a pool of guilt, in his gaze.
There are such powerful blows in life… I don’t know!

Che Guevara’s Cuaderno Verde
Che’s Poetry (2): The Grandfather – Nicolás Guillén
Che’s Poetry (4) I Don’t Know Why You Think – Nicolás Guillén


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