Tragi-Satiric Irony in César Vallejo’s “Poemas humanos”: Sex and Death in “Esto”

By Cheryll Javaherian.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

As scholars of the Peruvian vanguard poet, Cesar Vallejo, are highly aware, many of his poems in the posthumous collection, “Poemas humanos” [“Human Poems”] (ca. 1936), treat human sexuality in its many forms, perhaps as part of the vanguardist literary response, headed up by Guillaume Apollinaire, to the ideas of Freud and the Marquis de Sade. Included among these texts are “Un hombre está mirando a una mujer,” [“A Man Is Looking at a Woman”], which highlights the heterosexual procreative act that results in the miracle of a child, “Poema para ser leίdo y cantado” [“Poem to Be Read and Sung”], which features prostituted sex, “La punta del hombre,” [“The Tip of Man”], which associates both heterosexual and homosexual acts with war and nihilism, and the celebrated poem, “Epίstola a los transeúntes,” [“Epistle to the Passersby”], which explores onanistic sexuality. Another text of interest in this latter vein is “Esto”[“This”], which highlights a lyric speaker as onanist who perceives of existence in terms of sex and death. In “This,” the speaker’s struggle against the inevitability of death conceived in these terms is a central idea that conduces to an overriding tragic irony. The speaker embodies the pose of a self-torturing combatant who through onanism and acts of self-preservation and surrender ironically attempts to stave off the ultimate embrace of body and soul with an impersonal procreative/destructive cosmic process represented throughout the poem in the images of containment, death and sexual release: “vaina” [“sheath”/”vagina”], “the sunset of the autumnal equinox, “resbalón alcalino” [“alcaline slip”], and “ola” [“wave”]. The stylistic techniques of antithetical symbolism, gasconade, hyperbole, and meiosis are particularly helpful in elucidating such ironic meaning in this text.

Keywords: César Vallejo, “Human Poems”, Irony

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 9, pp.113-122. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 762.579KB).

Dr. Cheryll Javaherian

Associate Professor of Spanish, Department of Languages and Communication, Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, Louisiana, USA

I am a generalist in language and literary studies at a state liberal arts university, Southeastern Louisiana University, in Hammond, Louisiana, where I have enjoyed teaching every level of the Spanish language, as well as courses in its cultures and literatures, including special topics in the Latin American short story, twentieth-century Latin American poetry, listening comprehension and oral expression. My research fields of interest are Latin American literary modernism, twentieth-century vanguardist poetry of Latin America, and service learning at the university level. I have published articles in Hispanofila, Secolas Journal, Alba de America, Critica Hispanica, Hispanic Journal, the Cincinnati Romance Review, the Proceedings of a conference held in Madrid, and the International Journal of Arts and Sciences, and I have given many presentations on my research topics, particularly on Enrique Larreta (Latin American modernism), Cesar Vallejo, and Alfonsina Storni (twentieth-century vanguardism of Latin America).


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