Cynthia Stephens translates this poem from the collection ‘Los heraldos negros’ (The Black Heralds) (1918). This is a literary translation, which attempts to create a new poem while remaining faithful to the original. Some of the difficulties which arise in such a translation are discussed, including how to render the made-up word title, which is probably a reference to January and a departure.
Poet – César Vallejo
Mi padre, apenas
en la mañana pajarina, pone
sus setentiocho años, sus setentiocho
ramos de invierno a solear.
El cementerio de Santiago, untado
en alegre año nuevo, está a la vista.
Cuántas veces sus pasos cortaron hacia él,
y tornaron de algún entierro humilde.
¡Hoy hace mucho tiempo que mi padre no sale!
Una broma de niños se desbanda.
Otras veces le hablaba a mi madre
de impresiones urbanas, de política;
y hoy, apoyado en su bastón ilustre
que sonara mejor en los años de la Gobernación,
mi padre está desconocido, frágil,
mi padre es una víspera.
Lleva, trae, abstraído, reliquias, cosas,
La mañana apacible le acompaña
con sus alas blancas de hermana de la caridad.
Día eterno es éste, día ingenuo, infante,
se corona el tiempo de palomas,
y el futuro se puebla
de caravanas de inmortales rosas.
Padre, aún sigue todo despertando;
es enero que canta, es tu amor
que resonando va en la Eternidad.
Aún reirás de tus pequeñuelos,
y habrá bulla triunfal en los Vacíos.
Aún será año nuevo. Habrá empanadas;
y yo tendré hambre, cuando toque a misa
en el beato campanario
el buen ciego mélico con quien
departieron mis sílabas escolares y frescas,
mi inocencia rotunda.
Y cuando la mañana llena de gracia,
desde sus senos de tiempo,
que son dos renuncias, dos avances de amor
que se tienden y ruegan infinito, eterna vida,
cante, y eche a volar Verbos plurales,
jirones de tu ser,
a la borda de sus alas blancas
de hermana de la caridad, ¡oh, padre mío!
Poet – César Vallejo
Fly Free January
In the fledgling morning
my ancient father,
with his seventy-eight long years,
can scarcely drag his winter branches,
all seventy-eight of them,
into the warmth of the sun.
He sees the local cemetery of Santiago de Chuco,
anointed by a merry New Year.
Many a time he took the village shortcut here,
walking, to attend some humble burial,
then making his way back home again, on foot.
Now it’s a long time since my father even left the house!
His children have fluttered and scattered away,
as if having some kind of a joke.
In the past he would discuss city matters,
public life and politics, with my mother;
but today he leans on his distinguished walking stick,
which sounded better in past times,
when the Government was in power.
My father is a different person now,
fragile and unfamiliar.
He’s on the eve of a big event,
awaiting a new beginning, a rebirth.
Withdrawn, he picks things up
and then puts them back again,
relics, memories, suggestions of things past.
The pleasant morning accompanies him,
with its Sisters of Charity white wings.
This is an eternal day, naïve and innocent;
child-like and choral, it resembles a prayer;
time is crowned with doves,
and the future is planted with caravans of roses
moving towards immortality.
Father, everything is still awakening;
January is singing, with mirth,
for the rebirth of the year;
your love echoes and rings on its journey to Eternity.
You will be laughing soon at your own little baby ones,
and their triumphal racket will fill the silence of the Void.
It will still be New Year’s day, like long ago.
Festive pies will be served, and I will be very hungry
when the bell is rung for mass in the blessed belfry,
by Santiago, the good blind man.
His conversation was so lyrical,
when I used to chat with him,
and share my fresh schoolboy syllables,
my resounding innocence.
When the new morning comes, full of grace,
its breasts of time two renunciations,
two points of love advancing;
Sister of Charity nuns, with white veils flowing,
and white sheets laid out, will pray,
reciting the Word, for infinite, eternal life.
The morning will sing out loud, and plural Verbs,
the tatters of your fragile self, will be set free;
white wings sailing over the edge, into Eternity.
Oh, my fledgling father, in January
you too, like a white dove, will fly away.
Translation by Cynthia Lucy Stephens
Copyright © 2022
This haunting poem by the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo is a filial tribute expressing love. It is about Vallejo’s old fragile father, who is struggling with his life after the death of his wife and the break-up of his family. The poem takes place on New Year’s day, and the father is portrayed as being like a young bird about to fly away sometime in January.
The title “Enereida” is a made-up word, possibly from “Enero” (January) and “ida” (departure). There may also be a reference to Virgil’s Aeneid, in which the themes of rebirth and filial piety are both important. I found translating the title the hardest part; I started with an ugly made-up word, but I ended up with a title that I like the sound of and that I think is more optimistic.
I tried to capture some of the multiple meanings within this valedictory poem. The last stanza was particularly challenging due to many interacting symbols, and entangled syntax. I split this stanza into two; in the second section I have been more “creative”, so as to encompass the wider connotations. For instance, I focus on the Sister of Charity nuns, and their white wings become white veils; also white sheets, which are laid out; this is justified by the text, as “tender” can mean to lay out a dead body. I also added the reference to a white dove in the last line, but I think this is justified as doves are mentioned in the poem, and their white wings reflect those of the nuns.
The poem is imbued with religious imagery. I used the full name of Santiago de Chucho, the village where Vallejo grew up, as for British readers Santiago tends to mean Santiago de Compostela; and I gave the blind man his real name, Santiago. Language parts participate in the poem, in the form of Syllables and plural Verbs. I have the praying nuns reciting the Word. At the end of the poem I make explicit the idea that the fragile father, like a fledgling bird, will soon fly away to a new life in Eternity.
Cynthia Stephens is a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (MCIL), the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI), and the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA). She studied English and Spanish at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, graduating in 1978, and that is where she discovered the poetry of the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo. She has recently translated a chapter of the book César Vallejo’s Season in Hell, from Vallejo en los infiernos by Eduardo González Viaña, co-ordinated by Stephen M. Hart
An excellent translation; combines accuracy with a nice pace and rhythm; not all of Vallejo’s poems have as much hope as this poem, so it’s nice to see it translated and promoted! Many thanks!
Thank you, Stephen.
It’s great to get your expert opinion – and thumbs-up!
I read this poem again and again, Cynthia, feeling its strangeness.
Thank you, Olivia.
I agree that it is a strange and fascinating poem, which deserves rereading. I probably read the original 100 times!