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Cynthia Stephens translates this poem from the collection ‘Trilce’ (1922). 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, as it is a semantically complex poem in which multiple meanings echo through the voice of the scared child to that of the terrified adult.





Poet – César Vallejo

Original Poem:

Trilce III

Las personas mayores
¿a qué hora volverán?
Da las seis el ciego Santiago,
y ya está muy oscuro.

Madre dijo que no demoraría.

Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel,
cuidado con ir por ahí, por donde
acaban de pasar gangueando sus memorias
dobladoras penas,
hacia el silencioso corral, y por donde
las gallinas que se están acostando todavía,
se han espantado tanto.
Mejor estemos aquí no más.
Madre dijo que no demoraría.

Ya no tengamos pena. Vamos viendo
los barcos ¡el mío es más bonito de todos!
con los cuales jugamos todo el santo día,
sin pelearnos, como debe de ser:
han quedado en el pozo de agua, listos,
fletados de dulces para mañana.

Aguardemos así, obedientes y sin más
remedio, la vuelta, el desagravio
de los mayores siempre delanteros
dejándonos en casa a los pequeños,
como si también nosotros
no pudiésemos partir.

¿Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel?
Llamo, busco al tanteo en la oscuridad.
No me vayan a haber dejado solo,
y el único recluso sea yo.


Poet – César Vallejo


Trilce III

Where have the grown-ups gone?
When will they get home?
Darkness has fallen in our village now,
it’s six o’clock and the light has gone.
Blind Santiago is ringing the bells.

Mother said she wouldn’t be long.

Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel,
be careful going out there, where
the souls of the dead have just passed,
sounding a death knell.
Double sorrows, ghosts,
are dragging their twanging memories
through our silent yard,
squawking, suffering, haunting.
So the sleeping hens
have been spooked and frightened away.

Better for us just to stay here quietly.
Mother said she wouldn’t be long.

We mustn’t be sad now.
Let’s go and look at our toy boats.
Mine is the prettiest of them all!
We’ll play with them the whole blessed day,
without fighting, as it should be:
they’re still in the pool, ready,
loaded up with sweet things for tomorrow,
ready for departure.

Let’s wait like this then, obediently,
not that we have any choice.
Let’s wait for them patiently,
for an apology from the two-faced grown-ups,
who are always ahead,
leaving us, the little ones, at home,
as if we couldn’t
as if we couldn’t also go away.

Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel?
I’m afraid of this punishment.
I call out, groping in the darkness,
searching through trial and error.
Surely they haven’t left me all alone,
in jail, doubled-up in pain.
Why am I the only prisoner?
The only condemned one!

Translation by Cynthia Lucy Stephens
Copyright © 2022


This haunting poem by the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo is about fear and loss. It expresses grief at the deaths of his brother Miguel followed by his mother, and the dreadful solitude following the break-up of his family and the end of his childhood. I see also the persecution and solitude later felt by Vallejo in his prison cell in Peru in 1920, held under never-proven charges, before he escaped on a boat to France and a life of exile.

I have tried to capture some of the multiple meanings echoing throughout this evocative poem. I divided the long sentence, in order to express double-edged meanings in the phrase “gangueando sus memorias / dobladoras penas”. “Gangueando” means “twanging” and “speaking through the nose”. I chose “squawking” because of the hens, but also because its discordant tones convey the difficulty of expressing painful memories. I focused on the active presence of the dead. “Penas” can mean “sorrows” or “souls of the dead” or “punishments”. “Dobladoras” could be “double”, “duplicitous”, or “doubled-over”, but I also wanted the sense of “doblar campanas”, to “toll”, or “doblar a muerto”, to “sound a death knell”, so as to connect with the blind bell-ringer Santiago from his childhood village.

The souls of the dead follow the child and the man, as the child waits in the village for his parents to come home, and in the last stanza the man reaches out for his lost siblings in the jail. He is afraid, like the hens from his childhood yard; he fears he may be left alone forever in a prison cell. This is a poem about departures and people not coming back home. Perhaps also a fear of his own future exile can be glimpsed within the ambiguous connotations of this complex poem.

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.