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THE BLACK CUP, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


"The Black Cup" by CÚsar Vallejo presents a world steeped in somberness, where darkness serves as a metaphor for existential angst and the complexities of human emotion. The opening line, "The night is a cup of evil," immediately establishes the night not merely as a time of day but as a chalice brimming with malevolence and suffering. Vallejo cleverly uses the image of the "sharp whistle of the watchman" cutting through the night as a "vibrant blade," indicating that even attempts to safeguard or monitor this darkness cannot mitigate its innate torment.

The poet directly addresses a "little woman" who seems to have left him, asking, "Why is the wave still black and still sets me afire?" Vallejo equates his emotional turmoil to an endlessly dark wave, emphasizing the paradoxical nature of suffering; it is both cold (black) and agonizingly intense (setting him afire).

He further elaborates that the "Earth has edges of a coffin in the darkness," perhaps suggesting that the enveloping night reminds him of mortality and the finite nature of human existence. The poet seems to be grappling with existential angst, insinuating that the absence of the woman intensifies his awareness of life's transience. He tells her, "Listen, you little woman, don't come back," almost as if he's trying to shield her from sharing in his haunting realizations.

The phrase "My flesh swims, swims" evokes a visceral sense of entanglement with darkness, like sinking into a marsh. He refers to his suffering as being stuck "in the cup of darkness that still hurts me," making it abundantly clear that his pain is not just emotional or intellectual but also deeply physical. It is a comprehensive experience that envelops him entirely. He describes this as being akin to being stuck "in the marshy heart of a woman," a line that suggests his suffering is intertwined with his emotional relationship to the woman he addresses. His flesh "swims" in her heart and is mired in the complications of love and loss.

The imagery shifts to a cosmic scale as he refers to "Starry coal," emphasizing the darkness that engulfs even celestial bodies. The poet claims to have felt "dry rocks of clay" falling over his "diaphanous lotus," indicating that his inner purity or spirituality is being smothered by harsh external realities. Here Vallejo echoes the duality of existence: the ethereal and corporeal, the sublime and the mundane, coexisting in a fraught balance.

He blames the woman for his current state, saying, "Ah, woman! Through you the flesh made of instinct exists." It's as though he holds her responsible for the tangible, raw pain he experiences, asserting that she embodies the flesh and its attendant suffering.

The poem closes with the speaker still ensnared in the "black cup," choking on its dust. His "thirst paws in his flesh," a desperate, animalistic metaphor that emphasizes the incessant, gnawing nature of his suffering.

"The Black Cup" serves as an intriguing meditation on the themes of darkness, emotional torment, and existential dread. Vallejo crafts a poignant narrative of despair, complex human relationships, and the cosmic scale of individual suffering, leaving an indelible impression of the inescapable 'black cup' that each of us, in some form or another, must drink from.


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