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THE BLACK MESSENGERS, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


"The Black Messengers" by CÚsar Vallejo is a hauntingly beautiful work that grapples with the perplexing questions of human suffering and the existential weight of existence. The poem commences with the admission that life sometimes delivers blows so severe that they defy explanation- "In life there are blows so heavy. 'I don't know.'" The repetition of "I don't know" embodies the human perplexity in the face of inexplicable pain, an echo that resounds throughout the text.

Vallejo employs striking imagery to capture the essence of this suffering. He describes it as akin to "God's hatred," invoking a cosmic intensity and the daunting prospect of divine indifference or even malevolence. He speaks of the "undertow of all that is suffered" being dammed up in the soul, a vivid depiction of suppressed agony. These are not casual metaphors but poignant signifiers of existential weight, designed to make the reader pause and ponder the human condition.

The metaphor of "the steeds of barbaric Attilas" and "the black messengers that death sends us" lends the poem an apocalyptic tone. Here, suffering is imagined as a horseman bringing chaos or a messenger heralding death, both agents of an undeniable fatalism. These "blows" serve as harbingers of some greater, more definitive end, as if they were not mere experiences in life but omens of some larger destiny.

In a philosophical and religious sense, Vallejo touches upon the notion of the "backslidings of Christs of the soul," suggesting that these moments of anguish can feel like betrayals of one's deeply held beliefs. This allusion to Christ portrays suffering as not just physical but spiritual, invoking the idea that the depths of human pain can affect not just our bodies and minds, but our souls and the very tenets of our faith. This line encapsulates the existential doubt that often accompanies immense suffering- a crisis of faith where the individual feels "blasphemed by destiny."

One of the most striking images in the poem is the analogy of the "cracklings / Of some bread that we have burned in the door of the oven." This image captures the idea that suffering often occurs at the cusp of hope or sustenance; the bread that could have been life-giving is burnt, symbolizing opportunities lost or hopes dashed.

Vallejo closes the poem by discussing the existential crisis that such blows induce. The subject "turns his eyes," as though a secret cue has been given behind his back, but all he finds when he looks are "mad eyes" and a lifetime of experiences dammed up like a "puddle of blame." This highlights the introspective and sometimes self-blaming nature of suffering; when struck by blows we can't comprehend, we often turn inward, questioning our own culpability and worthiness.

In its totality, "The Black Messengers" serves as an exploration of the enigma of human suffering, defying easy explanations or solutions. Through poetic images that resonate with emotional authenticity, Vallejo provides a compelling and empathetic look at the universality of pain and the existential questions it evokes. It's a poem that doesn't offer resolution but creates a shared space of acknowledgment - a space where we can admit that there are things in life so overwhelming that they make us say, "I don't know."

POEM TEXT:

In life there are blows so heavy. 'I don't know.
Blows like God's hatred; as if before them
The undertow of all that is suffered
Should be dammed up in the soul. 'I don't know.'

There are few; but they exist. Dark chasms
Open in the boldest face and in the strongest back.
Perhaps they shall be the steeds of barbaric Attilas
Or the black messengers that death sends us.

They are the profound backslidings of Christs of the soul
From an adored faith, blasphemed by destiny.
These bloody blows are the cracklings
Of some bread that we have burned in the door of the oven.

And man. Wretch! Wretch! He turns his eyes,
As if behind our backs a clap of hands summons us;
He turns mad eyes and all that has been lived
Is dammed up like a puddle of blame in his look.

In life there are blows so heavy. 'I don't know.'


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