On Time and Space in Trilce

Here is an interesting piece on Vallejo’s Trilce, “The Walls Add Up to Four O’Clock” by Beatriz Rivera-Barnes. There is also John Caviglia’s “Un punto entre cero: el tema del tiempo en Trilce,Revista Iberoamericana 80 (1972): 405-429.

Caviglia says Trilce was not a “revolution” in Vallejo’s art but a development of tendencies already present in Los heraldos negros. He sees Trilce as a conservative book, in that Vallejo here tried to express the continuity of his present self with his past one(s). Caviglia goes on to say that:

1. The “revolution” of T had already started in LHN, and T’s innovations were primarily formal or stylistic ones.

2. Part of V’s anguish was Proustian: the fear of seeing his past self converted into an alien or unknown one.

3. This ANGUISH ABOUT TIME is the principal theme of LHN and also T, and it inspires their substrata.

4. V’s first poems were dscriptions of the countryside, written with Modernist influence. In “Aldeana” words like angustias, mustias, sangrar, doliente cover the scene with rhetorical anguish. Thus the countryside gets transformed into the correlative of the poet’s sensibility.

5. This is not indigenismo, or is it primarily about that: it is about a more abstract anguish.

6. In related LHN poems the poet is present in the Andean atmosphere as a “tenue niebla afectiva.”

7. In T we no longer have whole paisajes described, but only pieces of them; still these pieces incorporate the speaker’s affective state in the same way as whole paisajes did in LHN.

8. Phrases like “una caravana de piedras azules” are reminiscent of surrealist painting with its nearly empty canvases, whereupon there march a few significant objects deformed by thought. It is as though V had gone from being an Impressionist to becoming a Dalí or a Tanguy.

9. In both LHN and T, but especially in T, the incongruence of the combination of objects is very great. It is not that this poetry adorns the external world with sentiments. It adorns the world with the structure of these sentiments. “El paisaje exterior se cambia en paisaje cerebral, espacio vital” (408).

10. This centripetal tendency in LHN is more marked in T. It is a truly original movement inward, since its language is so private, so elliptical. The objects are subjective correlatives of the poet’s psychic state and emblems of V.

11. The originality of T is that V does not use traditional symbols in anything like the traditional way: the moon, for instance, in Vallejo is not the chaste Diana we see even in the radical verses of Laforgue. In T, as with Mallarmé, the “language of the tribe” is elevated to a new meaning. We have to figure out V’s system of meaning without depending upon others. Individual poems must therefore be read in the context of the entire work.

12. Now Caviglia gives an example, reading T XIX (“A trastear, Hélpide dulce, escampas”). This poem is a dialogue of body and soul; only by converting ourselves into beasts or stones do we escape anguish. . . . The reader has to learn this poetry like a new language, and T should perhaps be seen as a single poem, not 77 poems. But the obsessive theme is time, and from this we can create a basic grammar of T’s motifs. Caviglia will do this by studying three dimensions of time in V.


13. We should love the present, suggests V (see T LXX); but this theme is the product of our awareness of death. As humans, we think of past and present. And thinking and writing always have to happen at one remove from the present. And mind and body pull upon one another, making the experience of each more complicated and less complete. In T XVIII, for instance, the body is a prison and indicates the limitation of existence.

14. In T LXXV the membrane is “el filo del tiempo que avanza y que . . . Vallejo asocia al dolor” (413). The present is a wall or membrane, the past is a temporal volume, and paradoxically, existence is only possible inside the amplitude of death. This is because the past is so large, it has so many memories, and it so often “visits” the present . . . so V, by expressing the dimensions of time through concrete spatial metaphors, throws into reliev the Proustian problem: how can a person, aware that life is a progression to death, establish a vital continuity with the past?

15. The future also has its volume and its membrane. T XL explores a child’s idea of the future. This poem refers to a screen facing the future (you can see it is the future because it is as yet uninhabited). The present, thin and narrow, is trapped between past and (as yet inexistent) future. The present is a vicious circle. . . . we may get rescued by a third arm, a fifth wheel (T XX).

16. On numbers: each present bears one, and the past is full of them. Hours, dates. The present moves in geometric lines, expelling the past continually behind it (T LXVII). These lines become threads, like those of the Fates (T XXXIII). And the present is a point without extension. So to exist in a point is almost not to exist: “match and match in the darkness, tear and tear in the dust-cloud” (T LVI).

17. In T LV death is soddering “cada lindero a cada hebra de cabello perdido”): “cada segundo es el lindero del pasado que lo mata y lo absorbe.” The present is so brief that it is “el lindero de la nada” – it becomes past almost instantly (419).


18. V seeks the past, and one place to seek it is in the mirror. Even looking in the mirror for the future, the poet sees what is behind him (the past). Thus mirrors meld what is ahead and what is behind in a single direction, so that we see both “flancos diarios” in a single glance. That is why there is so much life in the mirror, but it is dead (past; see T LXXV) . . . .

19. In T XX, the father is shining the child’s shoes, he believes in order; the child is beginning to “deletrear los enredos de enredos de los enredos” and makes her shoe more complicated, anointing it with a little saliva and earth.


20. Neither past nor present is viable for this poet. Child of this couple, V is an orphan. He has moments of hope for the future, and uses the color green; he likes seeds and buttons; but of course, the future only means future decay and furthermore it does not exist.

21. Colorless transparency represent the attractive lack of existence in T: the sea, the crystal which is “pan no venido” (T LIX). These substances seem to represent possibility…which is also only provisional…


22. The future will also become present and past. The zeros will always go to the left. Nor does V really accept art as a way out, as do Baudelaire, Proust, and Machado. T LXXVII is about poetry but even here “subimos acaso para abajo.”

23. Life is disorganized, chaotic, not artistic; numbers and harmony with poetry; there is a savage but vital substratum (see T I). In T LXXIII, V declares the only truth is in pained incoherence (“ay”) and that attempts to harmony are absurd.

24. [I am missing the last page of this article but I will find it. What does he conclude, and how is this related, among other things, to Kristeva’s semiotic and symbolic orders?]


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