45 years of translation: The complete poetry of Cesar Vallejo

Aug 25, 2014

Cover of The Complete Poetry: Cesar Vallejo
Cover of The Complete Poetry: Cesar Vallejo
Credit University of California Press

Forty-five years.

That’s how long it took Clayton Eshleman to translate the complete poetry of renowned Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo.

Eshleman is professor emeritus in the English department at Eastern Michigan University. He is a poet and a translator. His decades of work have become a book titled "The Complete Poetry: Cesar Vallejo."

Vallejo was born in the Peruvian Andes more than a century ago and died in 1938 at age 46. Eshleman says the terribly hard life Vallejo led still holds some key lessons today.

“A poet must learn how to become imprisoned in global life as a whole, and in each moment in particular,” says Eshleman.

Reflecting on his own undertaking over the decades, Eshleman says he was surprised that he had the stamina to do this, and he had no idea his "Vallejo journey" would involve a frustrating nine months in Lima, Peru, and a decade of rewording old translations.

“When you take on one of these big projects, you learn things about yourself, and about your commitment to the art, and what poetry can be,” says Eshleman.

*Listen to our conversation with Clayton Eshleman above.