César Vallejo was born in 1892 in Santiago de Chuco, a tiny village in the Peruvian mountains. He always felt marginalised because of his mixed-race background and humble origins. Throughout his poetry and in his life he showed an extraordinary sensitivity to injustice and the pain of other human beings.
His interest in poetry began at a very young age, first through reading the romantic and classical authors, and later the modernists. His first volume of poetry, The Black Heralds, was published in 1919. The work reveals a modernist influence in its language and in the use of images with symbolist intent. Nonetheless, the poet was already at this point moving away from Modernism, as can be seen in his attempt to depict daily life, and in his use of conversational language. The Black Heralds suggests a gloomy vision of the world. Humanity is in a state of guilt and subject to the whims of fate. There is no balm for human pain. It seems that Vallejo, a deeply religious poet, is lamenting God's abandonment of humanity.
In his next work, Trilce (1922), the break with earlier poetry is complete. The poems have an even more pronounced sense of the pessimism already present in his previous work, but the anguish and desolation appear through a new poetic language, free of modernist features. The anecdote disappears completely. The language breaks down. The syntax at times disappears. All this creates the impression of a chaotic world full of anguish, in a work which would become one of the most important of the avant-garde poetic movement.
Vallejo moved to Paris, where he met up with figures of the European avant-garde and became a close friend of Juan Larrea. In 1928 he joined the Communist Party. He survived his major financial problems through various contributions to newspapers.
He also travelled to Spain, co-operating with the Republic to write fifteen texts about the Civil War, published in 1939 under the title Spain, Take This Cup from Me, a work in which he overcomes his tragic and pessimistic concept of the world to feel solidarity with those who suffer. The actions of the people will, for Vallejo, bring about an end to injustice and the possibility that human beings might combat the cosmic forces spreading pain around the world.
César Vallejo died in Paris on 15 April 1938, fulfilling the premonition of one of his verses:
I shall die in Paris in a rainstorm,
On a day I already remember.