The Black Heralds
by César Vallejo
Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
There are blows in life, so powerful…I don't know!
- This first line, one of the most important lines in modern poetry, is the speaker complaining about how life is tough, and ends up with the frustrating expression of frustration: "I don't know!"
- The punctuation tells you how to read the poem. The ellipsis (…) trails off, and then the exclamation point gives the line a burst of force at the end, kind of like the powerful blows the line mentions.
- By the way, "blows" is used here in the sense of a hostile strike or punch—it should inspire physical pain. Ouch!
Blows as from the hatred of God; as if, facing them,
the undertow of everything suffered
welled up in the soul…I don't know!
- These lines expand on the blows from Line 1. Here we find out where they come from: the hatred of God. Yowza. This is an example of a simile, where the blows are compared to God's hatred. If you thought most religious poetry was about God's love and redemption, this is not one of those kind of poems.
- The lines compare suffering to water—an undertow, welling up—in a metaphor. And this water is powerful—the undertow is what takes you a little bit further past the surf than you might want to go (try not to think about Lost or Jaws). DA-dum…DA-dum…. Pay attention to that suffering welling up in the soul—it might come back to haunt us in a few lines.
- And then there's the repetition of the "…I don't know!" phrase. What is the effect of repeating this declaration of ignorance, over and over? Perhaps this phrase gives us a sense of the desperation the speaker is feeling. And the pause that the ellipsis gives us makes us feel like that not-knowing is really weighing on the speaker.
- Don't believe us? Go ahead and read it aloud. If you describe suffering, then you pause before saying "I don't know!," it gives the not-knowing a much more desperate feel than just cheerfully tacking it onto the end of the sentence, like "I don't know! Whatevs! Let's just get a Frappuccino."