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The Black Heralds

The Black Heralds


by César Vallejo

Stanza 4 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 13-16

And man…. Poor…poor! He turns his eyes, as
when a slap on the shoulder summons us;
turns his crazed eyes, and everything lived
wells up, like a pool of guilt, in his look.

  • Bringing it on home, all the suffering we've been getting in doses of metaphors is all slammed into one human package. The repetition of "poor" rubs it in. These lines describe a poor guy who turns and every single thing he's ever experienced "wells up" in his eyes. 
  • Once again, we've got some synecdoche going on here. The eyes have been called the window to the soul, but here they are a part, representing the whole of man. It's not like man has allergies, folks. The crazed eyes are meant to represent serious personal torment!
  • The consonance of the /s/ sound in line 14 sounds like a snake's hiss or maybe even the sound of the steam coming up off of the oven that burned that bread. See "Sound Check" for more on that.
  • This simile that compares the welling up in the eye to a pool of guilt is also part of a bigger metaphor that compares everything the man has ever lived or experienced to a tear welling up in his eye. 
  • The guilt is the tricky part in this stanza. Why would someone who seems to have suffered as much as this poor guy has be guilty? It is hard to say from these lines whether the man is a criminal, a murderer, an assassin, or someone who eats too much garlic. It could be the very condition of being human that makes him guilty.
  • This guilt is problematic, though, because up to here the poem has talked about suffering, and life dealing us a bad hand. Now we have to think about whether we deserve it. But isn't that what happens when bad things happen? Don't people often look for someone (as in, someone else) to blame? 
  • Think back to those "black heralds" from the previous stanza, sent to us by Death. In the poem, Death is like the mothership (a bit like the Death Star, if you will), and the black heralds and all the mean things they do in life are like the scouts (or tie fighters) sent out to explore. So if Death is behind all this suffering, and we want to know (even though the speaker says "I don't know!") where the suffering comes from, we would really have to figure out where Death comes from.
  • In the Christian religious tradition, death is usually understood as a result of the original sin—that moment when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were cast out of paradise. That sin, or that guilt (which will show up at the end of the poem) is what causes death and, therefore, suffering. 
  • And then there's always the idea of original sin, the Christian doctrine that says that all humans are born sinners, even though they're cute wittle babies, because they inherit it from Adam and Eve. Since this poem is full of other Christian references, it's probably safe to say that original sin has something to do with this "pool of guilt."
  • Do you need a tissue? This is getting sad.

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