THE FINAL JUDGMENT – César Vallejo

It’s rare that we think of César Vallejo as anything other than a poet – granted, “poet” is usually accompanied by some qualifier, like unprecedented or idiosyncratic – but it must not be overlooked that,  if one sifts through the Vallejo papers, one finds that the poetry astonishingly accounts for only about one sixth of the whole. This reading of Vallejo exclusively as a poet, admittedly more common in the North than in the South, is about to change, nay, is already changing, as a group of translators in the U.S. and England are collaborating on an anthology of Selected Writings of César Vallejo, which I have taken upon myself to edit. One discovery I think the anthology holds in store for its readers is Vallejo’s oft-overlooked polytechnic approach to the practice of writing. If Against Professional Secrets was not demonstrative enough of the Peruvian’s dedication to smelting down his poetics and politics and recasting them as one, then this anthology in-progress is sure to push the envelope and, in this way, expose readers to the heretofore cropped-out landscape in which Vallejo’s poetry has been welcomed in the North as an indispensable beacon. “El juicio final”, which I translate as “The Final Judgment” was the first scene from Entre las dos orillas corre el río (The River Runs Between Two Shores), and offers a daring depiction of Lenin and the place of religion in Russia following the revolution.

–JM

THE FINAL JUDGMENT

In the house of Atovof, the pawnbroker. Winter morning in Moscow, a few years after the revolution. A miserable flat, raw light, solitude and decadence. On a cot, the pawnbroker, about to die, confesses to Father Rulak.

RULAK: (paternally) Speak slowly, my son. (placing a hand on his forehead)
ATOVOF: (panting) I was never afraid of death. But, all night, my moral strength has failed me…
RULAK: The cause of fear is death, my poor son, it’s not in the mystery of the afterlife, but in the sinful existence one has lived in this world. Children and saints die without shuddering in the least.
ATOVOF: I’m afraid it’s too late… My sin is more serious. Help me, Father, to confess it to you…
RULAK: The Almighty will know, even if you don’t have time to tell me.
ATOVOF: (with a raspy voice) Water, please…
RULAK: (giving him a glass of water) Don’t forget that life is but a valley of sorrow and that death, even for the most unworthy, is the supreme liberation and a step toward a better world.
ATOVOF: (in a painful memory, to himself) It was…
RULAK: (attentively) What are you afraid of? Place your trust in God.
ATOVOF: (decisively) Father, I have committed murder!…
RULAK: Murder?
ATOVOF: Yeah, during the revolution. I killed Rada Pobadich, the jeweler; I killed him so I could take his money.
RULAK: (filled with mercy) My poor son! You have killed… and so that you could steal!
ATOVOF: I killed him and I robbed him.
RULAK: Under what circumstances did you kill that man?
ATOVOF: (enraged) Wretch! Scoundrel!
RULAK: Lord, open the door of your infinite mercy!
ATOVOF: Father, I haven’t told you everything…
RULAK: I know, but wait a moment. Pull yourself together.
ATOVOF: It was a night, in the Red Square, a few days before the Bolshevik uprising… Rada Pobadich was there. I was following him… (coughs)
RULAK: Breath now, my son, don’t get upset…
ATOVOF: Lenin was rallying the crowd… Rada Pobadich, I don’t know how, had managed to position himself behind him, very close, almost touching him… Suddenly, a shot was fired. As in a flash of lightning I saw Pobadich aiming a revolver at Lenin, and I… I thought that the overthrow would fail so I shot at Pobadich…
RALUK: (paralyzed by these last words) He was aiming at Lenin?…
ATOVOF: Yeah, he wanted to kill him…
RULAK: But… But, my son… But, then you have saved Lenin from death?
ATOVOF: (continuing his confession) And I… took advantage of the confusion in the crowd to search his pockets… And the key… The key was there…
RULAK: (whose eagerness grows) But, let us see, my son. Rada Pobadich was truly going to kill Lenin? You’re sure that he would have killed him?
ATOVOF: Absolutely sure.
RULAK: I mean, that he would have taken out the head of the revolution, and, therefore, stopped the Bolsheviks from taking power… (still in shock) So then, it’s because of you that the red catastrophe has become a reality?…
ATOVOF: Ah! Father Rulak!…
RULAK: So you’ve saved the life of a man who brought misfortune to Russia and atheism to its souls?… (in an exclamation of holy anger) You wretch! You heinous man! The true culprit of the Russian disaster!…
ATOVOF: (profoundly) Let the wicked be forgiven!….
RULAK: Be forgiven!?… (horrified) An infinite sin!… A sin that surpasses all theological categories of sin!…
ATOVOF: (weakly outstretching his arms) Have mercy on me, Father Rulak!…
RULAK: (raising his eyes to the sky) Adesto nobis, Domine Deus Noster, et quos tuis mysteris recreasti, perpetuis defende subsidis, Per domine!… Join us, Lord our God, and defend, with the constant help of thy grace, those whom you have created to participate in thy divine mysteries!… Illuminate, Lord, my judgment with thy divine light!… (withdraws in reflection, abruptly sits up to listen and, full of anguish, exclaims) I hear the screams of the outraged church!… I hear the screams of the souls led astray by the Bolshevik devil!… The screams of my priestly conscience begging for punishment!… (leaning over the moribund man) You wretch!… Listen to your confessor!… Receive your verdict!… Do you hear me?… (waits, a deadly silence)
ATOVOF: (with a white, barely perceptible voice) He had an affair with your wife…
RULAK: (with a shudder) An affair… Who?… Who had an affair with my wife?…
ATOVOF: Rada Pobadich! (Rulak is petrified)
RULAK: (suddenly enraptured by a chaotic fit) You’re lying!… You’re mad!… You’re mad or lying right at the moment when you’re about to die!… Rada Pobadich did not know Svodna Ilivocha!… Who was he, this Rada Pobadich?… At least tell me how you knew him… Who told you?… Speak!… Tell me how!… (he suddenly falls silent, anxiously leans over the man on his deathbed, fixing his crazed eyes on him) You’re not dead yet, right?… (calls to him) Atovof! Atovof! My son!… (the pawnbroker has died, Rulak collapses, stunned) Good heavens! He’s dead! (remains laying there, pauses, and then, painfully pulls himself together, gets up from the cadaver and walks in darkness, like a blind man, like someone sleepwalking, he covers his face with both hands, falls to his knees, humbly holds the crucifix against his chest, bowing his head ever lower., then, calmly, sweetly,  whispers with infinite mercy) Lord God, with the same mercy reap every soul, large or small, that has fallen into sin…

César Vallejo, 1930

Translated by Joseph Mulligan

This entry was posted in César Vallejo, Joseph Mulligan, performance art, Politics, religion, Trans. from Spanish and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to THE FINAL JUDGMENT – César Vallejo

  1. jivinladybug says:

    Interesting Vallejo piece…keep up the work! With each new piece you translate, I feel as if the puzzle of Vallejo is becoming ever more puzzling, in the delicious sense…

    • Joseph Mulligan says:

      Thanks. Interesting point you raise: whereas translating previously untranslated works of a well-known writer usually helps us confirm our convictions, with Vallejo, we may come to question our opinions about him once we have read an ample cross-sample of his writings.

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