César Vallejo’s Poemas humanos (Human Poems), was written between 1931 and 1937, and published in Paris in 1939 by Georgette Vallejo, (widow of the poet) and Raúl Porras Barrenechea. The edition also contained two other poetry books by Vallejo written between 1923 and 1929: Poemas en prosa, and España, aparta de mí este cáliz.
Poemas humanos refers to a group of 76 poems, differentiated from the Poemas en prosa. In 1961 they appeared as an independent book published in Lima and later, in a new edition of the Obra poética completa de Vallejo (Lima, Francisco Moncloa Editores, 1968).
Critics have considered Poemas humanos to be amongst the best of Vallejo’s work. It is said that during the Parisian edition, Georgette and Raúl Porras doubted what title to choose for this group of poems, for Vallejo had left it in a folder without any title indication. Georgette kept a notepad of the poet, in which he mentioned a book of human poems; and it seemed to him that this could be an adequate title.
However, the label “poemas humanos” (in lowercase, in the notebook) was an allusion to the subject of a book in motion, not its title. And years later, Georgette considered that the most successful would have been to title this set “Versos Nuevos” (New Verses).
After the Paris edition of 1939 other editions appeared: Poesías completas (Complete Poems) 1918-1938. Which had a compilation, prologue, and notes by César Miró (Buenos Aires, Editorial Losada, 1949). And in 1968, Georgette published the complete poems, along with the original manuscripts in facsimile. Other editions of the complete works of Vallejo have respected the division of the Moncloa edition. Although in this edition Georgette changed the order in which he arranged the poems in 1939. In the Moncloa edition, Poemas humanos are 76, and according to Georgette’s testimony, they were written between October 1931 and November 21, 1937. The best-known poem in this book is “Piedra Negra Sobre Una Piedra Blanca” (Black Stone on a White Stone).
I shall die in Paris with heavy showers,
on a day of which I already possess the memory.
I shall die in Paris – and I’m not dismayed –
perhaps on Thursday, like today, in the autumn.
Its title alludes to the tradition of the inhabitants of Santiago de Chuco -city of the poet- of placing a black stone on a white stone to mark the burials.