Born in Lima to an upper-middle-class family Heraud was deeply affected by the political turmoil that rippled out from the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and influenced much of Latin America. In the early 1960s guerrilla movements formed in many South American countries. The Peru Reader offers this succinct description: “In Peru, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left, and the Army of National Liberation were short-lived, reflecting a fatal miscalculation by these mostly light-skinned intellectuals, who wrongly assumed that peasants and Indians would rally around them to overthrow the old order” (Starn 292). Heraud not only believed in this revolutionary movement to the point of writing about it, he also acted and joined the guerrilla fight. In May, 1963, while crossing a river in the Amazonian village of Puerto Maldonado, after securing weapons in Bolivia, Heraud was shot and killed, at the age of 21.
In 1970 Jesús Cabel published a small volume of essays and poetry in homage to Heraud. In his essay in this volume, Cabel wrote: “Javier como el Che, es ejemplo de un revolucionario que es también intelectual, y no de un intelectual que “aspira” a ser revolucionario. Sabemos que muerto, él sigue en cambate con un arma más temible: el ejemplo.” Translation: Like Che, Javier is an example of a revolutionary that is also intellectual, but not just an intellectual that “aspires’ to be revolutionary. We know that in death he continues to battle with a more fearsome weapon: by example.
Palabra de Guerrillero
by Javier Heraud
Porque mi patria es hermosa
como una espada en el aire,
y más grande ahora y aun
mas hermosa todavía,
yo hablo y la defiendo
con mi vida.
No me importa lo que digan
hemos cerrado el pasado
con gruesas lágrimas de acero.
El cielo es nuestro,
nuestro el pan de cada día,
hemos sembrado y cosechado
el trigo y la tierra,
y el trigo y la tierra
y para siempre nos pertenecen
las montañas y los pájaros.
A Guerrilla’s Word
translation by Shawn Dallas Stradley
Because my country is beautiful
like a sword in the air,
and more grand now even
more beautiful also,
I speak and I defend it
with my life.
It is not important to me what
the traitors say,
we have closed the past
with thick tears of steel.
The sky is ours,
ours the bread of every day,
we have planted and harvested
the wheat and the earth,
and the wheat and the earth
and they belong to us forever
the mountains and the birds.
Even though he was young, Heraud was beginning to be recognized in his own right as a poet of consequence in the contemporary literature of South America. At the time of his death, and in the few years that followed, there were many commemoratory events held to honor his life and his poetry. There were also many poems written by fellow Peruvian poets in homage to Heraud, including poems by: Jesús Cabel, Antonio Cisneros, Alberto Hidalgo, Javier Sologuren, and Gustavo Valcárcel, to name a few.
During the last year I have been translating Heraud’s poetry into English. Almost as a natural consequence to this work I have also written an homage to Javier Heraud.
by Shawn Dallas Stradley
A green apple fills the breadth
of the wooden box at its widest
point, just like the enormous
apple fills an entire room in the
painting Listening Room by Magritte.
This wide place is right where
Javier’s chest would be. This green
pome is surrounded by blaze-
orange marigolds, a field of death’s
desire and joy. The lid is lined
with pebbles collected from the river
where he was shot. Fragments
of his lines are scrawled in Spanish
on the outside of the lid. Strung
together they read I am the river
- Cabel, Jesús. “Javier Heraud / Pequeña Antología y Homenaje.” Palabra de Guerrillero. Volumen (1). Lima, Peru: Editorial W. A. Gonzales S. A. 1970, p 292.
- Heraud, Javier. Poesía Reunida. Lima: Peisa. 2010, p 275.
- Starn, Orin. The Peru Reader. Durham, England: Duke University Press. 1995, p 292.