Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The Bow and the Lyre is Octavio Paz’s diffuse theory of poetry, which sprang indirectly from his involvement with French and Spanish Surrealists during the years 1937-1942. It is a far-ranging work which deals with fundamental questions such as the differences between poetry and prose and between poetry and poem, the nature of inspiration (and the question of its existence), the relationship of poetry and history, and by extension of the epic and the modern novel. Though it addresses the same concerns that Andre Breton considers in Manifeste du surrealisme (1924; Manifesto of Surrealism, 1969), the first of his three pronouncements on the nature and aims of the Surrealist movement, Paz’s work is by no means tied to this ideology of his youth. He has, instead, written his own highly personal, subjective, and ultimately incontrovertible study of the development of poetry and its nature in the contemporary world.

It is nearly impossible to argue against the positions Paz takes, even if one differs with his conclusions, because each is clearly grounded in a premise, admittedly his own, based on a lifetime of reading psychology, history, and aesthetics as well as literature. Though his foreword to the first edition traces the origins of his study to a series of lectures in 1942 with Spanish poet Jose Bergamin, with some of these thoughts finding their way into Paz’s El laberinto de la soledad: Vida y pensamiento de Mexico (1950, 1959; The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico, 1961), it is clear that by the time of the revised edition Paz was more concerned with the poor state of poetry in his native Mexico, where its poets were generally despised or ignored. Thus, true to his Surrealist background, Paz turns inevitably to the course of politics and the appearance...

(The entire section is 750 words.)

The Bow and the Lyre Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Brotherston, Gordon. Latin American Poetry: Origins and Presence, 1975.

Ivask, Ivar, ed. The Perpetual Present: The Poetry and Prose of Octavio Paz, 1973.

Phillips, Rachel. The Poetic Modes of Octavio Paz, 1972.

Vendler, Helen. “Diary of the Poetic Process: The Bow and the Lyre,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXIX (June 30, 1974), pp. 23-24.

Wilson, Jason. Octavio Paz, 1986.

Wilson, Jason. Octavio Paz: A Study of His Poetics, 1979.