Octavio Paz's beautiful and mysterious poem reflects many of the ideas that characterize his work in the early 1950s after his return to Mexico from Paris. Like the other verses in the volume Semillas para un himno (Seeds for Hymn) in which it appears, the style of the twenty-two-line, visually rich, unrhymed, unpunctuated poem shows the influence of surrealism, an aesthetic movement that aimed to expand human self-expression by rejecting rational control and deliberate intent in favor of uncensored images springing from the subconscious. The poem describes a mythical landscape at the beginning of creation whose unity is suddenly shattered. With the fragmentation of this previously undifferentiated world comes human language. The images presented in the poem are unexpected and startling while having familiar echoes from myths of the Christian tradition and ancient Mexico.
The imagery, tone, and subtle allusions in the poem combine with powerful effect to present a picture of a paradise lost. The poem may be read as a depiction of a world corrupted by humans' attempt to express it in intellectual terms. It may also be viewed as a commentary on the modern predicament where humans are removed from each other because their lives lack the cohesion and meaning found in the sacred ancient myths. Another understanding of the poem is of the limitations of language to express the raw human experience that resides in the subconscious. The related themes of myth and language that figure in much of Paz's poetry are explored in "Fable" with characteristic insight, elegance, and erudition, but ultimately the poem offers no simple explanations about the nature of these subjects. Like the ancient myths themselves, the poem presents a story whose universal truths are not explicitly told but which lie buried, to be discovered using imagination and an opening up of the subconscious mind.