Octavio Paz Essay - Critical Essays

Octavio Paz Poetry: World Poets Analysis

Any poet whose worldview has a chance to develop and mature over an extended period of time will create different types of poetry. Eliot, for example, began with short lyrics, moved toward longer and deeper pieces such as The Waste Land (1922), and concluded with the powerfully philosophical Four Quartets (1943). Eliot provides an especially germane analogue, since Octavio Paz was influenced by his work and is often compared to him thematically and stylistically; as J. M. Cohen remarked, “With the exception of T. S. Eliot, Octavio Paz is the only contemporary poet capable of feeling his metaphysics, and calling them to life.”

Paz, too, began his career writing short lyrics, advanced to longer, surrealistic pieces, reworked the prose poem, and finally, after more than a quarter of a century of creative activity, began to experiment with collagelike texts and assemblages that bear little relation to poetry as traditionally defined. Such experiments follow the logic of Paz’s stylistic evolution; he has always been a self-conscious poet and he has written many poems about poetry and the nature of the creative process. Indeed, Paz’s conception of poetry is philosophical: Poetry alone permits humans to comprehend their place in the universe.


In “Poesía” (“Poetry”), for example, Paz personifies this power of language to engage reality: “you burn my tongue with your lips, this pulp,/ and you awaken the rages, the delights,/ the endless anguish. . . .” The creative act is perceived as a struggle and the poet as a vehicle through whom words are spoken, comparable to a Greek oracle: “You rise from the furthest depth in me. . . .” Paz’s references to images as “babblings” and to “prophets of my eyes” confirm the implication of oracular utterance. The poet is a seer, and only his articulation can defeat the ubiquitous silence of the universe.

“The Bird”

It is silence against which Paz battled most consistently, beginning with his early lyric pieces. Silence can be neutral, but it also represents Camus’s indifferent cosmos, offering neither help nor solace. “El Pájaro” (“The Bird”) presents the neutral form of silence, a natural scene broken by a bird’s song. Ironically, articulation is not a palliative; here, it merely reminds the poet of his mortality. There is the silence of lovers, the silence of solitude, and the silence of death—silences that can be broken only by the poet. Other thematic threads that run through Paz’s poetry—recurring images and motifs such as light, lightning, women, transparency, mirrors, time, language, mysticism, cycles, the urban wasteland, and various mythic perceptions—all can be related to his conception of the nature of poetry.

“Stars and Cricket”

Many of Paz’s poems fall within traditional lengths, ranging from roughly ten to thirty lines, but he has not hesitated to publish the briefest haiku-like outbursts. Consider “Estrellas y grillo” (“Stars and Cricket”) in its cryptic entirety:

The sky’s big.Up there, worlds scatter.Persistent,Unfazed by such a night,Cricket:Brace and bit.

Sun Stone

At the same time, Paz also experimented with the long poem. His Sun Stone consists of 584 eleven-syllable lines of abstruse rumination:

I search without finding, I write alone,there’s no one here, and the day falls,the year falls, I fall with the moment,I fall to the depths, invisible pathover mirrors repeating my shattered image. . . .

“Interrupted Elegy”

One of Paz’s most moving poems is “Elegía interrumpida” (“Interrupted Elegy”), a philosophical description of a number of people whose deaths affected the poet. Each of the poem’s five stanzas begins with the same incantation: “Now I remember the dead of my own house.” From this point, Paz muses on first impressions, those who take...

(The entire section is 1795 words.)