Paz, Octavio (Vol. 10)
Paz, Octavio 1914–
A Mexican poet, essayist, diplomat, and social philosopher, Paz also has written one play. Known primarily as an epic poet, Paz in his verse departs from traditional concepts of linear time, reality, and consciousness. Like Whitman, Paz uses the concept of the Self to merge metaphorically with other sensibilities and to make personal discoveries at a deeply psychic level. (See also, Octavio Paz Criticism and volumes 4, 6, 19 and 119.)
Octavio Paz stands in the first rank of poets on the world-scene today. I'd stress the notion world-scene because it won't do thinking of him as a local, a Mexican or even South American.
Paz's poetry, uttered in what seems a direct, even brutally vigorous language, derives its transcendental thrust and vision, its visual, aural, tactile power from the intellectual authority of the French Symbolists, from Surrealism during the 20s and 30s, from English and German romantic poets—all melded through the sonorities of 17th-century Spanish Baroque masters.
What results is a poetry cosmopolitan, truly international, often somewhat mystical in a realistic or materialistic way. Partly, it's the Latin American's situation that forces such development….
The language that long ago was imposed on ancient native empires has worked to create a necessarily complex, irrational and tensely potent continuum, as is demonstrated in Paz's magnificent long chant, "Sun Stone."…
[Paz] has recently gone from his erotic, world-seeing rapturous lyrics toward a structuralist and Buddhist view, via concrete poetry, and is exploring (and erring too, I think: see "Blanco," a long poem) … the silences between words and sounds, the blank spaces between words.
Paz must emerge from this passage through theory; he has the power. He may be reacting against the way the world is being crammed...
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In spite of being a "world" poet, as glossily cosmopolitan as they come, [Octavio Paz] remains programmatically Mexican, not to say pre-Columbian; and in spite of being contemporary, so abreast of the very latest movements that he suffers, not gladly, the tag "post-avant-garde," he is still acutely conscious of belonging to his own generation, far from a young one now…. (p. 5)
A Mexican, but what is a Mexican?… The question is not a simple one for Señor Paz himself, and his many prose works on all sorts of subjects, and many of his poems too, are indirectly or directly about it. (p. 7)
A great part of his being a Mexican poet is a variable and ambivalent relation to Spain and her literature, quite like our relation to England and her literature. As we have tended to loosen the colonial relation by adopting other cultures than England's for our literary uses …, Mexico, or rather Central America, has tended to adopt other cultures as counterpoises to Spain, mainly the French…. [For] Paz the French master is not a contemporary … but, of all people, Mallarmé, and this in spite of Paz's affinities with contemporary French surrealism and his friendship with André Breton. (pp. 7-8)
The connection or, as Paz would say, the "correspondence," is surprisingly plain if you take Mallarmé in what has become his essential aspect, his use or expression of Nothingness. The full insistence on that...
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Richard C. Sterne
Octavio Paz wrote in 1953 his only play, a one-act re-creation of [Hawthorne's] "Rappaccini's Daughter." Re-creation, not simply adaptation. For while the Mexican poet does not tamper much with the plot, he significantly changes the atmosphere and meaning of the tale. Hawthorne contrasts love with "poisonous" sex, transcendent faith with imperfect empirical and rational knowledge. The tone and symbolism of "Rappaccini's Daughter" are influenced by the writings of such intensely moral allegorists as Dante, Spenser and Milton. Paz's chief concern, however, is metaphysical rather than moral; while he treats the human situation as "fallen," his idea of the fall is similar to André Breton's in Nadja: a loss of memory of a deep, original self. Like Breton, and unlike Hawthorne, Paz seeks reintegration, wholeness, through erotic love; but in La hija de Rappaccini, this love is undermined both by its external enemies—a sterile rationalism and a murderous will to power—and by the very differences between man and woman which draw them together in the first place. (p. 230)
Paz has much in common with Eastern thinkers. Specifically, the image in La hija de Rappaccini (and elsewhere in his poetry and prose) of "the other shore" ("la otra orilla") is closely related to the concept of The Other Shore in Buddhist texts. As Paz uses the term, its meaning differs from that of the "paradise" evoked by Hawthorne in that it...
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Raymond D. Souza
[The] sense of motion created by "Exclamación" and "Juventud" … is a key to the dynamic process of both poems. However, neither work contains any verbs and the poet has succeeded in creating the feeling of motion without the use of a single verbal mechanism, and this is a remarkable achievement. In "Exclamación" the skillful juxtaposition of contradictory statements produces a feeling of motion and both poems depend on the adept manipulation of words to enhance this sensation. The reader's imagination is activated and stimulated by the staccato lines and the contradictions in both poems.
"Exclamación" and "Juventud" portray an objective reality and there is little if any human presence in these poetic compositions…. [The] poetic voice narrates in an impersonal third person in both poems and this tends to enhance the sensation of human distance, at least in a personal sense. However, the reader becomes involved in the creative experience of both poems by participating in a process of discovery, and the trajectory of this experience moves him toward the attainment of an illuminating insight that transcends the limitations of material reality. Although the approach is depersonalized, it does not mitigate the reader's participation in the two poems, and this is testimony to Octavio Paz's mastery of poetic technique. The reader's subjective and limited view and the extensive visions offered by the poems are combined by a dynamic...
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[In the poems of Octavio Paz] I recognized the paradox which haunts us all, which makes of art criticism a perpetually unsatisfactory endeavor. I recognized that if the word springs ahead of thought, as Octavio said, and if it rises from the written page, and if, as he keeps repeating in all his poetry, the presencia arrives by means forever undisclosed, so does the painted image. What is true about the image, or presencia, is precisely what cannot be rendered through any other image, and especially not through that logic encountered at the circumference of experience. What I knew about visual art, I found confirmed by Octavio's poetry. (p. 32)
The mirrors and bridges and apparitions which course in the timeless currents of Octavio's creations, surfacing in the most unexpected moments to pose the paradox of creation itself, are finally justified by his faith in the presencia—which after all abides with the same durability in the works of the true visual artists. In those grand metaphors from which, by the very nature of perception, we cannot escape, finally lies the poet's power of salvage. (p. 35)
Dore Ashton, "Octavio Paz and Words and Words and Images," with translations by Andrée Conrad, in Review (copyright © 1976 by the Center for Inter-American Relations, Inc.), Fall, 1976, pp. 32-5.
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Though [Paz's] account of modern poetry is deliberately selective [in Children of the Mire], there are many passages which a more systematic historian of literature might envy. As a Latin American poet, he writes with particular authority of the relation of modernismo to European romanticism and of the extent to which positivism, for nineteenth-century Latin American writers, implied an intellectual crisis similar in its terms, if not in its scope, to that of the Enlightenment in Europe. There are signs, too, that Paz is continuing to adjust his view of the romantic tradition: thus, his long-standing interest in Nerval now takes him back more profoundly than before to the German romantics, and in particular to Jean Paul Richter, the earliest proponent of the "death of God." Whether he is speaking of intellectuals like Marx and Fourier (one of the few writers, for Paz, in whom the possibilities of poetic thought and revolutionary thought coincide), or of the differences between Eliot and Pound, his judgments are invariably accurate and often memorable. (pp. 86-7)
Occasionally, what might have been a genuine insight remains at the level of a bright idea, as when he speaks of an "intimate relation" between Protestantism and romanticism, or of the possible link between accentual versification and analogical vision. More seriously, perhaps, there are moments at which the pattern is made to seem a little too neat, as when...
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Why does the writer write? Paz once stated that this was the only valid question. He himself has been writing, as early as his classical Labyrinth of Solitude (1950) shows, in order to understand Mexico. In Vuelta he continues this commitment. A privileged moment is his return from the East (in 1969) that allows him—as happened before with Diego Rivera's return from Europe—to see the Mexican reality as if he hadn't seen it before.
Back in Mexico, Paz weeps not tears of love, as did Ulysses at the sight of his Ithaca, but of wrath, as did Moses descending from the Horeb…. Anger is all-powerful in the valley and contaminates the poet. Seeing Mexico's errors—those common to Latin America—allows him, forces him, to meditate on himself and the meaning of his vital adventure…. The autobiographical is another important thematic line of Vuelta, continuing the effort emphasized by his previous books El mono gramático (1974 …) and Pasado en claro (1975).
Paz has defined himself as a man in search of the word…. His fidelity to this destiny has been an exemplary one. Consequently he is beginning to be praised by the new generations of Hispanic readers. But this poet, finally consecrated by the literary establishment, does not permit himself to be deceived by this recognition. He knows that, in a real sense, he has not "arrived."…...
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