Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 600

“Clear Night” is about the poet’s revelation of the interconnectedness or coexistence of things that are usually seen as opposing and separate, such as life and death, past and present, and the heavenly and the mundane. “Everything is a door” (line 16 and line 69), one reads, and “everything a bridge” (line 70). If one waits and observes closely, one will see beneath the superficial divisions in the world and understand that everything is comparable to everything else. The “light push of a thought” (line 17) is all that is needed for such a revelation.

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The vision that is celebrated is one that depends on the viewer’s arrival at a point that is neither a door nor a bridge, but a point prior to time and space, pure essence. Quite simply, in order to perceive that everything is connected, one must be outside the network of connections. At this point outside time and space, the poet is most aware of, and sensitive to, chance occurrences which would challenge the appearance of reality and reveal something more fundamental than convention or unearth something below consciousness. This is the point of expectation—the expectation that is returned to several times in the poem with the refrain, “Something’s about to happen” (lines 18, 32, and 113).

One could also say that this isolated point is the point of pure desire, for desire that is sullied with appetite and acquisitiveness must be suspended in this state. This pure desire could be called poetic desire, the desire to challenge the common view of reality through daring comparisons, through the linking together of things that seem very different. This desire is what allows Paz, in the final long section of the poem, to see woman and city as connected. The effect of this extended comparison is double. Woman becomes objectified and fragmented. This objectification of woman has been a source of criticism of Surrealist art by recent scholarship; Paz’s poem certainly bears the marks of Surrealism’s influence on him, and this treatment of woman is one of them. More positive, the second effect of the comparison is that the city is transformed from a mere construct to a living organism. Both effects, however different, show the transforming power of poetry.

In stanza 5, Paz makes an explicit claim about the power of poetry. Lamenting the human failure to defeat strife, cruelty, and misfortune, the poet finds hope in the transformative power of poetry. Even though time, which is connoted by the advance of autumn, brings death, the poet takes consolation in the fact that poetry allows one to suspend time—to get outside it. It is poetry that allows Paz to view time in a new way, as opening up. It is poetry that inspires him to link boldly life and death in the present: “the living are alive/ walking flying ripening bursting/ the dead are alive/ oh bones still hot” (lines 22-25).

Poetry is a way of experiencing reality, of reading the signs in the world. It is not a fanciful or delusory indulgence in language. It is the perception of the elusive and mysterious love painted on the hand of the world that redeems and renews the world.

“Clear Night” is a difficult poem that presents the reader with a series of paradoxical images that are finally resolved when one gets outside the poem and views it as a structure of interlinking images rather than a linear process with a beginning, middle, and end. In this way, the experience of the poem demands as much from the reader as the experience of life demands from the poet.

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