The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Octavio Paz’s A Draft of Shadows is a long poem in free verse. It contains more than three hundred lines and is divided into nineteen stanzas. The title immediately calls attention to an important motif in the poem: the movement or breath of hidden or elusive meaning. A Draft of Shadows is written in the first person; the narrator takes the reader on a personal and intimate journey, a journey or quest whose goal is as much to determine the nature of poetry as it is to discover the meaning of life.

Immediately, the poem concerns itself with moments of inspiration or illumination—what James Joyce has called epiphanies. Such experiences are mystical, brief, and filled with meaning. The second stanza introduces the problem of divided thought, of the opposition of culture and nature, and, by implication, natural language and experience and artificial language and experience. The narrator/poet seeks pure, natural experience to translate into life and verse. To accomplish this end, the poet explores his personal life and the lessons offered by religions.

The poem also raises immediately, in the title and in the first line, a concern with obscured light. There is a deliberate dislocation of the images of the self and of language in order to provide a new vision of truth. Therefore, linguistic and imagistic struggles occur throughout the poem. Beginning in the first stanza, there is also an attempt, which is surrealistic in...

(The entire section is 471 words.)