The Poem

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 471

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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 nature, to restore the word, language, to an original purity. Such a concern with the restoration of language suggests a larger goal of moving beyond the temporal and spatial barriers that traditionally frame the human condition. The poem also contains a persistent interest in transcendence through subjectivity and introspection, which leads the narrator and the reader through realms of the unconscious and ultimately to truth.

Paz shifts back and forth between personal and universal experience. This shifting is intimately connected with Paz’s concern with the double, since the double acts as a result of epistemological uncertainty: Behind seemingly simple appearances lie complexity and plurality. The double is also implicit in the poet’s awareness of life’s anguish and hopelessness. Doubt and temporal concerns, which enter A Draft of Shadows immediately, through both the title and the “two worlds” of the first stanza, draw the poet into a labyrinth that cannot be easily navigated. This difficulty in navigation contains, however, the possibility of revelation.

At the end of the poem, Paz reveals that the quest, the journey, of the preceding stanzas has been internal. The sights and sounds and understanding that this quest has provided are the results of a personal insight, and the narrator attains an elevated state of consciousness in which the shadows of the title of the poem envelop the words of the poem and the narrator.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 593

The quest metaphor is latent in much of Paz’s poetry, including A Draft of Shadows. This quest, which may be described as a search for heightened sensations, brings to the poem an element of utopianism, since it is founded on the presumption that human beings are capable of much more than they at first seem capable of doing or feeling. Furthermore, this quest or journey is primarily an inner one. It is undertaken by the active imagination and translated into poetry by means of inspiration and reflection. Therefore, in terms of Paz’s theory of poetry, the poet does not see so much as invent, by using his heightened imagination. This act of invention, which is encountered in the poem in images of breath and inspiration, is also aimed at restoring language to its original purity.

A Draft of Shadows, like much of Paz’s poetry, also contains a tension between conventional reality and poetic vision. This concern brings Paz into line with the Romantic William Blake. Heightened sensual experience and a return to innocence can be achieved by means of poetry, which is innocent (if its language is purified). This kind of innocence is opposed to culture and learning. Therefore, the child is the model for this natural innocence, since a child is a natural explorer. Childhood is, for Paz, usually a symbol for a lost paradise.

Perhaps the most important device the poem utilizes, however, is motion as evolution. The narrator’s consciousness searches throughout the poem for answers and breakthroughs that will give life meaning. He is seeking a pattern of myths that will eternalize life and, by extension, poetry. So, throughout Paz’s work, traditional mythologies are used as vehicles for specific poetic inspirations and glimpses of truth. Paz may use the symbolism, for example, of Christianity and the Nahu religion, Greco-Roman myths, Aztec myths, Brahmanism, and Buddhism. Paz retains, however, especially in A Draft of Shadows, a love for Mexico, for its sights and sounds and smells.

A Draft of Shadows also reflects Paz’s interest in Surrealism. The poem is dedicated to two of Paz’s Surrealist influences: André Breton and Benjamin Péret. A Draft of Shadows echoes a Surrealist exploration of the whole self by taking into account the individual, especially individual fantasies and dream worlds (which come to represent a better, more primitive experience).

Paz also makes extensive use of assonance and alliteration throughout the poem. This concern with the sounds of poetic language can be ironic, in which case the play of words not only calls to the reader’s mind varieties of associative meanings, but also creates a polyvalency that in turn engenders ambiguity. Such an atmosphere fosters unusual images and verbal experimentation.

Finally, another important motif running throughout A Draft of Shadows is that of the imprisoning effect of time. It is the creation of myth that enables the human being to transcend time and to find meaning in life. This is why Paz is so interested in the myths of other cultures and other historical periods. There is also a sense generally in Paz’s poetry—and this is very important in A Draft of Shadows—of the work of art, the poem, creating its own eternal moment: an awareness by the artist of a new, higher consciousness that exists apart from time. The emergence of a poem on a piece of paper, the emergence that Paz is so conscious of in A Draft of Shadows, is a magical act, similar to the creation of myths by a religion.