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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 593 words.)