Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Letter of Testimony,” as the title implies, confirms several of Paz’s enduring themes: time, language, and love. Time hovers over nearly everything that he has written, an ever-present witness to human mortality. (It is interesting to note that Paz speaks very little about death, but much about time, the existence of which leads to the demise of individuals.) Time presides over “Letter of Testimony” in the first stanza. Throughout this poem, as in his other writings, Paz eschews the creation of moments outside time and even refuses the refuge offered to artists, that of claiming the immortality of art. Love (and art) can create a sense of timelessness, but the ultimate boundary is still time: “Love, timeless island,/ island surrounded by time.” Love itself in its surges imitates living and dying.

The ability to use language is one of the defining characteristics of a human being and therefore makes humans dependent on what language can and cannot do. Philosophers and writers have made this one of the common themes of the twentieth century, and Paz in his essays and poetry has constantly discussed what it means to use words. Words are symbols, labels, but not the things themselves; nevertheless, they are all that human beings have, and they give to things a kind of reality. This is particularly true when it comes to distinguishing an individual: “That word is you,/ that word/ carries you from yourself to yourself.” Language expresses...

(The entire section is 512 words.)