The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Letter of Testimony” is a long meditative poem in free verse. Divided into three parts, it is subtitled “Cantata” and concludes with a nine-line coda.

The poem begins at dusk, that uncertain moment between light and dark that can stand perfectly as a symbol for the flow of time. As day darkens, so does the page on which the poet is writing. Once again the reader is in touch with one of Octavio Paz’s favorite scenarios for his long meditative poems: the writer writing at night.

Writing supposes a curious kind of conversation that is almost three-way: The poet talks to himself and to the woman he loves (in this case Paz’s wife, the subject of most of his late poems). Writing, or the conversation that it stands for, should be natural, the way a tree talks to the air, or the way water flows or fire sparks. As always, however, Paz realizes only too well the multifarious nature of words. If words are bridges between objects in the world and human consciousness, they are also “traps, jails, wells.” Nevertheless, as they define and describe, they do create meaning and character: “that word is you.” Words are bridges to the past (as in the poem “San Ildefonso Nocturne”), and here they lead to a memory evoked by the author of his wife as a child, sleeping at the age of nine among the mimosa, near the city of Meknes in Morocco.

Part 2 reiterates the slippery nature of words but emphasizes that they speak to humans,...

(The entire section is 465 words.)