No Mexican writer did more to explore and celebrate the mysteries of Mexican life than poet and essayist Octavio Paz (pahz), considered to be the leading twentieth century interpreter of his country’s complex civilization. Paz’s poems explore life’s illusions and fragmented realities, the problem of language, the innocent individual, humankind’s loss of connection with nature and its rhythms, and the disordered, dislocated modern world. Known primarily as a poet, Paz also distinguished himself as a diplomat and essayist, delving into such areas as religion, philosophy, and politics in the course of his work.
Born into a family of intellectuals in Mexico City, Paz inherited a literary tradition through his grandfather, Irineo Paz, a newspaper publisher and novelist. His father practiced law and briefly published one of the first Spanish-language newspapers in Los Angeles, California, where the family lived for a year in the early 1920’s as political exiles. Upon returning to Mexico, his father fell victim to a political assassination and Paz, an only child, was left alone with his widowed mother.
By the 1930’s Paz had become a leading voice of a new generation of Mexican intellectuals. After completing the course of study in law at the National University, he abruptly abandoned law and Mexico, failing to turn in his final thesis and traveling to Spain during the Spanish Civil War. There, he became part of the tragic intellectual venture that culminated in the fall of the Spanish Republic. As a witness to the deaths of fellow writers, exponents of the noblest expressions of language and culture, and the destruction of human values and ideals, Paz found his poetic voice and published his first two books. They received immediate recognition. Upon his return to Mexico, he collaborated in founding two important literary journals, Taller and El hijo pródigo.
During the 1940’s Paz traveled to the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship and studied at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1944 to 1945, then lived briefly in New York. The distance created by the English language and Anglo-American culture sowed the seeds for the...
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