Octavio Paz Analysis

Other literary forms

If Octavio Paz (pahz) excelled at poetry, he is no less respected for his writings in a multitude of other humanistic disciplines. Perhaps his best-known prose work is El laberinto de la soledad: Vida y pensamiento de México (1950, rev. and enlarged 1959; The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico, 1961), which is a discussion of Mexican culture and the Mexican psyche. El arco y la lira (1956; The Bow and the Lyre, 1971) is an outstanding study in the field of poetics. His literary criticism includes Los hijos del limo: Del romanticismo a la vanguardia (1974; Children of the Mire: Modern Poetry from Romanticism to the Avant-Garde, 1974); the Charles Eliot Norton lectures for 1971-1972; The Siren and the Seashell, and Other Essays on Poets and Poetry (1976); and Corriento alterna (1967; Alternating Current, 1973). He edited a number of important anthologies, including Antología poética (1956; Anthology of Mexican Poetry, 1958) and New Poetry of Mexico (1970), and he wrote one short play.


Octavio Paz was Mexico’s outstanding man of letters, the “leading exemplary intellectual of Latin America,” as Ivar Ivask notes. His diverse output included poetry, literary criticism, philosophy, anthropology, art history, and cultural, social, and political commentary. As early as the mid-1960’s, J. M. Cohen, in his influential study Poetry of This Age, 1908-1965, cited Paz with Pablo Neruda as “two of the chief Spanish-American poets.” Carlos Fuentes has described Paz as “certainly the greatest living poet of the Spanish language,” while Kenneth Rexroth declared Paz to be “without any question the best poet in the Western Hemisphere. There is no writer in English who can compare with him.” Although some may disagree with Rexroth, all agree that Paz was one of the finest poets of the twentieth century.

Paz’s accomplishments were recognized from the outset of his career. In 1944, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, which allowed him to study and travel in the United States. In 1963, he received the prestigious Belgian Grand Prix International de Poésie. He gave the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard during the 1971-1972 academic year. In 1977, three honors were bestowed on him: the Jerusalem Prize, the Premio National de Letras, and the Premio Crítico de Editores de España. The Golden Eagle Prize (Nice, France) followed a year later. The Ollin Yoliztli Prize, Mexico’s richest literary honor, was conferred in 1980. The Miguel de Cervantes Prize, “the Spanish-speaking world’s highest award,” came in 1981. In 1982, Paz was the recipient of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, one of the literary world’s most important awards, often a prelude to the Nobel Prize. Indeed, just eight years later, Paz received the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature. Other accolades included the German Book Trade Peace Prize (1984), the T. S. Eliot Award for Creative Writing (1987), and the Alexis de Tocqueville Prize (1989). The University of Mexico and Boston, Harvard, and New York Universities conferred honorary degrees on Paz.

Discussion Topics

What role does history as a force play in Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude?

What do masks symbolize in The Labyrinth of Solitude?

Explain the title The Labyrinth of Solitude.

How does Paz’s experimentation with the physical placement of the poem on the page reflect Stéphane Mallarmé’s influence?

What is the significance of making love for Paz and how does he portray it in his poems?

According to Paz, what is the poet’s role in society?

Does contemporary society and its rules make love almost impossible, as Paz believed?


Bloom, Harold, ed. Octavio Paz. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002. A collection of essays examining the poetry of Paz, looking at motifs and Surrealistic aspects, among other topics.

Chiles, Frances. Octavio Paz: The Mythic Dimension. New York: Peter Lang, 1987. Discusses the use of myth in Paz’s poetry.

Durán, Manuel. “Remembering Octavio Paz.” World Literature Today 73, no. 1 (Winter, 1999): 101-103. A reminiscence and critical commentary on Paz’s work. Tributes to, critical essays on, and an interview with Paz. (Reprinted with additions from Books Abroad, Autumn, 1972.)

Fein, John M. Toward Octavio Paz: A Reading of His Major Poems, 1957-1986. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986. A critical analysis of six of the longer works.

Grenier, Yvon. From Art to Politics: Octavio Paz and the Pursuit of Freedom. Lanham, Md.: Rowman& Littlefield, 2001. Focuses on the ways in which Paz’s social and political views surface in his poetry.

Hozven, Roberto, ed. Otras voces: Sobre la poesía y prosa de Octavio Paz. Riverside: University of California Press, 1996. A collection of critical essays in both English and Spanish. Includes bibliographical references.

Lutes, Todd Oakley. Shipwreck and Deliverance: Politics, Culture, and Modernity in the Works of Octavio Paz, Gabriel García Márquez, and Mario Vargas Llosa. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2003. A comparative study of modernism in three Latin American authors.

Quiroga, José. Understanding Octavio Paz. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. A critical study of selected poems by Paz. Includes a bibliography of the author’s works, an index, and bibliographical references.

Underwood, Leticia Iliana. Octavio Paz and the Language of Poetry: A Psycholinguistic Approach. New York: Peter Lang, 1992. Includes illustrations and bibliographical references.

Williamson, Rodney. The Writing in the Stars: A Jungian Reading of the Poetry of Octavio Paz. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 2007. Williamson interprets Paz’s poetry through the lens of the thought of Carl Jung, paying attention in particular to the concept of the archetype.

Wilson, Jason. Octavio Paz. Boston: Twayne, 1986. A solid introduction in Twayne’s World Authors series. Contains a bibliography and an index.