The Poetry of Paz Critical Essays

Octavio Paz

Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

In Mexico the tradition of poetry extends back into ancient times. Even in pre-Columbian days the country could boast of poets among some of the Indian rulers and an oral poetic tradition of great aesthetic value mingled with rites and mythologies. The Indian poet performed an official function and was the speaker of the community. When the Spaniards arrived, they found, mainly among Aztecs, a rich body of poems, both lyric and epic, chanting the eternal themes of mankind: divinity, death, time, beauty, and the heroic deeds of warriors and gods. During the so-called colonial period, under Spanish rule, Mexico continued to speak with poetic voice. The European literary movements of Baroquism and Neoclassicism found a well-prepared soil in which poetic expression could flourish. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a nun considered perhaps the best feminine poet in Spanish-speaking countries, left a copious testimony of poems of standing value. Later, at the turn of the nineteenth century, Modernism was represented in Mexico by poets of great renown, such as Gutierrez Najera, Diaz Miron, Othon, Gonzalez Martinez, Nervo, and Urbina, who together with other Spanish-American poets, especially the leader of the movement, Ruben Dario, gave to the Western world the first uncontaminated and original literary expression of Latin America.

In this century, though poetry has been somewhat disregarded, Mexican writers have not completely neglected the poetic attitude. Lopez Velarde, Torres Bodet, Pellicer, Jose Gorostiza, Novo, and Villaurrutia represent, among others, some of the leading figures of modern poetry in Spanish. As the most recent and famous voice, Octavio Paz has been acclaimed Mexico’s greatest living poet.

He began his poetic career under the auspices of the group called Taller (Workshop). Some of the traits of this group were opposition to the merely literary expression and the search for the original word, the mot juste. A poem is not to be regarded as an excercise of expression but an act of vital affirmation. Man must use poetry as a way of stating not only his inner thoughts and feelings, but his condition of social being. Under these premises we deal with Paz’s work. His poetry is not an easy one. Nourished in wide reading, always alert to the deep and wide in every cultural direction, at the same time Mexican and universal, traditional and modern, Paz in his poetry embraces many ideas, attitudes, problems, and forms of expression. He has delved into the study of many philosophic, religious, and aesthetic movements. Proof of this statement is found in his inquisitive books in prose in which he has analyzed the soul of his country, the creative process of poetry, and the problems of artistic expression in different cultures. Having lived as a diplomat in many countries, both in the Western and the Eastern world, in contact with different and sometimes opposite ways of life, he can say, like Terentius, that because he is a man nothing is alien to him.

El Laberinto de la Soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude) is the title of one of Paz’s books in prose. It could be applied to the perspective of his poetry which in some ways resembles a labyrinth, not exactly because it is confusing, but because of its hermetism and intricacies. It is a poetry of solitude because the writer’s basic attitude is that of a man who feels alone in the world, always in need of the “other” to attain his own self-realization. As an inference of this attitude, man can be said to be a half-being who strives after his integration and completion. He...

(The entire section is 1455 words.)