The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Same Time” is a long poem of 184 lines in free verse. Its format represents a break with Octavio Paz’s early practice; under the influence of Stéphane Mallarmé, he had begun to think of a poem as a visual object. Accordingly, he emphasized white space through the use of short lines, occasionally allowing a single word to suffice for the line. Except for question marks, the poem has no punctuation. The title introduces one of the poem’s chief themes: time’s movement in relation to the individual and to poetry.

The first-person narrator inhabits a city of ceaseless flux, an impersonal flow of traffic in which glimpses may be had of people, for example, the couple by the iron railing and the nameless old man talking to himself. The city has alternately fascinated and repelled poets since Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). Paz was captivated by T. S. Eliot’s use of the theme in The Waste Land (1922). Poets are intrigued by the phenomenon of an individual consciousness boxed in by millions of other individuals with whom there is no communication: “To walk among people/ with the open secret of being alive.” The poem was written in Paris, but memory takes the narrator to Mexico City, where the cars become trolleys carrying passengers from the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square, to the suburbs.

The narrator invokes the memory of walking Mexico City’s pitted streets during the rainy season, June to September. His eyes lift...

(The entire section is 453 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

To show that there may be another kind of time within the chronological time that defines all living creatures, Paz resorted to a spiral-like poetic form. The poem’s lack of punctuation means that the conventional grammatical signposts (commas, periods, semicolons) will not be present to convey a linear approach. Less circular than Piedra de sol (1957; Sun Stone, 1963), which opens and closes with the same lines, “Same Time” nevertheless begins and ends in a way that suggests a movement from a point—the stillness outside the city—to a similar point at a higher level of consciousness: “time within time/ still/ with no hours no weight no shadow/ without past or future.” The effect is reminiscent of a spiral whose movement is accentuated by the abundance of empty spaces facing the readers’ eyes. One also can note how the negation of the first line, “It is not the wind,” is echoed in the closure, “It is not memory.”

A single-word line provides special emphasis. “Lit,” “bird,” and “clouds” suggest the lightness that is pointing toward “alabaster” and, ultimately, “transparency.” “Alabaster” occurs at the midpoint of the poem. On one level, it is an allusion occasioned by Paz’s reading of Rubén Darío’s Prosas profanas (1896; Profane Hymns and Other Poems, 1922): “Heavenly alabaster inhabited by stars:/ God is reflected in such sweet alabaster.” This is the reason for...

(The entire section is 539 words.)