The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453

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“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 to the clouds racing through the Mexican night sky, and their shape enraptures him; they become “Mistresses of eyes.” Unbidden, a word comes to mind: “alabaster.” The moment represents a transition from passive onlooker to user of words: The poet will make “castles of syllables.” Writing—the creation of poetry—supplies an identity to this single person surrounded by millions.

Today, in the flow of the city, the poet still writes, shuttling words back and forth across the page, but with a newfound perspective: The world exists independently of him. The lyrical “I” is only one pulse beat in the throbbing river of humanity. Advice given by two philosophers, Mexico’s José Vasconcelos and Spain’s José Ortega y Gasset, reinforces the need for thinking and meditation in order to give meaning to life. Writing is a solution. To record the beauty of the world, the sun sinking into the river, the feminine cluster of grapes, revives the poet.

In these moments of beauty, time may be preempted. Images return, even though time does not, and their recurrence supplies a sense of continuity. When the words for poetry appear, there takes place a fullness of presence, of time within time that is a moment of transparency.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 539

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 word’s favored position, for it is such sweet whiteness that prepares the way for the evocation of transparency. “Alabaster” appears alone twice, and it represents an axis in the poem, after which the narrator discovers an identity through poetry and heightened perception.

Effective images are scattered throughout: Some are clearly based on a real or remembered moment, such as the “blackbird on a gray stone,” and some are ambiguous, such as “three leaves fall from a tree.” The memory of the streetcars stimulates a cluster of metaphors. The “trolley-poles” call to mind “Black rays,” their sparks are “small tongues of fire,” and the noise they make on the way to the suburbs is compared to crashing towers. Other isolated metaphors sparkle throughout this long poem: The sweep and grandeur of poetry (or music) is captured in “castles of syllables”; the roundness of grapes suggests “feminine clusters.”

As the narrator walks mentally through the cities of his life, he remembers many objects: trees, cars, houses, a dog, a bird, the fig tree. For the most part, these objects exist as images in the poet’s memory, but occasionally they acquire the status of symbols. The sky is omnipresent, clear (without “a wrinkle”), filling up with clouds that hint of gestation and prepare for the near-miraculous appearance of the word “alabaster.” Paz has prepared the reader for the various symbolic meanings of this word: purity, lightness, beauty, softness, celestial presence. This symbol, in turn, converts into the “word,” which for Paz means poetry, music, art, and creativity.

Anaphora, the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of a line, is used at the beginning and end of the poem. “It is not the wind,” it is not the sea, but “It is the city,” and at the conclusion, one reads that “It is not memory,” but “It is transparency.”