The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“San Ildefonso Nocturne,” written in free verse, is divided into four stanzas of unequal length. Octavio Paz once again uses punctuation, a practice that he had abandoned in previous books. He also returns to the circular form he introduced so successfully in 1957 in Piedra de sol (Sun Stone, 1963). “San Ildefonso Nocturne” begins with the poet viewing through the window of his room a garish display of neon advertising in an unnamed city. Parts 2 and 3 move into the narrator’s past as a boy in Mexico City, and part 4 closes with the poet once again in his room watching the neon advertisements flashing in the night. In Sun Stone, the same six lines open and close the poem; in “San Ildefonso Nocturne,” a similar effect is achieved through the repetition of a scene—the poet at the window.

In his hotel room, the narrator sees the neon lights of advertisements spray the blackness of his window. Preoccupied as always by communication, he connects the advertising signs with the syllable clusters he is putting down on his page. The words turn into ants; there is a tunnel that will lead him somewhere. “What does it [the night] want?” he asks at the conclusion of part 1.

The night wishes to summon him to Mexico City in the year 1931, when he would have been seventeen. Squinting lights contrast with the neon glare of part 1. Pockets of characteristic poverty greet his eyes; children cover themselves with...

(The entire section is 484 words.)