The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Ladera este (1962-1968) (East Slope, 1987), in which “Vrindaban” appears, represents Octavio Paz’s attempt to come to grips with the bewildering sights, sounds, and smells of India, where he served as Mexican ambassador from 1962 to 1968. In a note to the poem, Paz says that Vrindaban is one of the sacred cities of Hinduism. According to legend, Krishna, one of the chief Hindu gods, spent his youth in its forests, playing on his divine flute to entice the milkmaids to dance with him.

The poem develops its 163 lines of free verse through the parallel depiction of two experiences. Against the night and the curtain of the forest, the poet is writing. (The reader recognizes at once a recurrent Paz theme: poetry about the act of writing.) The narrative thread switches to the poet being driven in a car at night among darkened, “extinguished houses” that contrast with his “lighted thoughts,” which momentarily led him to believe that he was a tree covered with leaves. He is returning from a trip in which, as the reader will see, he has had a disturbing experience.

The poem switches back to the poet planting words in a garden, that is, writing under lamplight on a piece of paper. By now the reader notes that Paz inserts his description of himself writing in parentheses in order to set it off from the racing car and the sights of India that will soon appear.

Meanwhile, his thoughts race like the car in a kind...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As is often the case with the work of Octavio Paz, the visual impact of the poem is calculated. The absence of punctuation, the columnar structure, the ambiguous placement of words contribute effects of openness, free association, parallel happenings, and special emphases on meanings by location.

Paz uses parenthetical expressions for the description of the writing process. Nearly all matter within parentheses begins with the pronoun “I,” followed by “write” or “set down.” This device situates the act of creating poetry apart from the flow of thoughts and impressions, to highlight the solitude it demands and ultimately to contrast it, in this case, with the profoundly disturbing reality of the saddhu, who as a visionary is also a kind of poet. The one exception to this practice occurs when the narrator recalls the holy man with the phrase “Gone gone.” Here the saddhu momentarily enters the space reserved for the description of the poetic act.

Paz has mixed feelings about the saddhu that he cannot, or perhaps does not wish to resolve. He resorts to the juxtaposition of contraries to bring out his dilemma. The absence of connectives (for example “or”) helps heighten the opposition. “Saint scoundrel saint,” and again “Saint clown saint beggar king damned,” the narrator will not make a choice for himself or for the reader.

Paz abstains from using end rhymes in his poetry, but that does not mean he is unaware...

(The entire section is 490 words.)