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.)