I was introduced to the poetry of Octavio Paz in the mid-90s around the same time that I first read Pablo Neruda and so, though their poetry is very different, I hold his poems also in the same vaunted position that I hold Neruda's poems. Both are in the Spanish and both made me wonder how good they must be in the original if I can enjoy them so much even in translation.
"Poetry is not what words say but what is said between them, that which appears fleetingly in pauses and silences." - Octavio Paz
“Poetry is not truth, it is the resurrection of presences.” - Octavio Paz
I blogged about Octavio Paz during the 2011 NPM celebrations and while I am tempted to just recirculate the 5 oems I posted then, that is not fair....so, here then are a few poems by him. The challenge, as always, is how to pick 3-5 poems to represent a life-long of poetry. Like the Nobel Prize committee member said, in giving him the Literature Prize in 1990, "it is like trying to press a continent into a walnut shell."
"It has been my task to give a picture of your writing in a few minutes. It is like trying to press a continent into a walnut shell - a feat for which the language of criticism is poorly equipped. This is, however, what you have managed to do, again and again, in poems which have, quite rightly, an improbably high specific gravity."
Anyways, here are 3 random poems by the great Mexican writer, poet, and diplomat.
by Octavio Paz
translated by Eliot Weinberger
At times poetry is the vertigo of bodies and the vertigo of speech and the vertigo of death;
the walk with eyes closed along the edge of the cliff, and the verbena in submarine gardens;
the laughter that sets on fire the rules and the holy commandments;
the descent of parachuting words onto the sands of the page;
the despair that boards a paper boat and crosses,
for forty nights and forty days, the night-sorrow sea and the day-sorrow desert;
the idolatry of the self and the desecration of the self and the dissipation of the self;
the beheading of epithets, the burial of mirrors;
the recollection of pronouns freshly cut in the garden of Epicurus, and the garden of Netzahualcoyotl;
the flute solo on the terrace of memory and the dance of flames in the cave of thought;
the migrations of millions of verbs, wings and claws, seeds and hands;
the nouns, bony and full of roots, planted on the waves of language;
the love unseen and the love unheard and the love unsaid: the love in love.
Sunstone (Piedra de sol) ... an excerpt.
by Octavio Paz I search without finding, I write alone,there's no one here, and the day falls,the year falls, I fall with the moment,I fall to the depths, invisible pathover mirrors repeating my shattered image,I walk through the days, the trampled moments,I walk through all the thoughts of my shadow,I walk through my shadow in search of a moment,I search for an instant alive as a bird,for the sun of five in the afternoontempered by walls of porous stone:the hour ripened its cluster of grapes,and bursting, girls spilled out from the fruit,scattering in the cobblestone patios of the school,one was tall as autumn and walkedthrough the arcades enveloped in light,and space encircled, dressed her in a skineven more golden and transparent,tiger the color of light, brown deeron the outskirts of night, girl glimpsedleaning over green balconies of rain,adolescent incalculable face,I've forgotten your name, Melusina,Laura, Isabel, Persephone, Mary,your face is all the faces and none,you are all the hours and none,you're a tree and a cloud, all the birdsand a single star, the edge of the swordand the executioner's bowl of blood,the ivy that creeps, envelops, uprootsthe soul, and severs it from itself . . .
And last but not least, this poem from the book 'A Tale of Two Gardens', Poems from India (1952-1995) that I bought for myself over 10 years ago. I opened it just now and picked the second random poem that I came upon opening the book. (The first one was lovely too - Maithuna - but is too long to be posted here.)
The Arms of Summerby Octavio Paz
Hear the throbbing of spaceit is the steps of a season in heatacross the embers of the year
Murmur of wings and rattlesthe far-off drumbeat of the stormthe crackling and panting of the earthunder its cape of roots and bugs
Thirst wakes and buildsgreat cages of glasswhere your nakedness is water in chainswater that sings and breaks loose from its chains
Armed with the arms of summeryou come into my room come into my mindand untie the river of languagelook at yourself with these hurried words
Bit by bit the day burns outover the erasing landscapeyour shadow is a land of birdsthe sun scatters with a wave.
I will leave you with his interview with the Paris Review and this short but lovely Nobel banquet speech celebrating life, nature, and all the lovely things on earth!
At the close of this century we have discovered that we are part of a vast system (or network of systems) ranging from plants and animals to cells, molecules, atoms and stars. We are a link in "the great chain of being", as the philosophers of antiquity used to call the universe. One of man's oldest gestures, repeated daily from the beginning of time, is to look up and marvel at the starry sky. This act of contemplation frequently ends in a feeling of fraternal identification with the universe. In the countryside one night, years ago, as I contemplated the stars in the cloudless sky, I heard the metallic sound of the elytra of a cricket. There was a strange correspondence between the reverberation of the firmament at night and the music of the tiny insect. I wrote these lines:
The sky's big.Stars, hills, clouds, trees, birds, crickets, men: each has its world, each is a world, and yet all of these worlds correspond. We can only defend life if we experience a revival of this feeling of solidarity with nature. It is not impossible: fraternity is a word that belongs to the traditions of Liberalism and Socialism, of science and religion.
Up there, worlds scatter.
unfazed by so much night,
a cricket: brace and bit.