A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Octavio Paz

I discovered this great Mexican poet some time ago, and bought two of his poetry books, though until recently they remained scarcely opened on my shelf. These from Selected Poems:


The hand of day opens
Three clouds
And these few words

Poet's epitaph

He tried to sing, singing
not to remember
his true life of lies
and to remember
his lying life of truths.

I love the choice of 'and' rather than 'but' in the last poem. Finally, to continue the 'nobody' theme of my last post:

The street

A long and silent street
I walk in blackness and I stumble and fall
and rise, and I walk blind, my feet
stepping on silent stones and dry leaves.
Someone behind me also stepping on stones, leaves:
if I slow down, he slows;
if I run, he runs. I turn: nobody.

Everything dark and doorless.
Turning and turning among these corners
which lead forever to the street
where nobody waits for, nobody follows me,
where I pursue a man who stumbles
and rises when he sees me: nobody


Dominic Rivron said...

"I discovered this great Mexican poet some time ago..." So did I. Good, isn't he? I like the way so many Central and South American artists in the 20th century (poets, writers, visual artists, composers) came up with completely different ways of being "modern" than their European counterparts.

The Solitary Walker said...

I absolutely agree, Dominic. Magic realism, and much else. I've still so far to go in my exploration of Central and S. American artists, writers and poets, but I'm relishing the prospect.

elisasspot said...

I and Somebody, like nobody, have me wanting to know them better.

Jean said...

Are these your own translations? Or whose?

The Solitary Walker said...

Sorry, Jean, should have credited the translator. These three poems come from 'Octavio Paz: Selected Poems', ed. by Eliot Weinberger (New Directions), and the translator is Muriel Rukeyser. (Other poems in the book are translated by various different people, incl. Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Levertov, Mark Strand, Charles Tomlinson and William Carlos Williams.)

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Elisasspot, for your comment.

am said...

Thank you for this post.

There's this, too:

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea / Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me / I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man /Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

Rubye Jack said...

I've always found Mexican culture more attractive and romantic than that of Europe. That "and" does make me think a bit harder. Heaven forbid. :)

George said...

I have a collection of Octavio Paz's poetry I purchased a few years ago, but haven't given it the attention it deserves. I remember, however, that my purchase of the book was prompted by a quote from Paz I found in John O'Donohue's "Anam Cara." Here it is:

"With great difficulty advancing by millimeters each year, I carve a road out of the rock. For millenniums my teeth have wasted and my nails broken to get there, to the other side, to the light and the open air. And now that my hands bleed and my teeth tremble, unsure in a cavity cracked by thirst and dust, I pause and contemplate my work. I have spent the second part of my life breaking the stones, drilling the walls, smashing the doors, removing the obstacles I placed between the light and myself in the first part of my life."

I'm especially moved by the last line of this quote!

Grizz………… said...

I hate to admit I've read only a handful of Paz's poems over the years, all encountered in multi-author collections or by single example stumbled upon while perusing something else. These have induced me to read him at length.

Re. that "and" choice…I find, for me, it unhinges the whole thing, muddles my understanding given that it can be read two ways—at least to my mind. I don't want to conclude that in doing so it ultimately says nothing—for I don't believe that's the case—but I fail at understanding. The logical word might be "but" but it could also have an implied "and to not" which echoes the earlier syntax and says something else entirely.

Probably just me at today's moment…

Susan Scheid said...

I know of Paz but have not read him. (Miles to go before I sleep.) Your excerpts are gems, all demonstrating the resonance of "these few words" when the ones chosen are so good.

Amanda said...

Beautiful sentiments of Paz. The final poem you quote reminds me of Rumi's similar words, describing being followed by something in the dark, only to realize it is his ego..

The Solitary Walker said...

Ah, yes, Amanda! What an enlightening connection...

The Solitary Walker said...

And thanks everyone else for your wonderful comments! Sorry I haven't had time to reply to them all individually.

The Solitary Walker said...

Grizz — for me, the 'and' (apart from being a nice surprise when we expect a 'but') suggests above all an equality between the two statements, bolstered by the symmetry of 'true life of lies' and 'lying life of truths'...