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About this poet

In 1914, Octavio Paz was born in Mexico City to a family of Spanish and native Mexican descent. He was educated at the National University of Mexico in law and literature.

Under the encouragement of Pablo Neruda, Paz began his poetic career in his teens by founding an avant-garde literary magazine, Barandal, and publishing his first book of poems, Luna silvestre (1933).

In his youth, Paz spent time in the United States and Spain, where he was influenced by the Modernist and Surrealist movements. His sequence of prose poems, Aguila o sol? (Eagle or Sun?, 1951) is a visionary mapping of Mexico, its past, present, and future.

His collection Piedra de Sol (Sun Stone, 1957) borrows its structure from the Aztec calendar. This long poem, and Paz's sociocultural analysis of Mexico, El laberinto de la soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude, 1950), established him as a major literary figure in the 1950s.

In 1962, Paz became Mexico's ambassador to India and resigned six years later in protest when government forces massacred student demonstrators in Mexico City.

His later work shows an ever-deepening intelligence and complexity as it investigates the intersection of philosophy, religion, art, politics, and the role of the individual. "Wouldn't it be better to turn life into poetry rather than to make poetry from life," Paz asks. "And cannot poetry have as its primary objective, rather than the creation of poems, the creation of poetic moments?"

His various collections of essays engage culture, linguistics, literary theory, history, and politics with a level of originality and erudition that is unrivaled; these and his poems form a breadth of work that expresses, in the words of Carlos Fuentes, "the existence of a plurality of possibilities for harmony and truth, outside the limited range of our inherited dogmas."

Paz was awarded the Cervantes Award in 1981, the Neustadt Prize in 1982, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990. Paz died in 1998.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Luna Silvestre (1933)
Baja tu clara sombra y otros poemas (1937)
Entre la piedra y flor (1941)
Aguila o sol? (1951)
Piedra de sol (1957)
Salamandra (1962)
Selected Poems (1963)
Pasado en claro (1975)
Vuelta (1976)
The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, 1957-1987 (1987)

Prose

El laberinto de la soledad (1950)
Corrientae alterna (1967)
Posdata (1970)
Tiempo nublado (1984)
La otra voz (1990)

Essays

El arco y la lira (1956)
Los hijos del limo (1974)


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

Proem

Octavio Paz, 1914 - 1998

   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.

Syllables seeds.

From The Collected Poems 1957-1987. Copyright © 1986 byOctavio Paz and Eliot Weinberger. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

From The Collected Poems 1957-1987. Copyright © 1986 byOctavio Paz and Eliot Weinberger. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz

The author of many collections of poetry, Octavio Paz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990