On June 30, 1939, José Emilio Pacheco was born in Mexico City. He studied at Autonomous National University of Mexico. After graduating Pacheco worked as the Assistant Editor for Revista de la Universidad de Mexico from 1959 until 1960, then as Associate Editor to La Cultura en Mexico, and then went on to teach literature at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom.
Pacheco's first book of poetry, Los elementos de la noche (The Elements of Night), was published in 1963, when he was barely twenty. This was followed by a novel, El viento distante (1963). His other collections of poetry include El reposo del fuego (The Resting Place of Fire, 1966), Irás y no volverás (And So You Go, Never to Come Back, 1973), Islas a la deriva (In the Drift of the Islands, 1976), Desde Entonces (Since Then, 1980), Los trabajos del mar (The Labors of the Sea, 1983), and An Ark for the Next Millennium: Poems (illustrated by Francisco Toledo, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, 1993).
Pacheco is a well-known translator of works by Samuel Beckett, Yevgeny Yevtuschenko, and Albert Einstein, among others. He was awarded with the Mexican National Poetry Prize in 1969 for his collection No me preguntas cómo pasa el tiempo (Don't Ask Me How the Time Goes By). His collection El silencio de la luna (The Silence of the Moon) was awarded the Premio José Asunción Silva for the best book in Spanish to appear in any country between 1990 and 1995. Pacheco is considered the most important Mexican poet of the generation following Octavio Paz and Alfonso Reyes.
Pacheco died on January 26, 2014 in Mexico City.