Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Poet I Just Discovered

Greetings All:

The photo above (public domain usage claimed) is of a poet I just learned of- Octavio Paz.  As I have mentioned before, I appreciate my local public library.  One day I was in there picking up some books I had requested and I swung by the new arrivals.  One was The Poems of Octavio Paz as edited and translated by Eliot Wienberger.  I regret that despite four years of exposure to a liberal arts education at a great public university (The University of Iowa, Go Hawks!) I regret that I did not (ahem) spend a ton of time reading and a whole lot more in...other pursuits.  (If I could have double-majored in student government and fraternity I would have been Summa cum laude, alas, such is life.)  As a result, I find myself looking for opportunities to read the stuff I should have checked out years ago.  Oh well, better late than never.

I had never heard of Octavio Paz.  However, I thought anyone who could get a book of almost 600 pages of edited work had to be worth checking out.  It was.

First, a bit about Mr. Paz.  He is acknowledged as a great poet of Mexico and the world.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1990.  Here is the link to his acceptance speech:

I just read it, albeit briefly, and was impressed with both its humility and frankness.  Here's a taste:  "Ours is the time of profane history, an irreversible and perpetually unfinished time that marches towards the future and not towards its end."

If you think he was not exactly a conservative, you'd be right.  In fact, he would likely be considered a leftist.  Born in Mexico in 1914 to a family active in journalism and politics, he gravitated to the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.  He had an early (and likely comfortable) career in diplomacy, but resigned to protest the Mexican government's harsh repression of a student protest in 1968.  I am not going to delve much into his politics but feel I should offer this as a starting point to understand the man.  If you would like to learn more, here is a link to his bio:

As to his writing, I think it is terrific.  I suspect it reads and almost certainly sounds better in Spanish, but the English translation is great as well.  Here are a just a couple of lines that offer a glimpse into his work:

From his poem Salamandra or in English, Salamander:

"Is not beauty enough?
 I know nothing
I know what is too much
not what is enough
Ignorance is a difficult as beauty..."

(Source- from page 201 of Weinberger's book) 

Here are a couple of more lines from the same poem (p. 199, Weinberger):

"Twenty years ago Vasconcelos told me
'Devote yourself to phliosophy
It won't give you life
but it is a defense against death."

Or how about this line-

"I do not write to kill time
nor to revive it
I write that I may live and be revived."

This poem was from earlier in his career during the years 1956-1961.  The Cold War was in full swing, revolutions took place, some crushed, some successful, hope and fear stood on the same street corner of history, awaiting which bus society would pull up for each, perhaps both, to board.  Later in his life, he still wrote with passion, but perhaps aided by age and perspective, he took on a different tone.  Here is the concluding lines to Arbol Adentro or in English, A Tree Within:

"Perhaps to love is to learn
to walk through this world.
To learn to be silent
like the oak and the linden of the fable.
To learn to see.
Your glance scatters seed.
It planted a tree.
I talk
because you shake its leaves."

I am no literary poet and I make no claims to be an expert on Mr. Paz's work.  (After all, I just learned of the guy and was on vacation for a week.)  These are just my thoughts on a writer who (I think) has something to say.  I suppose I could throw out the standard line, "Oh, how I wish I had discovered him sooner..." but that would not be true.  If anything, what little maturity I have obtained since college may make his discovery more valuable now.  After all, you can buy a toddler a ten-speed bike, but all he can do with it is spin the wheels until he grows into it.  In any event, I like the guy's work and I hope you will too if you read his work. 

 I would like to close with one of the earlier lines of his Nobel address, as I believe it goes to the core of his writing:  "Grace means pardon, forgiveness, favour, benefice, inspiration; it is a form of address, a pleasing style of speaking or painting, a gesture expressing politeness, and, in short, an act that reveals spiritual goodness." (see previous citation please).  For a man who had definite, perhaps unforgiving political stances, who talked truth to power, he also had a side of gratitude.  As I read Paz I will not forget the source of his writing, his surroundings and his criticisms of the world, but also his ability to value gratitude.  I hope to read more of his works for anyone who can write like him and draw from such diverse inspirations is worth experiencing.

I am curious as to what you are reading or listening to, music, checking out online from an artistic standpoint.  As I mentioned, I am making up for lost time.  Please add a comment to this post and feel free to share it, thanks.  Have a great rest of the week and summer!


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