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Toward Octavio Paz

Toward Octavio Paz: A Reading of His Major Poems, 1957--1976

Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Toward Octavio Paz
    Book Description:

    The undisputed intellectual leadership of Octavio Paz, not only in Mexico but throughout Spanish America, rests on achievements in the essay and in poetry. In the field of the essay, he is the author of more than twenty-five books on subjects whose diversity -- esthetics, politics, surrealist art, the Mexican character, cultural anthropology, and Eastern philosophy, to cite only a few -- is dazzling. In poetry, his creativity has increased in vigor over more than fifty years as he has explored the numerous possibilities open to Hispanic poets from many different sources. The bridge that joins the halves of his writing is a concern for language in general and for the poetic process in particular.

    Toward Octavio Pazdefines this process of creation through a close examination of the books that represent the summit of the poet's development, three long poems and three collections. It is intended for readers of varied poetic experience who are approaching Paz's work for the first time.

    By studying the relationship of the parts of the poem, particularly structure and theme, Fein traces the poet's growth through approaches to the reader, each embodied in a separate work. From the divided circularity of Piedra de sol through the intensification of the subject ofSalamandra, the multiple meanings ofBlanco, the polarities ofLadera este, and the literary solipsism ofPasado en claro, to the silences ofVuelta, Paz has shaped his audience's responses to his work through suggestion rather than control. The result is not only a new poetry but a new receptivity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6297-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Note on Texts
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The title of this book is derived from two studies by Professor Harry Levin that were popular about forty years ago when I was a college student.Toward StendhalandToward Balzacsuggest an attitude of modesty before a literary giant. Even more important is the implication that every great writer we study is to some degree unattainable, no matter how clear or moving his literary creation may be. This incompleteness, which is perhaps more the reader’s than the author’s, is particularly applicable in the case of Octavia Paz, whose poetic goal is the expression of what he feels to...

  6. 2 Piedra de sol: The Divided Circle
    (pp. 11-40)

    The acclamation of the critics, which presentedPiedra de solas a masterpiece from the outset, is justified by its continued popularity. Almost thirty years after its publication, it stands above Paz’s other early works, not so much for its Mexican character (in spite of the title’s reference to the massive Aztec calendar stone) as for the universality of its comprehension both of man’s yearning and of his finiteness. This long poem is essentially a quest (or, as Phillips expresses it, a pilgrimage) in which the unnamed voice attempts to define his identity. The interpretations of the search may vary,...

  7. 3 Salamandra: The Subject Itself
    (pp. 41-63)

    In contrast to the circular pattern ofPiedra de soland to the alternations of communion and solitude, light and darkness, optimism and pessimism that are the spokes of the circle,Salamandrarepresents a different approach to the reader. In judging this book, the reader’s main problem is the identification of the pattern. In fact, his first impression may be that the book has little unity and that it simply presents a variety of poems, largely unpunctuated, that continue the techniques ofLibertad bajo palabraandLa estación violenta. That they do so is undeniable. What is different, as we...

  8. 4 Blanco: Multiple Meanings
    (pp. 64-94)

    More than most contemporary poems, irrespective of nationality;Blancois difficult, complex, and ambiguous. Within the general challenge of Paz’s production to date, this poem is the most inaccessible and the most demanding. If it is the clearest demonstration of Paz’s theory that new poetry requires a new sensitivity from the reader and his active participation in the poetic process,Blancomay also offer the greatest rewards. Paradoxically for the critics, it may also be Paz’s most deliberate attempt to illustrate his theory that the poetry of our age can be understood but not explained.

    Perhaps the most important departure...

  9. 5 Ladera este: Polarities
    (pp. 95-119)

    Paz’s critics agree thatLadera este[Eastern Slope] should be viewed first in the biographical context suggested by the title, particularly the poet’s years in diplomatic service in India (1962-68), where most of its poems were written. A number of studies show Paz’s indebtedness to the East, seen not only in the subjects of the poems but also in themes shaped by Tantric philosophy. Tantrism certainly intensifies the use of eroticism that is dominant in this work. Xirau observes also the introduction of irony and the serious purpose behind it: “Y toda su poesía, religiosamente, adquiere el senti do de...

  10. 6 Pasado en claro: The Poem Itself
    (pp. 120-144)

    The hiatus of six years between the publication ofLadera este(1969) andPasado en claro(1975) constitutes the longest interruption in Paz’s poetic production if one discounts the somewhat whimsical ideograms ofTopoemasandRenga, of which he was one of four authors. This period of germination yielded a long poem that marks a simplification of structure within the poet’s trajectory. From multiple relationships and polarities, his approach is reduced to the single plane of autobiography. The complexity of the poem is achieved not through its structure or its diction (which is a return to the simplicity ofPiedra...

  11. 7 Vuelta: Toward Silence
    (pp. 145-169)

    Like all poetry;Vueltarepresents man’s attempt to define the world and his place in it; like Paz’s other works, this definition rests on the poet’s quest for identity that is at the same time common to all men. Completely apart from the meaning that this work conveys to the reader unacquainted with the poet’s other works is the comprehension ofVueltaas the result of all Paz’s poetry afterLadera este. The opportunity to gain the fullest meaning of the poems through seeing them in the context of the poet’s development is the latest (but almost certainly not the...

  12. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 170-174)

    Although the stages of Paz’s development studied here cannot be reduced to an exclusivity for each of his books, a broad view of their achievements reveals a progressively complex role for the reader. Whether such a role conforms to the poet’s conscious intentions is open to question. In fact, judging from the combination of techniques within books and even within poems, one may wonder whether Paz thinks in personal terms of the text’s reception. To see an evolution of demands imposed by the major poems, therefore, is a function of criticism rather than of poetic creativity.

    Piedra de sol, in...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 175-180)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-186)
  15. Index
    (pp. 187-189)