Poets & Writers

A Poet a Day: Octavio Paz

"Trowbridge Street"

A Poet a Day: Octavio Paz

During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.” Enjoy.
— Bill Moyers

Today we hear from Mexican poet Octavio Paz as he reads part of his poem, “Trowbridge Street,” translated and read by Eliot Weinberger.

“Trowbridge Street”

Sun throughout the day
Cold throughout the sun
Nobody on the streets
parked cars
Still no snow
but wind wind
A red tree
still burns
in the chilled air
Talking to it I talk to you

I am in a room abandoned by language
you are in another identical room
Or we both are
on a street your glance has depopulated
The world
imperceptibly comes apart
decayed beneath our feet
I am stopped in the middle of this
unwritten line

Doors open and close by themselves
enters and leaves our house
talks to itself talking to you
nameless in the endless corridor
Who knows who is on the other side?
turns and turns in my empty skull
turns to air everything it touches
with air-fingers scatters everything I say
I am the air you don’t see
I can’t open your eyes
I can’t close the door
The air has turned solid

This hour has the shape of a pause
This pause has your shape
You have the shape of a fountain made
not of water but of time
My pieces bob
at the jet’s tip
what I was……am……still am not
My life is weightless
The past thins out
The future……a little water in your eyes

Now you have a bridge-shape
Our room navigates beneath your arches
From your railing we watch us pass
You ripple with wind…more light than body
The sun on the other band
grows upside down
Its roots buried deep in the sky
We could hide ourselves in its foliage
Build a bonfire with its branches
The day is habitable

The cold has immobilized the world
Space is made of glass

Glass made of air

The lightest sounds build
quick sculptures
Echoes multiply and scatter them
Maybe it will snow

The burning tree quivers

surrounded now by night

Talking to it I talk to you

“Trowbridge Street”

El sol dentro del día
El frío dentro del sol.
Calles sin nadie
autos parados
Todavía no hay nieve
hay viento viento
Arde todavía
en el aire helado
un arbolito rojo
Hablo con él al hablar contigo
Estoy en un cuarto abandonado del lenguaje
Tú estás en otro cuarto idéntico
O los dos estamos
en una calle que tu mirada ha despoblado
El mundo
imperceptiblemente se deshace
desmoronada bajo nuestros pasos
Estoy parado a la mitad de esta línea
no escrita
Las puertas se abren y cierran solas

El aire
entra y sale por nuestra casa
El aire
habla a solas al hablar contigo
El aire
sin nombre por el pasillo interminable
No se sabe quién está del otro lado
El aire
vuelve aire todo lo que toca
El aire
con dedos de aire disipa lo que digo
Soy aire que no miras
No puedo abrir tus ojos
No puedo cerrar la puerta
El aire se ha vuelto sólido
Esta hora tiene la forma de una pausa
La pausa tiene tu forma
Tú tienes la forma de una fuente
no de agua sino de tiempo
En lo alto del chorro de la fuente
saltan mis pedazos
el fui el soy el no soy todavía
Mi vida no pesa
El pasado se adelgaza
El futuro es un poco de agua en tus ojos
Ahora tienes la forma de un puente
Bajo tus arcos navega nuestro cuarto
Desde tu pretil nos vemos pasar
Ondeas en el viento más luz que cuerpo
En la otra orilla el sol crece
al revés
Sus raíces se entierran en el cielo
Podríamos ocultarnos en su follaje
Con sus ramas prendemos una hoguera
El día es habitable
El frío ha inmovilizado al mundo
El espacio es de vidrio
El vidrio es de aire
Los ruidos más leves erigen
súbitas esculturas
el eco las multiplica y las dispersa
Tal vez va a nevar
Tiembla el árbol encendido
Ya está rodeado de noche
Al hablar con él hablo contigo

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 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.

(Bio courtesy of Poets.org)