The Poet and Time

Article excerpt

EARLY recognized as one of the leading poets of his generation in his native Mexico, Octavio Paz has carried on over the decades an Olympian career as poet, essayist, diplomat, and interpreter of cultures. Born in 1914, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990.

"The Other Voice" consists of seven essays on poetry, the modern age, history, and society's sense of time. These essays, written over a period of 15 years, are interrelated, with a strong narrative thrust toward a conclusion. Aptly, the last piece in the collection bears the book's title. The "other voice" is poetry.

Wonderfully up-to-date, Paz announces his slant on the present time early in his introduction: "The contemporary period has been called 'postmodern.' An equivocal name. If our era is 'postmodern,' what shall our grandchildren call theirs - postpostmodern?"

Time, as a touchstone for understanding civilizations, is a major motif for Paz. He discusses, with poets like Dante in view, the linear, finite time of the Christian era - a time expected to end, followed by judgment. He fixes the split between such a time-concept and modernity with the arrival of Milton, whose Satan plunges into the "endless void" of space-time, the "double infinite" of the cosmic and the psychic. With the fully born new science of the Age of Reason in the 18th century, poets and philosophers replaced the myth of heaven with the myth of revolution. It is this era, according to Paz, which is now collapsing around us.

Paz calls for a new sense of the present among us, a sense of "the presence of the present." His feeling for history is both cyclical and optimistic, and, despite the human tragedy that surrounds us, he believes that now, at the end of a troubled century, we are in a fallow time of beginning again. "The Other Voice" is quintessentially a defense of poetry, and the author's concept of the new present is linked to his idea of poetry as the consciousness of immediacy, as close as the air we breathe. For Paz, poetry is not like the other arts, things you can hang on a wall or walk through. …