Paz's Poetry Replaces Revolutionary Hope

By Thomas D'Evelyn. Thomas D'Evelyn is general editor for the humanities . | The Christian Science Monitor, October 18, 1990 | Go to article overview

Paz's Poetry Replaces Revolutionary Hope


Thomas D'Evelyn. Thomas D'Evelyn is general editor for the humanities ., The Christian Science Monitor


FOR Octavio Paz, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature must seem like a vindication of his lifelong passion for poetry. The $700,000 award will mean a lot for this man of letters, who resigned his position in the Mexican Foreign Service to protest the Mexican government's use of deadly force against students in 1968.

Born in 1914, Paz has been long acquaintaned with political violence. Both his grandfather and father were part of the Mexican revolution. During the Spanish Civil War, Paz went to Madrid in support of the republicans.

In Madrid, his own revolutionary poetics took root in the soil of European surrealism. Paz's belief in a reality beyond conventional appearances has born fruit for over half a century. In essay and poem, Paz has measured the world against the ideal poem.

His first prose proved to be his most popular work. "The Labyrinth of Solitude" (1950) explained Spanish Americans to themselves. Having seen the Mexican revolution turn sour, Paz wrote: "History has the cruel reality of a nightmare, and the grandeur of man consists in making beautiful and lasting works out of the real substance of nightmare."

Twenty years later he would attack the condescending idea of "underdeveloped country" because it uses economic development to measure the success of a nation rather than the broader human culture. By that time he had turned against the revolutionary promise of the Marxists. And he had seen the cause of revolution spread to the "developed" countries.

Poetry filled the vacuum left by the diminishment of revolutionary hope. In his mature poetry, Paz witnesses a time beyond time. As a self-described member of the "repentant avant-garde," Paz has re-envisioned poetry so it can bear the weight of hope once born by revolutionary ideology and violence. His vision owes much to his last foreign-service post. From 1962 to 1968 he served as an ambassdor to India (where he met his wife). …

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