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Summary Article: Paz, Octavio (1914–1998)
from World Literature in Spanish: An Encyclopedia

Born in Mexico City, this Nobel Prize–winner, essayist, intellectual, and prolific poet spent his youth in the nearby village of Mixcoc. His family's identification with liberal ideas and the spirit of the Mexican Revolution significantly influenced his early political orientation. In 1937, Paz traveled extensively in Europe, becoming impassioned by Spain's Republican cause and meeting artistic and literary luminaries. His writings and editorship of the literary magazine Taller following his return to Mexico reflect those early encounters.

Paz first acquainted himself with life in the United States as a Guggenheim fellow (1944–1945); as Mexico's cultural attaché to France (1945–1951), he associated with André Breton and other surrealists. After accepting a post as the nation's ambassador to India in 1962, he resigned in protest against his government's brutality in quelling Mexico City's 1968 student uprising. During the 1971–1972 academic year, Paz renewed his acquaintance with the United States as Harvard's Norton Lecturer, one of several positions he held at U.S. universities. Although he remained staunchly antifascist, by 1950 he became disenchanted with leftist politics. His enthusiasm for such causes waned, resulting in the termination of his long-time friendship with Pablo Neruda.

Paz's preoccupation with modernity, the idea that life in the present differs fundamentally from life in the past, pervades his poetry. He experimented with various literary trends, particularly existentialism and surrealism, and in his 1990 acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature, he explored differences between Anglo-American and Latin American literature and questioned those who eschewed modernist tendencies. His most important poetry texts include Piedra de sol (1957; Sun Stone, 1963), a 584-line poem influenced by the Aztec calendar stone, and the collections Salamandra (1962; Salamander), Pasado en claro (1975; Draft of Shadows, 1979), and Vuelta (1976; Return).

Paz profoundly influenced the establishment of the modern Mexican literary canon. Foremost among his theoretical contributions are El arco y la lira (1956; The Bow and the Lyre, 1973), which argues that poetry and life are inextricably bound and that poetry represents language in its purest form, and Los hijos del limo (1974; The Children of the Mire, 1974), an attempt to define the essence of modern poetry.

His most widely published prose text, El laberinto de la soledad (1950; The Labyrinth of Solitude, 1989), the quintessential interpretation of the Mexican ethos, examines the impact of such pivotal historical events as the Spanish conquest and the Mexican Revolution on indigenous cultures and national identity. Highly regarded among his later prose is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz o las trampas de la fe (1982; Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith, 1988), an exhaustive study of the Mexican nun's life, baroque writings, and colonial Mexico. Paz's wide-ranging creative and critical texts and his seminal theoretical studies make him the most influential figure in shaping Mexico's literary canon.

See also Poetry in Spanish America: 1922–1975.

Work By:
  • The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, 1957-1987: Bilingual Edition. Ed. Eliot Weinberger. Trans. Weinberger et al. New Directions New York, 1987.
  • The Labyrinth of Solitude and Other Writings. Trans. Lysander Kemp, Yara Milos, and Rachel Phillips Belash. Grove New York, 1989.
  • Work About:
  • Octavio Paz. Ed. Harold Bloom. Chelsea House Philadelphia, 2002.
  • Cherry, Charles Maurice
    Copyright 2011 by Maureen Ihrie and Salvador A. Oropesa

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