• Українська
  • Русский
  • English
Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“Understanding a poem means hearing it in the first place”

The world, and Ukraine in particular, celebrates the 100th birth anniversary of the outstanding Mexican poet Octavio Paz
14 May, 2014 - 18:07

Deep interests towards Mexico and social responsibility prevailed in any genre of Paz’s creative work. However, his inclination towards the mystical set him aside from all other authors. Critics noted the breadth of his view and sudden temporary shifts by setting closer such dissimilar areas of human activity as modern and ancient art, philosophy, religion, anthropology, psychology, and politics. Paz successfully combined surrealism and classicism, and modern West with ancient Mexico and traditionally, with Asia.

“Poems cannot be explained, they can only be understood”; “All people feel lonely at some point of their life, moreover, a person is always lonely, because life is an unceasing farewell to what we were and becoming what we will be, a strange for us future. Loneliness is a deep sense of human being. Only a human can be lonely, and only a human cannot live without another human”; “Understanding a poem means hearing it in the first place. Words come in through ears and are strengthened in front of the eyes. Reading of any poem is finished with silence. Reading poems means listening with eyes, listening to them, means reading with hearing,” the writer said.

The Day has interviewed the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United Mexican States to Ukraine Berenice Rendon Talavera to find out more about the poet, essayist and culture expert, translator, publicist, researcher of the Eastern and Western civilizations, and about the role of this artist, who is yet unfortunately very little known in our country.

It is no exaggeration to say that the 20th century has been extremely fruitful for Mexican culture. First of all, I mean the postmodernist poetry, and also powerful prose of such masters as Alfonso Reyes, and later Juan Rulfo and Carlos Fuentes. However, even in this context, Paz’s works occupy a special place. What is so unique about Paz’s heritage for Mexicans?

“Octavio Paz (b. 1914 – d. 1998) is one of the most outstanding poets not only in Mexico, but in the whole Spanish-speaking world of the 20th century! Besides, he also was an essayist, publisher, translator, and a kind of a bridge between cultures and languages. He wrote 26 poetry and prose collections, 1 collection of plays, and 30 books of essays. I would like to mention that in 1990 Paz was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature for ‘passionate all-embracing works marked with sensual intellect and humanistic integrity,’ as the Nobel Committee said in their decision.

“Besides leaving us a great literary heritage, Paz was a diplomat (he worked at the MFA, and at our embassy in Japan, and also as an ambassador of Mexico to India and France), and this experience influenced his literary work.

“He also was a great promoter of literature and culture in general, he initiated the creation of a number of magazines, Plural and Vuelta being the most important ones, and the latter became known as the most significant magazine in the Spanish-speaking world.

“Paz’s works have been translated into 32 languages. Some prominent figures of the world culture (i.a., Samuel Beckett, Elizabeth Bishop, Muriel Rukeyser) dedicated whole books to Paz’s heritage. His El labertino de la soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude, 1950) is recognized as one of the most outstanding books in the genre of essayism.

“Paz is our national asset. He is the only Mexican Nobel laureate, and he also won a number of other prestigious awards, such as the National Prize (1977), Miguel de Cervantes Prize (1981), Alfonso Reyes International Prize (1986), and the Prince of Asturias Award (1993).”

We have touched upon some of the aspects of Paz’s personality. He was also a sociologist, philosopher, and culture student. Which aspects of his heritage would you call the most conspicuous?

“Paz’s poetry is explicitly philosophical, he can be called an essayist in poetry. His opinions serve as landmarks in the dilemmas of our day, in the contemporary social world. In his great work The Labyrinth of Solitude he revealed Mexican identity. Also, he was an inveterate fighter for liberty and democracy. He was a polemic, due to the transcendentalism of his political and philosophical viewpoint. In poetry he departed from traditional forms and embraced modernism, thus making the idea a major factor in poetry.”

Paz’s range of interests is extremely wide and includes things from surrealist poetry and Luis Bunuel’s heritage to Claude Levi-Strauss’s social anthropology to the figure of Marquis de Sade. He dedicated one of his books to the outstanding Mexican 17th century lady poet Juana Ines de la Cruz. What do you think our contemporary has in common with this extraordinary personality?

“First of all, what unites them is poetry and thought; both belong in their time, but both aspired to explain the peculiarities of that time. Paz admired Juana Ines, a poet and thinker, who walked ahead of her time, just like Paz did. The works of both poets are filled with critical energy and creative passion. In The Traps of Faith Paz studies what her life and creativity meant for her, which explains her decision to quit writing as a certain form of protest, caused in a way by the customs and conventions of the 17th-century Mexico.”

How will Paz’s centenary be celebrated in Mexico and abroad? What kind of events is the Embassy to Ukraine planning to hold?

“In Mexico 2014 is declared ‘the year of Octavio Paz.’ It will be marked with literary conferences and meetings of Mexican intellectuals with globally renowned authors. Paz’s complete works will be published, concerts will be held. In particular, the first public performance of a cantata written to the lyrics of Piedra de Sol (Sunstone), which many believe to be the apex of Paz’s poetry. Also, an anniversary postage stamp and an anniversary national lottery will be issued, etc., etc.

“All these events will be a great opportunity to revisit Paz’s works and personality. They aim at bringing his heritage closer to people, first of all, the young.

“There is a busy agenda for many countries worldwide, the most impressive being the events in Spanish-speaking countries and in the countries where Paz worked as a diplomat (France, India, etc.). In Ukraine conferences will be held at the universities of Kyiv, as well as a presentation of Paz’s first book edition in Ukrainian.”