Octavio Paz Quotes

Octavio Paz Lozano was a Mexican writer, poet, and diplomat, and the winner of the 1982 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature (“for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity.”)

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Octavio Paz Quotes

Art is an invention of aesthetics, which in turn is an invention of philosophers… What we call art is a game. – Octavio Paz

If we are a metaphor of the universe, the human couple is the metaphor par excellence, the point of intersection of all forces and the seed of all forms. The couple is time recaptured, the return to the time before time. – Octavio Paz

To read a poem is to hear it with our eyes; to hear it is to see it with our ears. – Octavio Paz

Surrealism is not a school of poetry but a movement of liberation … A way of rediscovering the language of innocence, a renewal of the primordial pact, poetry is the basic text, the foundation of the human order. Surrealism is revolutionary because it is a return to the beginning of all beginnings. – Octavio PazAlternating Current

today is today, always today, always the noise of trains that nightly tear night apart – Octavio PazSelected Poems

Reality is a staircase neither up nor down, we don’t move, today is today, always is today,
always the sound of trains that depart each night towards night,
the resort to toothless words,
the boring through of the wall, the comings and goings, reality shutting doors,
putting in commas, the punctuation of time – Octavio Paz
, “Is there no way out?”, Selected Poems

A garden is not a place: it is a passage, a passion. We don’t know where we’re going; to pass through is enough; to pass through is to remain. – Octavio Paz, “A Tale of Two Gardens”

Mineral cactai, quicksilver lizards in the adobe walls, the bird that punctures space, thirst, tedium, clouds of dust, impalpable epiphanies of wind. The pines taught me to talk to myself. In that garden I learned to send myself off. Later there were no gardens. – Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz Quotes

The ideal of a single civilization for everyone, implicit in the cult of progress and technique, impoverishes and mutilates us. – Octavio Paz

Social criticism begins with grammar and the re-establishing of meanings. – Octavio Paz

Literature is the expression of a feeling of deprivation, a recourse against a sense of something missing. But the contrary is also true: language is what makes us human. It is a recourse against the meaningless noise and silence of nature and history. – Octavio Paz

Tradition is no longer a continuity but a series of sharp breaks. The modern tradition is the tradition of revolt. – Octavio Paz

Contemporary man has rationalized the myths, but he has not been able to destroy them. – Octavio Paz

Beyond happiness or unhappiness, though it is both things, love is intensity; it does not give us eternity but life, that second in which the doors of time and space open just a crack: here is there and now is always. – Octavio Paz

Erotic acts are instinctive; they fulfill a role in nature. The idea is familiar, but it is one that contains a paradox: there is nothing more natural than sexual desire; there is nothing less natural than the forms in which it is made manifest and satisfied. – Octavio Paz

The supreme value is not the future but the present. The future is a deceitful time that always says to us, ‘Not Yet,’ and thus denies us… Whoever builds a house for future happiness builds a prison for the present. – Octavio Paz

Revolt is the violence of an entire people; rebellion the unruliness of an individual or an uprising by a minority; both are spontaneous and blind. Revolution is both planned and spontaneous, a science and an art. – Octavio Paz

It is the Revolution, the magical word, the word that is going to change everything, that is going to bring us immense delight and a quick death. – Octavio Paz

Power immobilizes; it freezes with a single gesture-grandiose, terrible, theatrical, or finally, simply monotonous-the variety which is life. – Octavio Paz

It may seem paradoxical to say that we have been expelled from the present, but it is a feeling we have all had at some moment. Some of us experienced it first as a condemnation, later transformed into consciousness and action. The search for the present is neither the pursuit of an earthly paradise nor that of a timeless eternity: it is the search for a real reality. – Octavio Paz

We pursue her in her incessant metamorphoses yet we never manage to trap her. She always escapes: each encounter ends in flight. We embrace her and she disappears immediately: it was just a little air. It is the instant, that bird that is everywhere and nowhere. We want to trap it alive but it flaps its wings and vanishes in the form of a handful of syllables. We are left empty-handed. Then the doors of perception open slightly and the other time appears, the real one we were searching for without knowing it: the present, the presence. – Octavio Paz

We must cultivate and defend particularity, individuality, and irregularity-life. Human beings do not have a future in the collectivism of bureaucratic states or in the mass society created by capitalism. Every system, by virtue as much of its abstract nature as of its pretension to totality, is the enemy of life. As a forgotten Spanish poet, José Moreno Villa, put it with melancholy wit: “I have discovered in symmetry the root of much iniquity.” – Octavio Paz

The universe unfolds in the body, which is its mirror and its creature. – Octavio Paz

To love is to battle, to open doors. The world changes if two can look at each other and see. – Octavio Paz

If each of my words were a drop of water, you would see through them and glimpse what I feel: gratitude, acknowledgement. – Octavio Paz

What is art? A violet. Is that all? An artistic style is a living entity, a continuous process of invention. It can never be imposed from without; born of the profoundest tendencies within a society, its direction is to a certain extent unpredictable, in much the same way as the eventual configuration of a tree’s branches. – Octavio Paz

The American: a titan enamored of progress, a fanatical giant who worships “getting things done” but never asks himself what he is doing nor why he is doing it. – Octavio Paz

Each time we try to express ourselves we have to break with ourselves. – Octavio Paz

Death is the mother of forms. – Octavio Paz

The whole motley confusion of acts, omissions, regrets and hopes which is the life of each one of us finds in death, not meaning or explanation, but an end. – Octavio Paz

The world is born when two people kiss. – Octavio Paz

We are condemned to kill time, thus we die bit by bit. – Octavio Paz

Man, even man debased by the neocapitalism and pseudosocialism of our time, is a marvelous being because he sometimes speaks. Language is the mark, the sign, not of his fall but of his original innocence. Through the Word we may regain the lost kingdom and recover powers we possessed in the far-distant past. – Octavio Paz

Reality is a staircase going neither up nor down. We don’t move, today is today, always is today. – Octavio Paz

To read a poem is to hear it with our eyes; to hear it is to see it with our ears. – Octavio Paz

Revolt is the violence of an entire people; rebellion the unruliness of an individual or an uprising by a minority; both are spontaneous and blind. Revolution is both planned and spontaneous, a science and an art. – Octavio Paz

By diminishing the value of silence, publicity has also diminished that of language. The two are inseparable: knowing how to speak has always meant knowing how to keep silent, knowing that there are times when one should say nothing. – Octavio Paz

Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone. – Octavio Paz

Believing ourselves to be possessors of absolute truth degrades us: we regard every person whose way of thinking is different from ours as a monster and a threat and by so doing turn our own selves into monsters and threats to our fellows. – Octavio Paz

What is art? A violet. Is that all? An artistic style is a living entity, a continuous process of invention. It can never be imposed from without; born of the profoundest tendencies within a society, its direction is to a certain extent unpredictable, in much the same way as the eventual configuration of a tree’s branches. – Octavio Paz

Each time we try to express ourselves we have to break with ourselves. – Octavio Paz

Our civilization has been founded on the notion of criticism: there is nothing sacred or untouchable except the freedom to think. Without criticism, that is to say, without rigor and experimentation, there is no science; without criticism there is no art or literature. I would also say that without criticism there is no healthy society. – Octavio Paz

Whatever is not stone is light. – Octavio Paz

Deserve your dream. – Octavio Paz

Poet: gardener of epitaphs. – Octavio Paz

I thought that the world was a vast system of signs, a conversation between giant beings. My actions, the cricket’s saw, the star’s blink, were nothing but pauses and syllables, scattered phrases from that dialogue. What word could it be, of which I was only a syllable? Who speaks the word? To whom is it spoken? – Octavio Paz

For every language that becomes extinct, an image of man disappears. – Octavio Paz

Changes are inseparable from democracy. To defend democracy is to defend the possibility of change; in turn, changes alone can strengthen democracy. – Octavio Paz

Man does not speak because he thinks; he thinks because he speaks. Or rather, speaking is no different than thinking: to speak is to think. – Octavio Paz

Eroticism is first and foremost a thirst for otherness. And the supernatural is the supreme otherness. This is perhaps the most noble aim of poetry, to attach ourselves to the world around us, to turn desire into love, to embrace, finally what always evades us, what is beyond, but what is always there – the unspoken, the spirit, the soul. – Octavio Paz

a human being is never what he is but the self he seeks. – Octavio Paz

Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone, and the only one who seeks out another. His nature – if that word can be used in reference to man, who has ‘invented’ himself by saying ‘no’ to nature – consists in his longing to realize himself in another. Man is nostalgia and a search for communion. Therefore, when he is aware of himself he is aware of his lack of another, that is, of his solitude. – Octavio Paz

Wisdom lies neither in fixity nor in change, but in the dialectic between the two. – Octavio Paz

What distinguishes modern art from the art of other ages is criticism. – Octavio Paz

It is not proper to project our feelings onto things or to attribute our own sensations and passions to them. Can it also be improper to see in them a guide, a way of life? To learn the art of remaining motionless amid the agitation of the whirlwind, to learn to remain still and to be as transparent as this fixed light amid the frantic branches this may be a program for life. – Octavio Paz

Poetry is not truth, it is the resurrection of presences. – Octavio Paz

To fight evil is to fight ourselves. – Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz Quotes

Reality is a staircase going neither up nor down, we don’t move; today is today, always is today. – Octavio Paz

Images, memories, fragmentary shapes and forms all those sensations, visions, half-thoughts that appear and disappear in the wink of an eye, as one sets forth to meet…. The path also disappears as I think of it, as I say it. – Octavio Paz

Today we all speak, if not the same tongue, the same universal language. There is no one center, and time has lost its former coherence: East and West, yesterday and tomorrow exist as a confused jumble in each one of us. Different times and different spaces are combined in a here and now that is everywhere at once. – Octavio Paz

What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions. Life is plurality, death is uniformity. By suppressing differences and pecularities, by eliminating different civilizations and cultures, progress weakens life and favors death. The ideal of a single civilization for everyone, implicit in the cult of progress and technique, impoverishes and mutilates us. Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life. – Octavio Paz

Modern man likes to pretend that his thinking is wide-awake. But this wide-awake thinking has led us into the mazes of a nightmare in which the torture chambers are endlessly repeated in the mirrors of reason. – Octavio Paz

Without democracy freedom is a chimera. – Octavio Paz

Beyond myself, somewhere, I wait for my arrival. – Octavio Paz

Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone. – Octavio Paz

To love is to undress our names. – Octavio Paz

There can be no society without poetry, but society can never be realized as poetry, it is never poetic. Sometimes the two terms seek to break apart. They cannot. – Octavio Paz

I don’t believe that there are dangerous writers: the danger of certain books is not in the books themselves but in the passions of their readers. – Octavio Paz

Ruy-Sanchez’s works of fiction are always amazing: adventure, poetry and intelligence in a new geometry of words… His writing has nerve and agility, his intelligence is sharp without being cruel, his mood is sympathetic without complicity. – Octavio Paz

Poets have the gift to speak for others, Vasko Popa had the very rare quality of hearing the others. – Octavio Paz

If society abolishes poetry it commits spiritual suicide. – Octavio Paz

Solitude is the profoundest fact. – Octavio Paz

The religion of art, like the religion of politics, was born from the ruins of Christianity. Art inherited from the old religion the power of consecrating things and endowing them with a sort of eternity; museums are our temples, and the objects displayed in them are beyond history. Politics–or more precisely, Revolution–co-opted the other function of religion: changing human beings and society. Art was an asceticism, a spiritual heroism; Revolution was the construction of a universal church. – Octavio Paz

Cubism had been an analysis of the object and an attempt to put it before us in its totality; both as analysis and as synthesis, it was a criticism of appearance. Surrealism transmuted the object, and suddenly a canvas became an apparition: a new figuration, a real transfiguration. – Octavio Paz

Drugs are nihilistic: they undermine all values and radically overturn all our ideas about good and evil, what is just and what is unjust, what is permitted and what is forbidden. – Octavio Paz

What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions; life is plurality, death is uniformity. – Octavio Paz

Art is what remains of religion: the dance above the yawning abyss. – Octavio Paz

Self-discovery is above all the realization that we are alone: it is the opening of an impalpable, transparent wall-that of our consciousness-between the world and ourselves. – Octavio Paz

Writers, you know, are the beggars of Western society. – Octavio Paz

Enormous and solid but swaying, beaten by the wind but chained, murmur of a million leaves against my window. Riot of trees, surge of dark green sounds. The grove, suddenly still, is a web of fronds and branches. – Octavio Paz

Two opposing forces inhabit the poem: one of elevation or up-rooting, which pulls the word from the language: the other of gravity, which makes it return. The poem is an original and unique creation, but it is also reading and recitation: participation. The poet creates it; the people, by recitation, re-create it. Poet and reader are two moments of a single reality. – Octavio Paz

Light is time thinking about itself. – Octavio Paz

By diminishing the value of silence, publicity has also diminished that of language. The two are inseparable: knowing how to speak has always meant knowing how to keep silent, knowing that there are times when one should say nothing. – Octavio Paz

There is nothing sacred or untouchable except the freedom to think. Without criticism, that is to say, without rigor and experimentation, there is no science, without criticism there is no art or literature. I would also say that without criticism there is no healthy society. – Octavio Paz

Language lies outside of society because it is its foundation; but it also lies within society because that is the only place where it exists and the only place where it develops. – Octavio Paz

With great difficulty advancing by millimeters each year, I carve a road out of the rock. For millenniums my teeth have wasted and my nails broken to get there, to the other side, to the light and the open air. And now that my hands bleed and my teeth tremble, unsure in a cavity cracked by thirst and dust, I pause and contemplate my work. I have spent the second part of my life breaking the stones, drilling the walls, smashing the doors, removing the obstacles I placed between the light and myself in the first part of my life. – Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz Quotes

The woman who died night after night and her dying was a long goodbye, a train that never left. – Octavio Paz

What characterizes a poem is its necessary dependence on words as much as its struggle to transcend them. – Octavio Paz

A civilization that denies death ends by denying life. – Octavio Paz

A flower without a stem, is beauty waiting to die. A heart without love, is a tear waiting to cry. – Octavio Paz

The North American system only wants to consider the positive aspects of reality. Men and women are subjected from childhood to an inexorable process of adaptation certain principles, contained in brief formulas are endlessly repeated by the Press, the radio, the churches, and the schools, and by those kindly, sinister beings, the North American mothers and wives. A person imprisoned by these schemes is like a plant in a flowerpot too small for it he cannot grow or mature. – Octavio Paz

It is always difficult to give oneself up; few persons anywhere ever succeed in doing so, and even fewer transcend the possessive stage to know love for what it actually is: a perpetual discovery, and immersion in the waters of reality, an unending re-creation. – Octavio Paz

By suppressing differences and peculiarities, by eliminating different civilizations and cultures, progress weakens life and favors death. – Octavio Paz

Watching I watch myself, what I see is my creation as though entering through my eyes perception is conception into an eye more crystal clear water of thoughts, what I watch watches me, I am the creation of what I see. – Octavio Paz

When a society decays, it is language that is first to become gangrenous. As a result, social criticism begins with grammar and the re-establishing of meanings. – Octavio Paz

Love is an attempt at penetrating another being, but it can only succeed if the surrender is mutual. – Octavio Paz

When we learn to speak, we learn to translate. – Octavio Paz

listen to me as one listens to the rain, the years go by, the moments return, do you hear the footsteps in the next room? not here, not there: you hear them in another time that is now, listen to the footsteps of time, inventor of places with no weight, nowhere, listen to the rain running over the terrace, the night is now more night in the grove, lightning has nestled among the leaves, a restless garden adrift-go in, your shadow covers this page. – Octavio Paz

…because two bodies, naked and entwined, leap over time, they are invulnerable, nothing can touch them, they return to the source. There is no you, no I, no tomorrow, no yesterday, no names, the truth of two in a single body, a single soul, oh total being… – Octavio Paz

My body, plowed by your body, will turn into a field where one is sown and a hundred reaped. – Octavio Paz

Self-discovery is above all the realization that we are alone. – Octavio Paz

I sat at the foot of a huge tree, a statue of the night, and tried to make an inventory of all I had seen, heard, smelled, and felt: dizziness, horror, stupor, astonishment, joy, enthusiasm, nausea, inescapable attraction. What had attracted me? It was difficult to say: Human kind cannot bear much reality. Yes, the excess of reality had become an unreality, but that unreality had turned suddenly into a balcony from which I peered into—what? Into that which is beyond and still has no name… – Octavio Paz

No one behind, no one ahead. The path the ancients cleared has closed. And the other path, everyone’s path, easy and wide, goes nowhere. I am alone and find my way. – Octavio Paz

Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life – Octavio Paz

Solitude lies at the lowest depth of the human condition. Man is the only being who feels himself to be alone and the only one who is searching for the Other. – Octavio Paz

Technology is not an image of the world but a way of operating on reality. The nihilism of technology lies not only in the fact that it is the most perfect expression of the will to power… but also in the fact that it lacks meaning. – Octavio Paz

Believing ourselves to be possessors of absolute truth degrades us: we regard every person whose way of thinking is different from ours as a monster and a threat and by so doing turn our own selves into monsters and threats to our fellows. – Octavio Paz

  • Deserve your dream.
    • “Hacia el Poema (Puntos de Partida)” [Toward the Poem (Starting Points)] (1950)
    • Variant translation: Deserve what you dream.
  • There can be no society without poetry, but society can never be realized as poetry, it is never poetic. Sometimes the two terms seek to break apart. They cannot.
    • “Signs in Rotation” (1967) in The Bow and the Lyre : The Poem, The Poetic Revelation, Poetry and History (1973) as translated by Ruth L.C. Simms, p. 249
  • Only now have I understood that there was a secret relationship between what I have called my expulsion from the present and the writing of poetry. Poetry is in love with the instant and seeks to relive it in the poem, thus separating it from sequential time and turning it into a fixed present. But at that time I wrote without wondering why I was doing it. I was searching for the gateway to the present: I wanted to belong to my time and to my century. A little later this obsession became a fixed idea: I wanted to be a modern poet. My search for modernity had begun.
    • Nobel Lecture (8 December 1990)
  • To fight evil is to fight ourselves. Itinerary (1994)
  • If you are the amber mare

    Octavio Paz Quotes

I am the road of blood
If you are the first snow

I am he who lights the hearth of dawn
If you are the tower of night

I am the spike burning in your mind
If you are the morning tide

I am the first bird’s cry
If you are the basket of oranges

I am the knife of the sun
If you are the stone altar

I am the sacrilegious hand
If you are the sleeping land

I am the green cane
If you are the wind’s leap

I am the buried fire
If you are the water’s mouth

I am the mouth of moss
If you are the forest of the clouds

I am the axe that parts it
If you are the profaned city

I am the rain of consecration
If you are the yellow mountain

I am the red arms of lichen
If you are the rising sun

I am the road of blood
  • “Motion”, as translated by Eliot Weinberger, in Collected Poems 1957-1987
My hands
open the curtains of your being
clothe you in a further nudity
uncover the bodies of your body

My hands
invent another body for your body “Touch”
  • Between going and staying the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.
The circular afternoon is now a bay
where the world in stillness rocks.
All is visible and all elusive,
all is near and can’t be touched.
Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.
Time throbbing in my temples repeats
the same unchanging syllable of blood.
The light turns the indifferent wall
into a ghostly theater of reflections.
I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.
The moment scatters. Motionless,
I stay and go: I am a pause. “
Between Going and Staying”
  • I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out. “Brotherhood: Homage to Claudius Ptolemy”
  • We are condemned
to kill time:

so we die
little by little. “A Tale of Two Gardens”

Octavio Paz Quotes

The Clerk’s Vision

  • And to fill all these white pages that are left for me with the same monotonous question: at what hour do the hours end?
  • I too await the coming of my hour, I too exist. No. I quit.
    Yes, I know, I could settle down in an idea, in a custom, in an obsession. Or stretch out on the coals of a pain or some hope and wait there, not making much noise. Of course it’s not so bad: I eat, drink, sleep, make love, observe the marked holidays and go to the beach in summer. People like me and I like them. I take my condition lightly: sickness, insomnia, nightmares, social gatherings, the idea of death, the little worm that burrows into the heart or the liver (the little worm that leaves its eggs in the brain and at night pierces the deepest sleep), the future at the expense of today – the today that never comes on time, that always loses its bets. No. I renounce my ration card, my I.D., my birth certificate, voter’s registration, passport, code number, countersign, credentials, safe conduct pass, insignia, tattoo, brand.
  • The world stretches out before me, the vast world of the big, the little, and the medium. Universe of kings and presidents and jailors, of mandarins and pariahs and liberators and liberated, of judges and witnesses and the condemned: stars of the first, second, third and nth magnitudes, planets, comets, bodies errant and eccentric or routine and domesticated by the laws of gravity, the subtle laws of falling, all keeping step, all turning slowly or rapidly around a void. Where they claim the central sun lies, the solar being, the hot beam made out of every human gaze, there is nothing but a hole and less than a hole: the eye of a dead fish, the giddy cavity of the eye that falls into itself and looks at itself without seeing. There is nothing with which to fill the hollow center of the whirlwind. The springs are smashed, the foundations collapsed, the visible or invisible bonds that joined one star to another, one body to another, one man to another, are nothing but a tangle of wires and thorns, a jungle of claws and teeth that twist us and chew us and spit us out and chew us again. No one hangs himself by the rope of a physical law. The equations fall tirelessly into themselves.
    And in regard to the present matter, if the present matters: I do not belong to the masters. I don’t wash my hands of it, but I am not a judge, nor a witness for the prosecution, nor an executioner. I do not torture, interrogate, or suffer interrogation. I do not loudly plead for leniency, nor wish to save myself or anyone else. And for all that I don’t do and for all that they do to us, I neither ask forgiveness nor forgive. Their piety is as abject as their justice. Am I innocent? I’m guilty. Am I guilty? I’m innocent. (I’m innocent when I’m guilty, guilty when I’m innocent. I’m guilty when … but that is another song. Another song? It’s all the same song.) Guilty innocent, innocent guilty, the fact is I quit.
  • I remember my loves, my conversation, my friendships. I remember it all, see it all, see them all. With melancholy, but without nostalgia. And above all, without hope. I know that it is immortal, and that, if we are anything, we are the hope of something. For me, expectation has spent itself. I quit the nevertheless, the even, the in spite of everything, the moratoriums, the excuses and forgiving. I know the mechanism of the trap of morality and the drowsiness of certain words. I have lost faith in all those constructions of stone, ideas, ciphers. I quit. I no longer defend this broken tower. And, in silence, I await the event.
  • The first deaths will barely swell the daily count, and no one in the statistics bureau will notice that extra zero. But after a while everyone will begin to look at each other and ask: what’s happening? Because for months doors and windows are going to rattle, furniture and trees will creak.
  • No use going out or staying at home. No use erecting walls against the impalpable. A mouth will extinguish all the fires, a doubt will root up all the decisions. It will be everywhere without being anywhere. It will blur all the. mirrors. Penetrating walls and convictions, vestments and well-tempered souls, it will install itself in the marrow of everyone. Whistling between body and body, crouching between soul and soul. And all the wounds will open because, with expert and delicate, although somewhat cold, hands, it will irritate sores and pimples, will burst pustules and swellings and dig into the old, badly healed wounds. Oh fountain of blood, forever inexhaustible! Life will be a knife, a gray and agile and cutting and exact and arbitrary blade that falls and slashes and divides. To crack, to claw, to quarter, the verbs that move with giant steps against us!
    It is not the sword that shines in the confusion of what will be. It is not the saber, but fear and the whip. I speak of what is already among us. Everywhere there are trembling and whispers, insinuations and murmurs. Everywhere the light wind blows, the breeze that provokes the immense Whiplash each time it unwinds in the air. Already many carry the purple insignia in their flesh. The light wind rises from the meadows of the past, and hurries closer to our time.

The Labyrinth of Solitude

  • Modern man likes to pretend that his thinking is wide-awake. But this wide-awake thinking has led us into the mazes of a nightmare in which the torture chambers are endlessly repeated in the mirrors of reason.
  • Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone, and the only one who seeks out another. His nature – if that word can be used in reference to man, who has ‘invented’ himself by saying ‘no’ to nature – consists in his longing to realize himself in another. Man is nostalgia and a search for communion. Therefore, when he is aware of himself he is aware of his lack of another, that is, of his solitude.
  • To the people of New York, Paris, or London, “death” is a word that is never pronounced because it burns the lips. The Mexican, however, frequents it, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and most steadfast love. Of course, in his attitude perhaps there is as much fear as there is in one of the others; at least he does not hide it; he confronts it face to face with patience, disdain, or irony.

Sun Stone

  • willow of crystal, a poplar of water,
    a pillar of fountain by the wind drawn over,
    tree that is firmly rooted and that dances,
    turning course of a river that goes curving,
    advances and retreats, goes roundabout,
    arriving forever:
the calm course of a star
or the spring, appearing without urgency,
water behind a stillness of closed eyelids
flowing all night and pouring out prophecies,
a single presence in the procession of waves
wave over wave until all is overlapped,
in a green sovereignty without decline
a bright hallucination of many wings
when they all open at the height of the sky,

course of a journey among the densities
of the days of the future and the fateful
brilliance of misery shining like a bird
that petrifies the forest with its singing
and the annunciations of happiness
among the branches which go disappearing,
hours of light even now pecked away by the birds,
omens which even now fly out of my hand,

an actual presence like a burst of singing,
like the song of the wind in a burning building,
a long look holding the whole world suspended,
the world with all its seas and all its mountains,
body of light as it is filtered through agate,
the thighs of light, the belly of light, the bays,
the solar rock and the cloud-colored body,
color of day that goes racing and leaping,
the hour glitters and assumes its body,
now the world stands, visible through your body,
and is transparent through your transparency,

  • I travel through your waist as through a river,
    I voyage your body as through a grove going,
    as by a footpath going up a mountain
    and suddenly coming upon a steep ravine
    I go the straitened way of your keen thoughts
    break through to daylight upon your white forehead
    and there my spirit flings itself down, is shattered
    now I collect my fragments one by one
    and go on, bodiless, searching, in the dark….

    you take on the likeness of a tree, a cloud,
    you are all birds and now you are a star,
    now you resemble the sharp edge of a sword
    and now the executioner’s bowl of blood,
    the encroaching ivy that over grows and then
    roots out the soul and divides it from itself,

  • I want to go on, to go beyond; I cannot;
    the moment scatters itself in many things,
    I have slept the dreams of the stone that never dreams
    and deep among the dreams of years like stones
    have heard the singing of my imprisoned blood,
    with a premonition of light the sea sang,
    and one by one the barriers give way,
    all of the gates have fallen to decay
    ,
    the sun has forced an entrance through my forehead,
    has opened my eyelids at last that were kept closed,
    unfastened my being of its swaddling clothes,
    has rooted me out of my self, and separated
    me from my animal sleep centuries of stone
    and the magic of reflections resurrects
    willow of crystal, a poplar of water,
    a pillar of fountain by the wind drawn over,
    tree that is firmly rooted and that dances,
    turning course of a river that goes curving,
    advances and retreats, goes roundabout,
    arriving forever:

Alternating Current

  • Man does not speak because he thinks; he thinks because he speaks. Or rather, speaking is no different than thinking: to speak is to think.
    • André Breton or the Quest of the Beginning
  • If we are a metaphor of the universe, the human couple is the metaphor par excellence, the point of intersection of all forces and the seed of all forms. The couple is time recaptured, the return to the time before time.
    • André Breton or the Quest of the Beginning
  • “Art” is an invention of aesthetics, which in turn is an invention of philosophers…what we call art is a game.
  • To read a poem is to hear it with our eyes; to hear it is to see it with our ears.
  • Many psychiatrists think, like Huxley, that these substances [hallucinogens] are neither more nor less dangerous than alcohol. It is not necessary to entirely accept this opinion — although to me it seems to be not far from the truth — in order to recognize that the authorities prohibit these drugs not so much in the name of public health as in the name of public morality. They are a challenge to the ideals of activity, utility, progress, work, and similar notions that justify our daily routine. Alcoholism is an infraction of social rules. Everyone tolerates it because the violation confirms the rules. This case is analogous to prostitution: neither the drunk nor the prostitute and her clientele call into doubt the rules they break. Their acts are a disturbance of order, not a criticism of it. The use of hallucinogens, on the other hand, implies a negation of prevailing social values. … We can now understand the true reason for their condemnation and its severity. The authorities aren’t suppressing a reprehensible practice or a crime. They are suppressing dissidence. … Prohibition is a battle against a contagion of the spirit — against an opinion. The authorities reveal, in their ideological zeal, that they are pursuing a heresy, not a crime. p. 105

Octavio Paz Quotes

The Monkey Grammarian

  • The best thing to do will be to choose the path to Galta, traverse it again (invent it as I traverse it), and without realizing it, almost imperceptibly, go to the end — without being concerned about what “going to the end” means or what I meant when I wrote that phrase. At the very beginning of the journey, already far off the main highway, as I walked along the path that leads to Galta, past the little grove of banyan trees and the pools of foul stagnant water, through the Gateway fallen into ruins and into the main courtyard bordered by dilapidated houses, I also had no idea where I was going, and was not concerned about it. I wasn’t asking myself questions: I was walking, merely walking, with no fixed itinerary in mind. I was simply setting forth to meet … what? I didn’t know at the time, and I still don’t know. Perhaps that is why I wrote “going to the end”: in order to find out, in order to discover what there is after the end. A verbal trap; after the end there is nothing, since if there were something, the end would not be the end. Nonetheless, we are always setting forth to meet … even though we know that there is nothing, or no one, awaiting us. We go along, without a fixed itinerary, yet at the same time with an end (what end?) in mind, and with the aim of reaching the end. A search for the end, a dread of the end: the obverse and the reverse of the same act. Without this end that constantly eludes us we would not journey forth, nor would there be any paths. But the end is the refutation and the condemnation of the path: at the end the path dissolves, the meeting fades away to nothingness. And the end — it too fades away to nothingness. Ch. 1
  • Images, memories, fragmentary shapes and forms — all those sensations, visions, half-thoughts that appear and disappear in the wink of an eye, as one sets forth to meet…. The path also disappears as I think of it, as I say it. Ch. 1
  • It is not proper to project our feelings onto things or to attribute our own sensations and passions to them. Can it also be improper to see in them a guide, a way of life? To learn the art of remaining motionless amid the agitation of the whirlwind, to learn to remain still and to be as transparent as this fixed light amid the frantic branches — this may be a program for life. Ch. 2
  • Fixity is always momentary. It is an equilibrium, at once precarious and perfect, that lasts the space of an instant: a flickering of the light, the appearance of a cloud, or a slight change in temperature is enough to break the repose-pact and unleash the series of metamorphoses. Each metamorphosis, in turn, is another moment of fixity succeeded by another change and another unexpected equilibrium. No one is alone, and each change here brings about another change there. No one is alone and nothing is solid: change is comprised of fixities that are momentary accords. Ch. 2
  • Ought I to say that the form of change is fixity, or more precisely, that change is an endless search for fixity? A nostalgia for inertia: indolence and its frozen paradises. Wisdom lies neither in fixity nor in change, but in the dialectic between the two. A constant coming and going: wisdom lies in the momentary. It is transition. But the moment I say transition, the spell is broken. Transition is not wisdom, but a simple going toward… Transition vanishes: only thus is it transition. Ch. 2
  • Fixity is always momentary. But how can it always be so? If it were, it would not be momentary — or would not be fixity. What did I mean by that phrase? I probably had in mind the opposition between motion and motionlessness, an opposition that the adverb always designates as continual and universal: it embraces all of time and applies to every circumstance. My phrase tends to dissolve this opposition and hence represents a sly violation of the principle of identity. I say “sly” because I chose the word momentary as an adjectival qualifier of fixity in order to tone down the violence of the contrast between movement and motionlessness. A little rhetorical trick intended to give an air of plausibility to my violation of the rules of logic. The relations between rhetoric and ethics are disturbing: the ease with which language can be twisted is worrisome, and the fact that our minds accept these perverse games so docilely is no less cause for concern. We ought to subject language to a diet of bread and water if we wish to keep it from being corrupted and from corrupting us. (The trouble is that a-diet-of-bread-and-water is a figurative expression, as is the-corruption-of-language-and-its-contagions.) It is necessary to unweave (another metaphor) even the simplest phrases in order to determine what it is that they contain (more figurative expressions) and what they are made of and how (what is language made of? and most important of all, is it already made, or is it something that is perpetually in the making?). Unweave the verbal fabric: reality will appear. (Two metaphors.) Can reality be the reverse of the fabric, the reverse of metaphor — that which is on the other side of language? (Language has no reverse, no opposite faces, no right or wrong side.) Perhaps reality too is a metaphor (of what and/or of whom?). Perhaps things are not things but words: metaphors, words for other things. With whom and of what do word-things speak? (This page is a sack of word-things.) It may be that, like things which speak to themselves in their language of things, language does not speak of things or of the world: it may speak only of itself and to itself. Ch. 4
  • Since movement is a metaphor for change, the best thing will be to say: nonchange is (always) change. It would appear that I have finally arrived at the desired disequilibrium. Nonetheless, change is not the primordial, original word that I am searching for: it is a form of becoming. When becoming is substituted for change, the relation between the two terms is altered, so that I am obliged to replace nonchange by permanence, which is a metaphor for fixity, as becoming is for coming-to-be, which in turn is a metaphor for time in all its ceaseless transformations…. There is no beginning, no original word: each one is a metaphor for another word which is a metaphor for yet another, and so on. All of them are translations of translations. A transparency in which the obverse is the reverse: fixity is always momentary.
    I begin all over again: if it does not make sense to say that fixity is always momentary, the same may not be true if I say that it never is. Ch. 4
  • My phrase is a moment, the moment of fixity in the monologue of Zeno the Eleatic and Huí Shih (“I leave today for Yüeh and I arrive yesterday”). In this monologue one of the terms finally devours the other: either motionlessness is merely a state of movement (as in my phrase), or else movement is only an illusion of motionlessness (as among the Hindus). Therefore we ought not to say either always or never, but almost always or almost never, merely from time to time or more than is generally supposed and less than this expression might indicate, frequently or seldom, consistently or occasionally, we don’t have at our disposal sufficient data to state with certainty whether it is periodic or irregular: fixity (always, never, almost always, almost never, etc.) is momentary (always, never, almost always, almost never, etc.) fixity (always, never, almost always, almost never, etc.) is momentary (always, never, almost always, almost never, etc.) fixity…. All this means that fixity never is entirely fixity and that it is always a moment of change. Fixity is always momentary. Ch. 4
  • Repetitions, you wander about lost amid repetitions, you are merely a repetition among other repetitions. An artist of repetitions, a past master of disfigurations, a maestro of demolitions. The trees repeat other trees, the sands other sands, the jungle of letters is repetition, the stretch of dunes is repetition, the plethora is emptiness, emptiness is a plethora, I repeat repetitions, lost in the thicket of signs, wandering about in the trackless sand, stains on the wall beneath this sun of Galta, stains on this afternoon in Cambridge, a thicket and a stretch of dunes, stains on my forehead that assembles and disassembles vague landscapes. You are (I am) is a repetition among other repetitions. You are is I am; I am is you are: you are is I. Demolitions: I stretch out full length atop my triturations, I inhabit my demolitions. Ch. 6
  • The Great Monkey closes his eyes, scratches himself again and muses: before the sun has become completely hidden — it is now fleeing amid the tall bamboo trees like an animal pursued by shadows — I shall succeed in reducing this grove of trees to a catalogue. A page of tangled plant calligraphy. A thicket of signs: how to read it, how to clear a path through this denseness? Hanumān smiles with pleasure at the analogy that has just occurred to him: calligraphy and vegetation, a grove of trees and writing, reading and a path. Following a path: reading a stretch of ground, deciphering a fragment of world. Reading considered as a path toward…. The path as a reading: an interpretation of the natural world? He closes his eyes once more and sees himself, in another age, writing (on a piece of paper or on a rock, with a pen or with a chisel?) the act in the Mahanātaka describing his visit to the grove of the palace of Rāvana. He compares its rhetoric to a page of indecipherable calligraphy and thinks: the difference between human writing and divine consists in the fact that the number of signs of the former is limited, whereas that of the latter is infinite; hence the universe is a meaningless text, one which even the gods find illegible. The critique of the universe (and that of the gods) is called grammar…. Disturbed by this strange thought, Hanumān leaps down from the wall, remains for a moment in a squatting position, then stands erect, scrutinizes the four points of the compass, and resolutely makes his way into the thicket. Ch. 8
  • time in an allegory of itself imparts to us lessons of wisdom which the moment they are formulated are immediately destroyed by the merest flickers of light or shadow which are nothing more than time in its incarnations and disincarnations which are the phrases that I am writing on this paper and that disappears as I read them:
    they are not the sensations, the perceptions, the mental images, and the thoughts which flare up and die away here, now, as I write or as I read what I write: they are not what I see or what I have seen, they are the reverse of what is seen and of the power of sight—but they are not the invisible: they are the unsaid residuum;
    they are not the other side of reality but, rather, the other side of language, what we have on the tip of our tongue that vanishes before it is said, the other side that cannot be named because it is the opposite of a name:
    what is not said is not this or that which we leave unsaid, nor is it neither-this-nor-that: it is not the tree that I say I see but the sensation that I feel on sensing that I see it at the moment when I am just about to say that I see it, an insubstantial but real conjunction of vibrations and sounds and meanings that on being combined suggest the configuration of a green-bronze-black-woody-leafy-sonorous-silent presence;
    no, it is not that either, if it is not a name it surely cannot be the description of a name or the description of the sensation of the name or the name of the sensation:
    a tree is not the name tree, nor is it the sensation of tree: it is the sensation of a perception of tree that dies away at the very moment of the perception of the sensation of tree;
    names, as we already know, are empty, but what we did not know, or if we did know, had forgotten, is that sensations are perceptions of sensations that die away, sensations that vanish on becoming perceptions, since if they were not perceptions, how would we know that they are sensations?;
    sensations that are not perceptions are not sensations, perceptions that are not names—what are they?
    if you didn’t know it before, you know now: everything is empty;
    and the moment I say everything-is-empty, I am aware that I am falling into a trap: if everything is empty, this everything-is-empty is empty too;
    no, it is full, full to overflowing, everything-is-empty is replete with itself, what we touch and see and taste and smell and think, the realities that we invent and the realities that touch us, look at us, hear us, and invent us, everything that we weave and unweave and everything that weaves and unweaves us, momentary appearances and disappearances, each one different and unique, is always the same full reality, always the same fabric that is woven as it is unwoven: even total emptiness and utter privation are plenitude (perhaps they are the apogee, the acme, the consummation and the calm of plenitude), everything is full to the brim, everything is real, all these invented realities and all these very real inventions are full of themselves, each and every one of them, replete with their own reality;
    and the moment I say this, they empty themselves: things empty themselves and names fill themselves, they are no longer empty, names are plethoras, they are donors, they are full to bursting with blood, milk, semen, sap, they are swollen with minutes, hours, centuries, pregnant with meanings and significations and signals, they are the secret signs that time makes to itself, names suck the marrow from things, things die on this page but names increase and multiply, things die in order that names may live: Ch. 9
  •  the reality beyond language is not completely reality, a reality that does not speak or say is not reality;
    and the moment I say that, the moment I write, letter by letter, that a reality stripped of names is not reality, the names evaporate, they are air, they are a sound encased in another sound and in another and another, a murmur, a faint cascade of meanings that fade away to nothingness:
    the tree that I say is not the tree that I see, tree does not say tree, the tree is beyond its name, a leafy, woody reality: impenetrable, untouchable, a reality beyond signs, immersed in itself, firmly planted in its own reality: I can touch it but I cannot name it
    , I can set fire to it but if I name it I dissolve it:
    the tree that is there among the trees is not the tree that I name but a reality that is beyond names, beyond the word reality, it is simply reality just as it is, the abolition of differences and also the abolition of similarities;
    the tree that I name is not the tree, and the other one, the one that I do not name and that is there, on the other side of my window, its trunk now black and its foliage still inflamed by the setting sun, is not the tree either, but, rather, the inaccessible reality in which it is planted:
    between the one and the other there appears the single tree of sensation which is the perception of the sensation of tree that is vanishing, but
    who perceives, who senses, who vanishes as sensations and perceptions vanish? Ch. 9
  • no reality is mine, no reality belongs to me (to us), we all live somewhere else, beyond where we are, we are all a reality different from the word I or the word we;
    our most intimate reality lies outside ourselves and is not ours, and it is not one but many, plural and transitory, we are this plurality that is continually dissolving, the self is perhaps real, but the self is not I or you or he, the self is neither mine nor yours,
    it is a state, a blink of the eye, it is the perception of a sensation that is vanishing, but who or what perceives, who senses?

    are the eyes that look at what I write the same eyes that I say are looking at what I write?
    we come and go between the word that dies away as it is uttered and the sensation that vanishes in perception—although we do not know who it is that utters the word nor who it is that perceives, although we do know that the self that perceives something that is vanishing also vanishes in this perception: it is only the perception of that self s own extinction,
    we come and go: the reality beyond names is not habitable and the reality of names is a perpetual falling to pieces, there is nothing solid in the universe, in the entire dictionary there is not a single word on which to rest our heads, everything is a continual coming and going from things to names to things,
    no, I say that I perpetually come and go but I haven’t moved, as the tree has not moved since I began to write,
    inexact expressions once again: I began, I write, who is writing what I am reading?, the question is reversible: what am I reading when I write: who is writing what I am reading? 
    Ch. 9
  • the phrases that I write on this paper are sensations, perceptions, images, etcetera, which flare up and die down here, in front of my eyes, the verbal residuum:
    the only thing that remains of the felt, imagined, thought, perceived, and vanished realities, the only reality that these evaporated realities leave behind, a reality that, even though it is merely a combination of signs, is no less real than they are:
    the signs are not presences but they configure another presence, the phrases fall into line one after the other on the page and as they advance they open up a path toward a temporarily final end,
    the phrases configure a presence that disappears, they are the configuration of the abolition of presence,
    yes, it is as though all these presences woven by the configurations of the signs were seeking its abolition in order that there might appear those inaccessible trees, immersed in themselves, not said, that are beyond the end of this phrase,
    on the other side, there where eyes read what I am writing, and on reading it, dissipate it 
    Ch. 9

Octavio Paz Lozano (March 31, 1914 – April 19, 1998) was a Mexican poet and diplomat. For his body of work, he was awarded the 1981 Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the 1982 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature.

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