Saturday, January 12, 2008

Octavio Paz "Early Poems 1935-1955"

Lola, my beautiful Spanish colleague, gave me the gift of Octavio Paz for Christmas. I had not read him before, and, reading these early poems, I was impressed by the lyrical, almost mystical, intensity of this young man who became the 1990 Nobel Laureate.

This is a perfect lyric:

Live Interval

Lightning or fishes
in the night of the sea
and birds, lightning
in the forest night.

Our bones are lightning
in the night of the flesh.
O world, all is night,
life is the lightning.

The later poems of these early collections are longer, more meditative, in which Paz "feels his metaphysics," as Muriel Rukeyser puts it in her introduction. One that combines thought and feeling to an erotic intensity is "Hymn among the ruins," which begins thus:

Self crowned the day displays its plumage.
A shout tall and yellow,
impartial and beneficent,
a hot geyser into the middle sky!
Appearances are beautiful in this their momentary truth.
The sea mounts the coast,
clings between the rocks, a dazzling spider;
the livid wound on the mountain glistens;
a handful of goats becomes a flock of stones;
the sun lays its gold egg upon the sea.
All is god.
A broken statue,
columns gnawed by the light,
ruins alive in a world of death in life!

How bold is that assertion "All is god," and how justified by the imaginative re-creations of these ruins and resurrections. It makes me want to write a poem about Singapore, a poem that is not bitter nor ironic, but a paeon.


Anonymous said...

Does the Paz collection have "A Tree Within"? I find that poem very lovely.

It's a great idea to write a paeon on Singapore. The Singapore poets I read only have disparaging things to say. (eg. Alfian.)

Have you read R. S. Thomas's "Welsh Landscape"? I usually don't like nationalist poems but this one is especially moving.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Thanks for the link. I like "A Tree Within" too. The R. S. Thomas poem I read in junior college in an anthology called "Eleven British Poets" edited by Michael Schmidt. Do you know that book? Thomas is disparaging about Wales in his poem ("worrying the carcass of an old song" etc), but the beauty of the country comes through in the language.

Anonymous said...

Yikes, no, I don't know the book. I don't know about disparaging Wales though; what I got was a poignant sense of loss, like you know a thing or a person has so much potential to do well or better but it or s/he is underachieving. But I read that poem only once and it was some time ago. I may probably be wrong.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Well, perhaps Alfian feels the same about Singapore?