Happy Birthday, Octavio Paz

photo from nobelprize.org

photo from nobelprize.org

On Monday April 20 1998, I was sitting in a classroom, waiting for my teacher,

my book of Octavio Paz’s poetry on my desk.

Our teacher had asked us to read some of Paz’s poems for class, and I was looking forward to learning more about them and more about the poet and essayist in general.

“You may already have heard this in the news,” my teacher began, “but Octavio Paz passed away yesterday.”

“I thought we could have a moment of silence in his honor,” he continued, “as we are here to explore the beauty of his words and his contribution to literature.”

And so we did.

Today, March 31, is Octavio Paz’s birthday (he would have been 99).

So I thought I would take a moment to honor his words once again.

And perhaps to remind myself of that special moment in a classroom many years ago.

“Entre lo que veo y lo que digo” by Octavio Paz

    A Roman Jakobson


Entre lo que veo y digo

entre lo que digo y callo,

entre lo que callo y sueño,

entre lo que sueño y olvido,

la poesía.

Se desliza

entre el sì y el no:


lo que callo,


lo que digo,


lo que olvido.

No es un decir:

es un hacer.

Es un hacer

que es un decir.

La poesía

se dice y se oye:

es real.

Y apenas digo

es real,

se disipa.

¿Así es mas real?


Idea palpable,



la poesía

va y viene

entre lo que es

y lo que no es.

Teje reflejos

y los desteje.

La poesía

siembra ojos en la página,

siembra calabra en los ojos.

Los ojos hablan,

las calabra miran,

las miradas piensan.


los pensamientos,


lo que decimos,


el cuerpo de la idea.

Los ojos

se sierra,

las palabras se abren.

“Between what I see and what I say”

for Roman Jakobson


Between what  I see and what I say,

between  what I say and what I keep silent,

between what I keep silent and what I dream,

between what I dream and what I forget:


It slips

between yes and no,


what I keep silent,

keeps silent

what I say,


what I forget.

It is not speech:

it is an act

of speech.


speaks and listens:

it is real.

And as soon as I say

it is real,

it vanishes.

Is it then more real ?


Tangible idea,




comes and goes

between what is

and what is not.

It weaves

and unweaves reflections.


scatters eyes on a page,

scatters words on our eyes.

Eyes speak,

words look,

looks think.

To hear



what we say,


the body of an idea.

Eyes close,

the words open.

(from Arbol AdentroA Tree Within – translated by Eliot Weinberger; the original poem is formatted differently but, unfortunately, I lost the formatting when I published this post so it’s worth having a look at the original when you get a chance)

61 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Octavio Paz

    • I know you, so often sitting in a classroom, can appreciate how lovely it was to have this small touching moment in a classroom. I think that’s why it has remained in my memory all this time.

  1. Thank-you for including the poetic translation. Wow, the words gave me chills. The weaving of poetic lines and the reminder here that there is no correct form to poetry is wonderful – and inspirational to writers such as myself! Happy Easter too xx

  2. He is my favorite poet! I was very little (about 7 years old) when I saw one of his poems in an invitation, and fell in love, he taught me to love poetry. good post will re-blog it!

    • I’m so glad you liked the post; it was a special moment for me. I always think of the day he died when I read his poems so by writing this post I hope to also be reminded of his birthday now too.

  3. I have always had trouble liking poetry, or even understanding it, but I am finding through posts like this one that my appreciation of its many forms is growing. Thank you.

    • You are so right, Marylin. It’s a line that sits with you, that settles into your mind and resurfaces as you go about your day. I keep thinking about it. Thank you for your encouragement 🙂

  4. I’ve been re-reading his essays of late, mainly about Tlatelolco, and am still impressed at the insight and humanity he brings to his understanding of Mexico. He was also the one person in the Mexican government to resign in protest of the actions taken on that fateful night in 1968. But his power as a poet is seen in how he interpreted what happened.

    • I haven’t read his essays about Tlatelolco (or it’s been so long that I’ve completely forgotten?). I will have to get out his essays and read them again.

  5. Thanks for share this your’s free verse…the remembrances of a class…reveries…memories…so worth life writing. And thanks for share another affinity. I do appreciate so much Octavio Paz…la otra voz…a voz do homem…y una otra voz…en este que-hacer de la poiesis…do poema…palavras…sons…silêncios…a poem…such as a mirror of words…at some point that a poem does occurs…and a poet write and spell and sing and chant…the words…the phrases of a poem…este real que Octavio apresenta em seus poemas. Aprecio muito o trabalho também como ensaista. And after reading this fairy post I do reread “La otra voz: poesia y fin de siglo”, (1990), a book in his work and oeuvre that is his full expression as essayist, too. Leading me to reread Montaigne, the great essay writer. The poem is real…the poem is voicing words…writing words for chant, la otra voz…voz poética…infinitude in the finite poems. Thanks for share. I appreciate very much your work for art and literature.

  6. Letizia! What a gorgeous poem to come back to. I’ve got many blogs to catch up on now that I am back from my travels and reading this poem was such a pleasure. It reminds me what a source of interest you are, and I am thankful for finding you in this big wide web. I hope you have been well this last month.

  7. A great mexican writer. I ´ve always admired him… You should also check out a long poem by him called “Piedra de Sol” (“Stone of Sun”)… I´m sure you won´t regret it!…

    I am now following your blog… Iam looking forward to reading still more, Letizia…

    Aquileana 😉

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