Friday, July 5, 2019

Thought Provokers

The Street

Here is a long and silent street.
I walk in blackness and I stumble and fall
and rise, and I walk blind, my feet
trampling the silent stones and the dry leaves.
Someone behind me also tramples, stones, leaves:
if I slow down, he slows;
if I run, he runs I turn : nobody.
Everything dark and doorless,
only my steps aware of me,
I turning and turning among these corners
which lead forever to the street
where nobody waits for, nobody follows me,
where I pursue a man who stumbles
and rises and says when he sees me : nobody.

– Octavio Paz (1914-1998)

Octavio Paz – who has been featured from time to time in our Midweek Motifs, most recently in Bridge – is often quoted on the internet as saying, 'Deserve your dream.' (Yes, worth quoting.) One such instance also informs us: 'Mexican poet and Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz (born March 31, 1914) thought he wanted to be a lawyer when he was a young man. But at the age of 23, he abandoned his studies to work at a school for the sons of peasants. The experience inspired his epic poem, Between the Stone and the Flower, which explores the effects of domineering landlords on the lower class.'

This is perhaps an extreme encapsulation of his career as prolific poet and writer, diplomat, political activist and later a professor, who won other prizes besides (the ultimate) the Nobel. But he had such a long and active career, it's far too detailed to try and prĂ©cis here. Instead I refer you to Wikipedia.

I've recently become enamoured of his shorter poems. I like his way of looking at the world, which involves unexpectedness and mystery and makes me do a double-take and rethink – as in The Street, above, which at first recounts an experience that's not uncommon. Though he tells it vividly enough that I kept reading, he didn't seem to be saying anything new – until that twist in the tail which suddenly raises startling questions.

I wouldn't attempt to try and answer them! Instead, I'll treat you to a couple of his other intriguing short pieces and leave you to ponder:

Last Dawn

Your hair is lost in the forest,
your feet touching mine.
Asleep you are bigger than the night,
but your dream fits within this room.
How much we are who are so little!
Outside a taxi passes
with its load of ghosts.
The river that runs by
is always
running back.
Will tomorrow be another day? 


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. 

Material shared in “Thought Provokers’ is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.The photo of Octavio Paz is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: Jonn Leffmann. 


  1. Thank you, Rosemary, for sharing these poems Octavio Paz, an inspirational man and poet. I was chilled by the sinister undertones in ‘The Street’ - the thought of someone walking blind, with someone else behind them, both trampling the silent stones and the dry leaves. In ‘Last Dawn’ my favourite image is the taxi with its load of ghosts’ and I love the writing stars in ‘Brotherhood’, as well as the final lines:
    ‘and at this very moment
    someone spells me out.’

    1. Thanks, Kim, for the detailed comment. Those last two lines of 'Brotherhood' knock me out, too.

  2. Wow. These three are brilliant. One feels a human's smallness and greatness at the same time. Loved the twist at the end where he faces the one who is following him and it is himself. I especially love the stars spelling him out. Cool.

    1. Yes, they are brilliant, aren't they? And quite amazing. I love the way they deliver their surprises very quietly yet suddenly.

  3. Thanks, Rosemary. I really loved that last one.

  4. Aah...Octavio Paz is one of my most favorite poets. I remember 'Brotherhood' teaching in class. Everyday the poem seemed to tell me something new. Love the post, Rosemary.

    1. I have heard that touted as one criterion for 'greatness' in art – that there is always something new to find in the particular piece (whether visual, musical, or written). Another, perhaps, is that we never tire of them. Glad I reminded you of a favourite.

  5. "The river that runs by is always running back." This is true. When a small river flows into a larger mass of water with an oppositional wind pattern,a part of the small river always is coming back home.

  6. I really like "The Street." How well I can picture thinking someone is following me. He makes the scene so vivid that I feel the poem strongly.

  7. I enjoyed reading these poems so much. I must read more. Thank you Rosemary for sharing your findings with us.

  8. Just lovely, Rosemary … 'Last Dawn' is stunning. 'Deserve your dream': a quote to live by. What a fascinating human being. I will definitely check out Wikipedia.

  9. I've never read Octavio Paz. So, I am beyond grateful for this post. Not just because, well... it is always great to be introduced to a new writer, but also because I can't wait to delight in his short works.

    Thank you, Rosemary!


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