cover image The Poems of Octavio Paz

The Poems of Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz, edited and trans. from the Spanish by Eliot Weinberger. New Directions, $39.95 (624p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2043-9

Paz (1914–1998), who won the Nobel Prize in 1990, dominated Mexican letters during the last decades of his life; his influence was global, and his powers of invention beyond dispute. This ambitious bilingual selection (far from complete, despite the title) is the first to span his career. Readers new to Paz will notice consistencies—self-consciousness about words and meanings, as “Syllables/ ripen in the mind,/ flower in the mouth”; erotic passion; reliance on common nouns (sun, flame, leaves); and a sense of poetic authority—“listen to me as one listens to the rain.” And yet the same readers may marvel at Paz’s variety: haiku-like miniatures; the tempestuous book-length poem “Sunstone”; fast-moving prose poems; abstract odes; extended descriptions of places in Mexico, India, Afghanistan, and Japan; flourishing responses to visual art; even a long and passionate poem (“Blanco”) that divides itself in two parallel columns, perhaps corresponding to male and female. The essayist Weinberger translated Paz, with Paz’s approval, for decades; he has revised some versions to fit Paz’s revisions, included a few by other hands, and supplied careful explanatory notes. The result is that rarity, an authoritative translation that should get sustained U.S. attention, and that often sounds right read aloud. (Oct.)