Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz
(1914 - 1998)

Mexican poet, writer, and diplomat, recognized as one of the major literary figures in Latin America after World War II. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990.
Paz's family was ruined financially by the Mexican Civil War, and Octavio grew up in straitened circumstances. He was educated at a Roman Catholic school and at the University of Mexico. He turned to writing and published his first book of poetry, Luna silvestre ("Forest Moon"), in 1933 at age 19. Paz visited Spain in 1937, where he identified strongly with the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. He wrote his reflections on that experience in Bajo tu clara sombra y otros poemas ("Beneath Your Clear Shadow and Other Poems"), which, published in Spain in 1937, identified him as a young writer of real promise. Before returning home he visited Paris, where Surrealism exerted a profound influence on him.

Back in Mexico, Paz founded and edited several important literary reviews, including Taller (1939; "Workshop") and El hijo prodigo (1943; "The Prodigal Son"). He edited another review of literature and politics, Plural, in the 1970s. His major poetic publications included No pasaran! (1937; "They Shall Not Pass!"), Libertad bajo palabra (1949; "Freedom Under Parole"), {?}Aguila o sol? (1951; Eagle or Sun?), and Piedra de sol (1957; The Sun Stone). In the same period, he produced prose volumes of essays and literary criticism, including El laberinto de la soledad (1950; The Labyrinth of Solitude), an influential essay in which he analyzes the character, history, and culture of Mexico; and El arco y la lira (1956; The Bow and the Lyre) and Las peras del olmo (1957; "The Pears of the Elm"), which are studies of contemporary Spanish-American poetry.

Paz entered Mexico's diplomatic corps in 1946 and served in a variety of assignments, including one as Mexico's ambassador to India from 1962 to 1968; in the latter year he resigned in protest over Mexico's brutal treatment of student radicals that year.

His poetry after 1962 includes Blanco (1967), Ladera este (1971; "East Slope"), and Hijos del aire (1981; Airborn). The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, 1957-1987 was published in 1987. His later prose works, some originally in English, include Conjunciones y disyunciones (1970; Conjunctions and Disjunctions), El mono gramatico (1974; The Monkey Grammarian), and One Earth, Four or Five Worlds (1985).

Paz was influenced in turn by Marxism, Surrealism, existentialism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. In the poetry of his maturity, he used a rich flow of surrealistic imagery in dealing with metaphysical questions. His most prominent theme was man's ability to overcome his existential solitude through erotic love and artistic creativity.

Jason Wilson, Octavio Paz (1986), introduces Paz's life and work. Critical studies include Ivar Ivask (ed.), The Perpetual Present (1973); Kosrof Chantikian (ed.), Octavio Paz: Homage to the Poet (1980); John M. Fein, Toward Octavio Paz: A Reading of His Major Poems, 1957-1976 (1986); and Frances Chiles Octavio Paz: The Mythic Dimension (1987).


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