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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This poem is taken from PN Review 19, Volume 7 Number 5, May - June 1981.

Quartet & Two Texts Octavio Paz

Ore, fermate il volo
e, carolando intorno
a l'alba mattutina
ch'esce de la marina,
l'umana vita ritardate e'l giorno.
-Tasso

    I.
KNOWN yet always strange, the lie of the land,
the riddle of the palm of one's own hand.
The ocean sculpts in each wave, stubbornly,
the monument in which it falls away.
Against the sea, a will that's turned to rock,
the faceless headland keeps the sea in check.
The clouds: they are inventing sudden bays
-where a plane is a barque that melts away.
The rapid scribbling of the birds above
-others are fishing where the water moves.
Between the sea-foam and the sand I tread,
the sun is resting light upon my head:
between what's static and what will not stay
in me the elements enact their play.

    II.
THERE are tourists also on this strand,
death in a bikini, death with jewelled hand,
there are rumps and bellies, loins, lungs, thighs,
a cornucopia of bland enormities,
a scattered abundance that precedes
the meal of ashes where the worm will feed.
Adjacent, yet divided by those lines
strictly kept but tacit, undefined,
are vendors, and the stalls where fries are sold,
and panders, parasites, untouchables,
the rags of poor men and the poor man's bones.
The rich are stingy while the poor man fawns:
God loves them not, nor do they love themselves:
'each does but hate his neighbour as himself'.*
*Alexander Pope

    III.
The wind breaks forth and gathers up the grove,
the nations of cloud disperse above.
The real is fragile, wavering, unsure
-also, its law is change, it does not tire.
Round and round the wheel of seemings spins
upon a fixity: the axis time.
Light sketches all and then turns all to flame,
with daggers that are brands it stabs the main
and makes the world a pyre of mirrorings:
we are mere white horses of the sea.
It's not Plotinus's light, it's earthly light,
a light of here, but it is thoughtful light.
It brings, between me and my exile, peace:
my home this light, its shifting emptiness.

   IV.
TO wait for nightfall, I have stretched myself
under the shadow of a throbbing tree.
The tree is a woman in whose leaves
I hear the ocean roll beneath noon heat.
I eat her fruits that have the taste of time,
fruits of forgetfulness, fruits of wisdom.
Beneath the tree, the images and thoughts
and words regard each other, touch.
Through the body we return where we began,
spiral of stillness and of motion.
To taste, to know-it is finite, this pause:
it has beginning, end-is measureless.
Night enters and it rolls us in its wake;
the sea repeats its syllables, now black.
translated by M. Schmidt

Two Texts

(Charles Tomlinson translates two inédits by Octavio Paz, one in verse and one in prose, to be added to the American edition of El Mono Gramatico which will appear in 1981.)

I open the window
                 that gives
onto nowhere
            The window
that opens inwards
                  The wind
raises
      instantaneous weightless
towers of whirling dust
                       They are
higher than this house
                      They fall
onto this page
              Fall and rise again
Before they say
               something
at the turning of the page
                          they scatter
Whirlwinds of echoes
                    aspired inspired
through their own gyration
                          Now
they open into another space
                             They say
not that which we said
                       another thing always another
the same thing always
                     Words of the poem
we never say them
                 The poem says us

A work of art never possesses a real reality. While I am writing, there is a point beyond writing which draws me on and which, each time I seem to have reached it, eludes me. The work isn't that which I am writing, but what I do not finish writing-that which I do not get to write. If I stop and read what I have written, the gap appears once more: beneath what is said there remains the unsaid. Writing rests on an absence, words cover up a hole. In one way and another, a work of art suffers from unreality. All works, not excluding the most perfect, are the presentiment or the rough draft of another, the real one, which never gets written.

The solidity of a work is its form. The echoes and correspondences between the elements which compose it, set up a visible coherence which unfolds before our eyes and mind as a whole: a presence. But the form is constructed above an abyss. The unsaid is the fabric of speech. Form is an architecture of words which, reflected in one another, reveal the underside of language: the not-meaning. A work does not say what it says, but says what it doesn't say. It says this independently of what the author wished to say and of what itself, in appearance, is saying. A work does not say what it says: it always says something else. The same thing.

A work of art is unusual because the coherence which is its form reveals to us its incoherence: that of our own selves which we say without saying and thus say ourselves. I am the blank space of that which I say, the white paper of that which I write. Form is a mask which does not hide but reveals. But what it reveals is a question, a not-saying: a pair of eyes which look down on the text-a reader. Through the mask of form the reader discovers not the author but, in his reading eyes, the unwritten in the written.

The poet is the reader of himself : the reader who discovers in what he writes, while he writes, the presence of the unsaid, the absence of saying which is to say all. The work is the form, the transparency of language over which there appears-untouchable, illegible-a shadow: the unsaid. I likewise suffer from unreality.

This poem is taken from PN Review 19, Volume 7 Number 5, May - June 1981.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk
Further Reading: - Octavio Paz Articles by... (7) Review by... (1) Reviews of... (2)
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