Sunday, 18 September 2011

Octavia Paz (31/3/14 -19//4/98) - Poetry and History


Every poem is an attempt to reconcile history and poetry for the benefit of poetry. The poet always seeks to elude the tyranny of history even when he identifies himself with the soiety in which he lives, and when he participates in what is called ' thecurent of the age' - an extreme case which is becoming less and less imaginable in the modern world. All great poetic experiments - from the magic formula and the eic oem to automatic writing - claim to use the poem as a meting-ot for history and poetry, fact and myth, colloquiaism and imagery, the date which can never be epeated and the festivity, a date which is alive and endowed with a secret fertility, ever returning to inaugrate a new period. The nature of a poem is analogous to that of a Fiesta which, besides being a date in the calender, is also a break in the sequence of time and the irruption of a present which periodically returns without yesterday or tomorrow. Every poem is a Fiesta, a precipitate of pure time.
The rlationship between men and history is oe of slavery and dependence. For if we are the only protaganists of histry, we are alsoits raw material and its victims: it can only be fulfied at ur expense. Poetry radically transforms this relationship; it can only find fulilment at the expense f history. Al its products - the hero, the assasin, the lover,the allegory, the fragmentary inscription, the refrain, the oth; the involuntarily exclamation on the lips of the child at play, the condemned criminal, the girl makking love for the first time; the phrase borne of the wind, the shred of a cy - all these, together with archaism, neologism, and quotation, will neve resign themselves to dying, or to be battered ainst the wall. They are bent on ataining tothe end, on existing on the utmost. They extricate themselves from cause and efect. They wait for the poem which will rescue them and make them what tey are. There can be no poetry without history, but poetry has no other mission than to transmute history. And terefore the only true revolutionary poetry is apocalyptic poetry.
Poetry is made of the verysubstance of history and society - language. But it seeks to re-crate language in accordance with laws other than those which govern conversation and logial discourse. This poetic tansmutation occurs in the innermost receses of the language. The phrase- and not the isolated world- is the cell, the simplest element of language. A word cannot exist without ther words, a phrase without other phrases.
That is to say, every sentence always contains an implicit reference to another, and is susceptible of explanation by another. Every phrase constitutes a 'wish to say' something, referrring explicitly to something beyond it. Language is a combination of mobile and interchangeable symbols, each indicating 'towards' what it is going. In this way both meaning and communication are based on the 'intentionalty' of words. But no sooner does poetry touch them that they are changed into rhythmic units or into imags; tey stand on teir own and are sufficiet unto themselves. Words sudenly lose their mobility, there are various ways of saying a thing in prose, there is only one in poetry. The poetical word has no substitute. It is not a wish to say something, but is something irevocably said. Or alternatively, it is not a 'going towards' something, nor a 'speaking' of this or tat. The poet does not speak of horror or of love: he shows them. Irrevocable and irreplaceable, thewords of poetry become inexlicable exept in ters of temselves. Their meaning is no longer beyond, but within tem; the image is 'in' the meaning.
The proper function of the petic image is to rsolve ito a unity realities which appear to us conflicting and irreducible. And this operation takes pace without removing or sacrificing the conflicts and antagonisms between the entities which it evokes and re-creates. That is why the poetic image is inexplicable in the rict sense of the term. Now poetic language partakes of the ambiguity with which rality eveals itself to us. In tansmuting the language, the image not only opens the door to realty, it also, as it were, strips realty bare and shows it to us in its final unity. The phrase becomes an image. The poem is is a single image, or an indivisible costellaion of images. The void left by the dissapearance of what we call reality is peopled with a crowd of heteroeneous or conflicting visions, inevitably seeking to resolve their discord into a solar system of allusions - the poem: a universe ofopaque, corruptible words which can yet light up and burn whenever teir are lis to touch them. At certain times, in the mouths of some speakers, the phrase-mill becomes a source of evident truths requiring no demonstration. Then we are transported into the fullness of time. By exploiting languageto the utmost the poet transcends it. By emphasising history, he lays it bare and shows it for what it is - time.
When history alows us to suspect that it is perhaps no more than ahostly procession, without meaning or end, ambiguity of anguage becomes more marked and prevents any genuine dialoge. Words lose their meaning,and thereby their piwers to communicate. The degradation of histry into a mere sequence of events nvolve the degradation of language, too, into a collection of lifeless symbols. All men use the same words, but they do noyt understand one another. And it is useless for men to try to 'reach an agreement' on the meanings of words. Language is not aonvention, buta dimension from which man cannot be seperated. Every verbal advnture is total; a man stakes his whole self and life on a single word. The poet is a man whose very being becomes one with his words. Therefore, nly the poet can make posible a new dialoque. The destiny of the poet, particularly in a period such as ours, is 'donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu.' This impies that words are roted out of the common language and brought to birth in a poem. What is called hermeticiism of modern poetry sprins from that fact. But wors ae inseperable from men. Consequently, poetic activity cannot take place outside the poet, in the magic object represented by the oem; rather does it take man himself, not in the poem alone. The two are inseperable. The poems of Rimbaud are Rimbaud himself, the adolescent fencing wth shining blasphemies, despite all attempts to convert him into a kind of brute upon whom the word descended. No, poet and his word are one. Such has been, during the past hundred years the motto of the greatest movement of the century - suealism - been any different. The grandeur of these attempts - to which no poet worthy of the name can be indifferent - lies in their endeabvour to destroy once and for all, and in desperation, the dualism which tears us asunder. Poetry leaps into the unknown, or it is nothing.
In present circumstances, it may seem ldicrous to the extravagent claims of poetry. Never has the domination of history been greater than now, neverhas the pressure of events' become so suffocating. In proportion as the tyranny of 'what to do next' becomes more and more intolerable - since our consent has not been asked for the doing, and since it is almost always directed towards man's destruction- so does petic activity become more secret, isolated, and rare. Only yeasterday, to write a poem or to fall in love were subversive activities, compromising the social order by exposing its double character. Today, the very notion of order has diisapeared, and its place has been taken by a combination of forces, masses, and resistances. Reality has cast disguises and contemporary society is seen for what it is: a hetegeneous colection of things 'homogenized' by the whip or by propaganda, dircted by groups distinguishable from one another only by teir degrees of brutality. In these circuntances, petic creationgoes into hiding. If a poem is a Fiesta, it is one held out of sason, in unfrequented places - an underground festivity.
But petic activity is rediscovering all its ancient subversive powers by this very secrecy, impregnated with eroticism and the occult, a challenge to an interdict not less condemnatory for not being explicitly formulated..
Poetry, which yesterday was equired to breath the free air of universal communian, continues to be an exorcism for preserving us from the sorcery of force and its numbes. It has ben said that poetry is one of the means by which modern man can say No  to all those powers which, not content with disposing of our lives, also want to rule our consciences. But this negation carries within it a Yes which is greater than itself.

Reprinted from
Anthology of Mexican Poetry
Grove Press 1994

originally published , in an edition
by Thames and Hudson, 1959.

For more infomation on this  great Mexican poet go here

http://kirjasto.sci.fi/opaz.htm

Will post some of his poems at a later date.

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