Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz:
"Between What I See and What I Say..."
from A Tree Within (1976)

When it was announced that Octavio Paz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (October 11, 1990), the Press Release quoted Paz's view of poetry: "Between what I see and what I say, / between what I say and what I keep silent, / between what I keep silent and what I dream, / between what I dream and what I forget: / poetry." I was overwhelmed by these words and headed immediately to the library to find the entire poem. When I discovered it in Paz's book of poems A Tree Within, I typed it out and read it over and over again. When I taught kids in the California-Poets-in-th-Schools program, my first workshop handout was "What Is Poetry?" I'd include Paz's poem along with the vision of poetry by Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, and Emily Dickinson. What I like about Paz's idea of poetry is that it is not fixed and quite elusive— between yes & no, between silence & speech, between what is & what is not. Isn't this the dilemma of Hamlet— "To be or not to be. That is the question." I love the closing of stanza 2— "Eyes close, / the words open." It echoes Emily Dickinson's Poem #1212— A word is dead / When it is said, / Some say. / I say it just / Begins to live / That day." Yes, how true! The poet's words never die on the page, but lives on in the hearts of its readers— opening our minds to new vistas of the universe. (Peter Y. Chou)

Between What I See and What I Say... (1976)

                                    for Roman Jakobson


Between what I see and what I say,
Between what I say and what I keep silent,
Between what I keep silent and what I dream,
Between what I dream and what I forget:
            It slips
between yes and no,
what I keep silent,
                            keeps silent
what I say,
what I forget.
                      It is not speech:
it is an act.
                It is an act
of speech.
speaks and listens:
                            it is real.
And as soon as I say
                              it is real,
it vanishes.
                Is it then more real?


Tangible idea,
comes and goes
                        between what is
and what is not.
                        It weaves
and unweaves reflections.
scatters eyes on a page,
scatters words on our eyes.
Eyes speak,
                  words look,
looks think.
                  To hear
what we say,
the body of an idea.
                              Eyes close,
the words open.

— Octavio Paz (1914-1998),
     "Between What I See and What I Say..."
     A Tree Within, (Poems 1976-1987)

Octavio Paz, 1990 Nobel Laureate
   (Biography, Press Release, Banquet Speech, Nobel Lecture)

Academy of American Poets: Octavio Paz
   (Biography & Bibliography, Fragments of a Talk, Hermandad)

Octavio Paz (1914-1998)
   (Books & Writers: Biography, Selected Works)

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