Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Octavio Paz, born Octavio Paz Lozano

Mexican Writer, Poet, Diplomat and Winner of Nobel Prize for Literature

"Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone, and the only one who seeks out another. His nature -if that word can be used in reference to man, who has ‘invented’ himself by saying ‘no’ to nature- consists in his longing to realize himself in another. Man is nostalgia and a search for communion. Therefore, when he is aware of himself he is aware of his lack of another, that is, of his solitude."

"The supreme value is not the future but the present. The future is a deceitful time that always says to us, 'Not yet,' and thus denies us. The future is not the time of love: what person truly wants they want now. Whoever builds a house for future happiness builds a prison for the present."

"Changes are inseparable from democracy. To defend democracy is to defend the possibility of change; in turn, changes alone can strengthen democracy."

"Power immobilizes; it freezes with a single gesture – grandiose, terrible, theatrical, or finally, simply monotonous – the variety which is life."

"Our civilization has been founded on the notion of criticism: there is nothing sacred or untouchable except the freedom to think. Without criticism, that is to say, without rigor and experimentation, there is no science; without criticism there is no art or literature. I would also say that without criticism there is no healthy society."

"Death is the mother of forms."

"Wisdom lies neither in fixity nor in change, but in the dialectic between the two."

"It is always difficult to give oneself up; few persons anywhere ever succeed in doing so, and even fewer transcend the possessive stage to know love for what it actually is: a perpetual discovery, and immersion in the waters of reality, an unending re-creation."

"Deserve your dream."

"No one behind, no one ahead. The path the ancients cleared has closed. And the other path, everyone's path, easy and wide, goes nowhere. I am alone and find my way."

"Eroticism is first and foremost a thirst for otherness. And the supernatural is the supreme otherness. This is perhaps the most noble aim of poetry, to attach ourselves to the world around us, to turn desire into love, to embrace, finally what always evades us, what is beyond, but what is always there – the unspoken, the spirit, the soul."

"What is he searching for? Perhaps he searches for his destiny. Perhaps his destiny is to search."

"In this pilgrimage in search of modernity I lost my way at many points only to find myself again. I returned to the source and discovered that modernity is not outside but within us. It is today and the most ancient antiquity; it is tomorrow and the beginning of the world; it is a thousand years old and yet newborn. It speaks in Nahuatl, draws Chinese ideograms from the 9th century, and appears on the television screen. This intact present, recently unearthed, shakes off the dust of centuries, smiles and suddenly starts to fly, disappearing through the window. A simultaneous plurality of time and presence: modernity breaks with the immediate past only to recover an age-old past and transform a tiny fertility figure from the neolithic into our contemporary. We pursue modernity in her incessant metamorphoses yet we never manage to trap her. She always escapes: each encounter ends in flight. We embrace her and she disappears immediately: it was just a little air. It is the instant, that bird that is everywhere and nowhere. We want to trap it alive but it flaps its wings and vanishes in the form of a handful of syllables. We are left empty-handed. Then the doors of perception open slightly and the other time appears, the real one we were searching for without knowing it: the present, the presence"

"The labyrinth of solitude..."

"Art is an invention of aesthetics, which in turn is an invention of philosophers... What we call art is a game."

"By suppressing differences and peculiarities, by eliminating different civilizations and cultures, progress weakens life and favors death."

"Literature is the expression of a feeling of deprivation, a recourse against a sense of something missing. But the contrary is also true: language is what makes us human. It is a recourse against the meaningless noise and silence of nature and history."

"Memory is not what we remember, but that which remembers us. Memory is a present that never stops passing."

"I sat at the foot of a huge tree, a statue of the night, and tried to make an inventory of all I had seen, heard, smelled, and felt: dizziness, horror, stupor, astonishment, joy, enthusiasm, nausea, inescapable attraction. What had attracted me? It was difficult to say: Human kind cannot bear much reality. Yes, the excess of reality had become an unreality, but that unreality had turned suddenly into a balcony from which I peered into—what? Into that which is beyond and still has no name."

"If we are a metaphor of the universe, the human couple is the metaphor par excellence, the point of intersection of all forces and the seed of all forms. The couple is time recaptured, the return to the time before time."

"What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions. Life is plurality, death is uniformity. By suppressing differences and pecularities, by eliminating different civilizations and cultures, progress weakens life and favors death. The ideal of a single civilization for everyone, implicit in the cult of progress and technique, impoverishes and mutilates us. Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life."

"We are condemned to kill time, thus we die bit by bit."

"What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions. Life is plurality, death is uniformity. By suppressing differences and peculiarities, by eliminating different civilizations and cultures, progress weakens life and favors death. The ideal of a single civilization for everyone, implicit in the cult of progress and technique, impoverishes and mutilates us. Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life."

"Technology is not an image of the world but a way of operating on reality. The nihilism of technology lies not only in the fact that it is the most perfect expression of the will to power... but also in the fact that it lacks meaning."

"Our democratic capitalist society has converted Eros into an employee of Mammon."

"Beyond happiness or unhappiness, though it is both things, love is intensity; it does not give us eternity but life, that second in which the doors of time and space open just a crack: here is there and now is always."

"The West teaches us that being is dissolved into meaning, and the East that meaning is dissolved into something which is neither being nor nonbeing: in a The Same which no language except the language of silence names. For men are made in such a way that silence is also a language for us."

"Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life."

"Only now have I understood that there was a secret relationship between what I have called my expulsion from the present and the writing of poetry. Poetry is in love with the instant and seeks to relive it in the poem, thus separating it from sequential time and turning it into a fixed present. But at that time I wrote without wondering why I was doing it. I was searching for the gateway to the present: I wanted to belong to my time and to my century. A little later this obsession became a fixed idea: I wanted to be a modern poet. My search for modernity had begun."

"Man does not speak because he thinks; he thinks because he speaks. Or rather, speaking is no different than thinking: to speak is to think."

"Poetry is knowledge, salvation, power, abandonment. An operation capable of changing the world, poetic activity is revolutionary by nature; a spiritual exercise, it is a means of interior liberation."

"If you are the amber mare I am the road of blood If you are the first snow I am he who lights the hearth of dawn If you are the tower of night I am the spike burning in your mind If you are the morning tide I am the first bird's cry If you are the basket of oranges I am the knife of the sun If you are the stone altar I am the sacrilegious hand If you are the sleeping land I am the green cane If you are the wind's leap I am the buried fire If you are the water's mouth I am the mouth of moss If you are the forest of the clouds I am the axe that parts it If you are the profaned city I am the rain of consecration If you are the yellow mountain I am the red arms of lichen If you are the rising sun I am the road of blood"

"Between going and staying the day wavers, in love with its own transparency. The circular afternoon is now a bay where the world in stillness rocks. All is visible and all elusive, all is near and can't be touched. Paper, book, pencil, glass, rest in the shade of their names. Time throbbing in my temples repeats the same unchanging syllable of blood. The light turns the indifferent wall into a ghostly theater of reflections. I find myself in the middle of an eye, watching myself in its blank stare. The moment scatters. Motionless, I stay and go: I am a pause."

"I turn the page of the day, writing what I'm told by the motion of your eyelashes. I enter you, the truthfulness of the dark. I want proofs of darkness, want to drink the black wine: take my eyes and crush them. A drop of night on your breast's tip: mysteries of the carnation. Closing my eyes I open them inside your eyes. Always awake on its garnet bed: your wet tongue. There are fountains in the garden of your veins. With a mask of blood I cross your thoughts blankly: amnesia guides me to the other side of life. "

"Your hair is lost in the forest, your feet touching mine. Asleep you are bigger than the night, but your dream fits within this room. How much we are who are so little! Outside a taxi passes with its load of ghosts. The river that runs by is always running back. Will tomorrow be another day? "

"Space No center, no above, no below Ceaselessly devouring and engendering itself Whirlpool space And drop into height Spaces Clarities steeply cut Suspended By the night's flank Black gardens of rock crystal Flowering on a rod of smoke White gardens exploding in the air Space One space opening up Corolla And dissolving Space in space All is nowhere Place of impalpable nuptials "

"In my body you search the mountain for the sun buried in its forest. In your body I search for the boat adrift in the middle of the night. "

"Listen to me as one listens to the rain, not attentive, not distracted, light footsteps, thin drizzle, water that is air, air that is time, the day is still leaving, the night has yet to arrive, figurations of mist at the turn of the corner, figurations of time at the bend in this pause, listen to me as one listens to the rain, without listening, hear what I say with eyes open inward, asleep with all five senses awake, it's raining, light footsteps, a murmur of syllables, air and water, words with no weight: what we are and are, the days and years, this moment, weightless time and heavy sorrow, listen to me as one listens to the rain, wet asphalt is shining, steam rises and walks away, night unfolds and looks at me, you are you and your body of steam, you and your face of night, you and your hair, unhurried lightning, you cross the street and enter my forehead, footsteps of water across my eyes, listen to me as one listens to the rain, the asphalt's shining, you cross the street, it is the mist, wandering in the night, it is the night, asleep in your bed, it is the surge of waves in your breath, your fingers of water dampen my forehead, your fingers of flame burn my eyes, your fingers of air open eyelids of time, a spring of visions and resurrections, listen to me as one listens to the rain, the years go by, the moments return, do you hear the footsteps in the next room? not here, not there: you hear them in another time that is now, listen to the footsteps of time, inventor of places with no weight, nowhere, listen to the rain running over the terrace, the night is now more night in the grove, lightning has nestled among the leaves, a restless garden adrift-go in, your shadow covers this page. "

"I am a man: little do I last and the night is enormous. But I look up: the stars write. Unknowing I understand: I too am written, and at this very moment someone spells me out."

"Here is a long and silent street. I walk in blackness and I stumble and fall and rise, and I walk blind, my feet trampling the silent stones and the dry leaves. Someone behind me also tramples, stones, leaves: if I slow down, he slows; if I run, he runs I turn : nobody. Everything dark and doorless, only my steps aware of me, I turning and turning among these corners which lead forever to the street where nobody waits for, nobody follows me, where I pursue a man who stumbles and rises and says when he sees me : nobody. "

"There's a motionless tree And another one coming forward A river of trees Hits my chest The green surge Is good fortune You are dressed in red You are The seal of the scorched year The carnal firebrand The star fruit In you like sun The hour rests Above an abyss of clarities The height is clouded by birds Their beaks construct the night Their wings carry the day Planted in the crest of light Between firmness and vertigo You are Transparent balance "

"Between now and now, between I am and you are, the word bridge. Entering it you enter yourself: the world connects adn closes like a ring. From one bank to another, there is always a body stretched: a rainbow. I'll sleep beneath its arches. "

"A crystal willow, a poplar of water, a tall fountain the wind arches over, a tree deep-rooted yet dancing still, a course of a river that turns, moves on, doubles back, and comes full circle, forever arriving."

"The two took off their clothes and made love to protect our ration of paradise and time, to touch our roots, to rescue ourselves, to rescue the inheritance stolen from us by the thieves of life centuries ago, the two took off their clothes and kissed because two bodies, naked and entwined, leap over time, they are invulnerable, nothing can touch them, they return to the source, there is no you, no I, no tomorrow, no yesterday, no names, the truth of two in a single body, a single soul, oh total being."

"I travel your length, like a river, I travel your body, like a forest, like a mountain path that ends at a cliff I travel along the edge of your thoughts, and my shadow falls from your white forehead, my shadow shatters, and I gather the pieces and go with no body, groping my way."

"A flower without a stem, is beauty waiting to die. A heart without love, is a tear waiting to cry."

"A nation without free elections is a nation without a voice, without eyes or arms."

"A human being is never what he is but the self he seeks."

"A civilization that denies death ends by denying life."

"A silent concave of puppet buffoons."