Though small in stature and well into his seventies, Octavio Paz, with his piercing eyes, gives the impression of being a much younger man. In his poetry and his prose works, which are both erudite and intensely political, he recurrently takes up such themes as the experience of Mexican history, especially as seen through its Indian past, and the overcoming of profound human loneliness through erotic love. Paz has long been considered, along with César Vallejo and Pablo Neruda, to be one of the great South American poets of the twentieth century; three days after this interview, which was conducted on Columbus Day 1990, he joined Neruda among the ranks of Nobel laureates in literature.
Paz was born in 1914 in
Mexico City, the son of a lawyer and the grandson of a novelist. Both figures were important to the development of the young poet: he learned the value of social causes from his father, who served as counsel for the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, and was introduced to the world of letters by his grandfather. As a boy, Paz was allowed to roam freely through his grandfather’s expansive library, an experience that afforded him invaluable exposure to Spanish and Latin American literature. He studied literature at the , but moved on before earning a degree. Universityof Mexico
My political and intellectual beliefs were kindled by the idea of fraternity. We all talked a lot about it. For instance, the novels of André Malraux, which we all read, depicted the search for fraternity through revolutionary action. My Spanish experience did not strengthen my political beliefs, but it did give an unexpected twist to my idea of fraternity. One day—Stephen Spender was with me and might remember this episode—we went to the front in
Madrid, which was in the university city. It was a battlefield. Sometimes in the same building the Loyalists would only be separated from the Fascists by a single wall. We could hear the soldiers on the other side talking. It was a strange feeling: those people facing me—I couldn't see them but only hear their voices—were my enemies. But they had human voices, like my own. They were like me.