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Piedra de sol

Piedra de sol

by Octavio Paz

Stanzas 21-24 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 209-216

there is nothing inside me but a large wound,
a hollow place where no one goes,
a windowless present, a thought that returns
and repeats itself, reflects itself,
and loses itself in its own transparency,
a mind transfixed by an eye that watches
it watching itself till it drowns itself
in clarity:

  • So the speaker's been dragging us along for about 200 lines and we still don't know what the heck it is he can't remember. 
  • But now, the big moment is here. The information you've been waiting for is about to be revealed. 
  • Are you ready? 
  • Are you sure? 
  • Okay…fine, here goes:
  • We learn that the speaker is empty except for a wound, and that the wound is a memory that repeats itself over and over. 
  • The speaker is drowning in his own mind, and feels like an eye watching itself until things become clear….

Lines 216-224

I saw your horrid scales,
Melusina, shining green in the dawn,
you slept twisting between the sheets,
you woke shrieking like a bird,
and you fell and fell, till white and broken,
nothing remained of you but your scream,
and I find myself at the end of time
with bad eyes and a cough, rummaging through
the old photos:

  • The speaker is starting to remember some details. 
  • He says to the beloved: "I saw your horrid scales, / Melusina, shining green in the dawn." Remember Melusina from before? She's the half-fish, half-woman from medieval mythology. (See "Allusions" if you want more on her.)
  • Here the speaker remembers Melusina in bed, waking up screaming "like a bird," and that she fell down and only her scream remains. So the bird images that have been popping up are starting to make some sense. 
  • Then we get the speaker again, "at the end of time / with bad eyes and a cough, rummaging through / the old photos." Same old, same old—he's dying, he's sick, he's trying to remember.

Lines 224-230

there's no one, you're no one,
a heap of ashes and a worn-out broom,
a rusted knife and a feather duster,
a pelt that hangs from a pack of bones,
a withered ranch, a black hole,
and there at the bottom the eyes of a girl
drowned a thousand years ago,

  • Ah, yet another list of objects, but this time they're not natural objects like the lists we have seen so far. Instead, these are everyday, household items, with an old pile of skin and bones thrown in at the end. 
  • After the "pelt that hangs from a pack of bones" we get "a withered branch" (probably this has something to do with him being impotent in his old age).
  • Then we get a black hole with a girl's eyes at the bottom "drowned a thousand years ago." Ouch. 
  • So the beautiful teenager whose face and name he can't remember, but whom he also can't forget, drowned. Maybe that's why the speaker is always trying to relate her to the sea….

Lines 231-240

glances buried deep in a well,
glances that have watched us since the beginning,
the girl's glance of the aged mother
who sees her grown son a young father,
the mother's glance of the lonely girl
who sees her father a young son,
glances that watch us from the depths
of life, and are the traps of death
—or what if that fall into those eyes
were the way back to true life?

  • The last stanza was a little rough, so Paz takes us back into trippy-land for a breather. 
  • Here we find a series of glances, that are buried in a well, and that have been watching us for all time. (Cue Twilight Zone music.) 
  • Remember all of that stuff about time folding in and collapsing on itself? Here we get the human version of that: an old mother uses her young glance to see a young father in her grown son. Did you get that? How about this one: a young girl uses a mother's glance to see her father as a young son. Headache? Go get the aspirin, we'll wait.
  • These glances are supposed to be eternal, because they're all mixed up between generations and can see the past and the future all at the same time.
  • The speaker first says that they are "the traps of death" but then he changes his mind and asks "what if that fall into those eyes were the way back to true life?" Confusing, yes. But if it makes you feel better, it's kind of supposed to be.
  • The idea here is that time past isn't all that lost after all. Sure, this girl may have drowned years ago, but memory is a way to bring her back, no?
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