Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
to fall, to go back, to dream myself,
to be dreamed by other eyes that will come,
another life, other clouds,
to die yet another death!
—this night is enough, this moment that never
stops opening out, revealing to me
where I was, who I was, what your name is,
what my name is:
- The speaker is trying to go back, to dream, to remember "where I was, who I was, what your name is, / what my name is." He's a little confused, and we don't blame him.
- He keeps tumbling around in that same memory-moment, the one he can't get back to, and it's like dying in a way.
was it I making plans
for the summer—for all the summers—
on Christopher Street, ten years ago,
with Phyllis, who had two dimples in her cheeks
where sparrows came to drink the light?
on the Reforma did Carmen say to me,
"the air's so crisp here, it's always October,"
or was she speaking to another I've forgotten,
or did I invent it and no one said it?
in Oaxaca was I walking through a night
black-green and enormous as a tree,
talking to myself like the crazy wind,
and coming back to my room—always a room—
was it true the mirrors didn't know me?
did we watch the dawn from the Hotel Vernet
dancing with the chestnut trees—
did you say "it's late," combing your hair,
did I watch the stains on the wall and say nothing?
did the two of us climb the tower together,
did we watch evening fall on the reef?
did we eat grapes in Bidart? in Perote
did we buy gardenias?
- This stanza takes us back into real life after the crazy-talk of the last one.
- We get a series of mixed-up memories in the form of questions.
- The speaker asks whether he was making plans with Phyllis on Christopher Street in New York City, or talking to Carmen on the Reforma Avenue in Mexico City, or if he was in the Mexican state of Oaxaca in the night, or if they were together the Hotel Vernet in Paris, or if there were stains on the wall, or if they climbed together, went to the sea together, if they ate grapes in Bidart, France, or whether they bought gardenias in Perote, Mexico.
- All of these specific references are a huge contrast to the abstract wind, water, air, fire, earth references that fill up the first part of the poem.
- The memory seems to be coming back to the speaker, but he isn't sure which one is the one he is looking for, and which one is real.
- He's obviously had more than his fair share of girlfriends in lots of beautiful places around the world, but it's one in particular he's having a hard time recalling.
- (And not to judge or anything, but maybe you can't remember dear speaker because you were a bit of a womanizer.)
streets and streets, faces, plazas,
streets, a park, stations, single
rooms, stains on the wall, someone
combing her hair, someone dressing,
someone singing at my side, rooms,
places, streets, names, rooms,
- Here is a list of the images from the memory, some of them repeated, that make you feel like you're watching a movie montage where you know something happened but you just don't know what yet.
- These are all man-made things—we're done with the natural stuff for now: names, places, streets, plazas, park, stations, rooms, stains, combs, clothing, and a song.
- The repetition of some of the elements give the stanza a confusing, whirlwind-ish feel, as if he's rifling through many memories, trying to find the one he's after.
in the Plaza del Ángel the women were sewing
and singing along with their children,
then: the sirens' wail, and the screaming,
houses brought to their knees in the dust,
towers cracked, facades spat out
and the hurricane drone of the engines:
the two took off their clothes and made love
to protect our share of all that's eternal,
to defend 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…
- Hmmm…these stanzas are getting longer. Kind of like the days get longer in the summertime. Might it have something to do with the fact that this poem is based on a calendar? Just a thought….
- Now we get a place and a date, as if the speaker is finally getting his act together. Madrid, 1937. What was going on then and there?
- Well, actually, there was a war on: the Spanish Civil War. And guess who went to fight in it on the Republican (as in anti-monarch, not the elephants) side?
- Why, Octavio Paz of course.
- The stanza paints a wartime picture in the Plaza del Angel, an important plaza in the middle of Madrid.
- First we have an idyllic image of women sewing and singing with their children but "then: the sirens' wail, and the screaming." This is a lot like the scene described in Pablo Neruda's poem "Madrid, 1937," and the shout-out isn't just coincidental.
- What is different, though, is what happens in the middle of this bombardment: a couple decides to get it on. Yep, you read that right.
- At first the speaker describes the lovers in the third-person: "the two took off their clothes and made love," but in the very next line, without so much as a comma to mark the change, he switches into first-person: "to protect our share of all that's eternal."
- The speaker describes how making love during the attack was a way to rescue the time that would be stolen from them. The speaker insists that "two bodies, naked and entwined, / leap over time, they are invulnerable."
- A-ha! So that's what the deal is with the lover and time. The speaker wants to get back to his lover so that he can escape time.
- Why would he want to escape time? Well, remember all those lines about him getting old and decrepit? Maybe that's why.
- The poem gets pretty cosmic as the lovers come together, and they collapse tomorrow, yesterday, names, they are two in one.