Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
eyes are flames,
what they see is flames, the ear a flame
and sounds a flame, lips are coals,
the tongue is a poker, touch and the touched,
thought and the thought-of, he who thinks
is flame, all is burning, the universe
is flame, the nothing is burning, the nothing
that is only a thought in flames, and nothing
in the end but smoke: there is no victim,
there is no hangman…
- Next the speaker goes back to the image of being consumed by fire, and this time the whole stinkin' universe is in flames. Everything is obliterated until there is neither victim nor hangman.
- Notice, too, the different parts of speech that are used to show the way the flames engulf literally everything: "touch and the touched, / thought and the thought-of, he who thinks / is flame."
- Here the poem uses language (and a healthy dose of grammar, too) to show that everything—subject, object, everything—is burnt to a crisp.
and the cry on Friday
afternoon? and the silence covered in signs,
the silence that speaks without ever speaking,
does it say nothing? are cries nothing?
does nothing happen as time passes by?
- The last part of the stanza seems to refer to Good Friday, the day that Jesus Christ was executed and an important part of pre-Easter celebrations in Catholic countries like Mexico.
- Check out this switcheroo that Paz pulls: the stanza ends questioning its own opening line.
- It started out affirming that nothing happens, but after thinking about the meaningful deaths of so many famous people the speaker asks "does nothing happen as time passes by?"
- We thought we had that one covered. Whoops. Read on for the real answer.
—nothing happens, only a blink
of the sun, nothing, barely a motion,
there is no redemption, time can never
turn back, the dead are forever
fixed in death and cannot die
another death, they are untouchable,
frozen in a gesture, and from their solitude,
from their death, they watch us,
helpless, without ever watching,
their death is now a statue of their life,
an eternal being eternally nothing,
every minute is eternally nothing,
a ghostly king rules over your heartbeat
and your final expression, a hard mask
is formed over your changing face:
the monument that we are to a life,
unlived and alien, barely ours,
- At last—here we have the answer. And the speaker's back to his original assertion: nothing happens.
- The dash makes it seem like there might be some kind of conversation occurring, either between the speaker and himself or with someone else, as writers often use dashes to denote dialogue.
- Check out the repetition of the word "death" and also of the phrase "eternally nothing." What's going on there?
- The gist is that nothing happens, that death cannot be undone, and that, in fact, our entire life is just a long process of dying: "a hard mask is formed over your changing face."
- Gee, that's uplifting.
—when was life ever truly ours?
when are we ever what we are?
we are ill-reputed, nothing more
than vertigo and emptiness, a frown in the mirror,
horror and vomit, life is never
truly ours, it always belongs to the others,
life is no one's, we are all life—
bread of the sun for the others,
the others that we all are—
when I am I am another, my acts
are more mine when they are the acts
of others, in order to be I must be another,
leave myself, search for myself
in the others, the others that don't exist
if I don't exist, the others that give me
total existence, I am not,
there is no I, we are always us,
life is other, always there,
further off, beyond you and
beyond me, always on the horizon,
life which unlives us and makes us strangers,
that invents our face and wears it away,
hunger for being, oh death, our bread,
- Another dash takes us back to the questioner in this give-and-take.
- The questions are pretty deep, like the kind you start asking when you spend too much time looking at the stars.
- And the answer is existential—life never belongs to us, we are empty, and we are all each other.
- A parade of paradoxes follows: "when I am I am another, my acts / are more mine when they are the acts / of others."
- Um, what? Hey, we told you he was deep.
- Here's what's really going on: this stanza steps away from the two lovers model and the poem claims that we as individuals don't really matter without everyone else—we only exist if the others exist to give us existence….
- The point is, though, that the individual can't exist without the other: "there is no I, we are always us," and that must be why it hurts so much to have lost the beloved so long ago to both death and to forgetting.