Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
the endless corridors of memory, the doors
that open into an empty room
where all the summers have come to rot,
jewels of thirst burn at its depths,
the face that vanishes upon recall,
the hand that crumbles at my touch,
the hair spun by a mob of spiders
over the smiles of years ago,
- Up until now the speaker has been cruising either the universe or the lover's body and her thoughts. Here the travel goes inward, and we get a metaphor of a house, maybe a mansion, that represents memory.
- There's an empty room where "summers have come to rot," and then a deep desire for return: "jewels of thirst burn at its depth."
- What are they thirsting for there, burning at the depths of memory?
- In any case, the speaker struggles with memory—faces disappear as soon as they are remembered; when he touches a hand it crumbles. Plus hair of spiders covers up long-gone smiles. Yikes. Memory is definitely not sunshine and rainbows here. More like rot and decay.
- Be sure to check out our "Symbols" section for more on seasons and houses.
setting out from my forehead, I search,
I search without finding, search through a moment,
a face of storm and lightning-flashes
racing through the trees of night,
a face of rain in a darkened garden,
relentless water that flows by my side,
- The speaker escapes his own body again in this stanza, leaving through the forehead (ever try that? We don't recommend it).
- These lines are about a search, an unsuccessful one, for a face. The face appears in a storm, at night, in the rain and lightning.
- Notice the repetition of the word "search." In fact, the phrase "I search" will replace the "I travel" refrain in stanzas to come. Things are getting a bit more desperate it seems. He's not just roaming anymore; he's looking for something. But what?
- The last two lines seem to go back to the earlier comparisons the speaker makes of the body as rain: "a face of rain in a darkened garden, / relentless water that flows by my side." Memories are really tormenting the speaker, and we're narrowing down what it is he's looking for.
I search without finding, I write alone,
there's no one here, and the day falls,
the year falls, I fall with the moment,
I fall to the depths, invisible path
over mirrors repeating my shattered image,
I walk through the days, the trampled moments,
I walk through all the thoughts of my shadow,
I walk through my shadow in search of a moment,
- The search continues. Here we find out that the speaker is a writer—don't be fooled into thinking we can automatically call him "Octavio" or "Señor Paz" though. We should definitely keep the speaker separated from the author.
- This writer is a lonely character. He's all alone and time seems to mean nothing to him. A day, a year, a moment all fall around him, and finally he falls, too.
- Remember the shattered shadow? The image of a fragmented self shows up again here too—the speaker walks an "invisible path / over mirrors repeating my shattered image." What could a shattered reflection or shadow imply?
- The speaker seems to be unable to reach his past and his memories, and even as he walks through time (don't forget we're reading a calendar here) he can't get back: "I walk through my shadow in search of a moment."
- The repetition of the phrase "I walk through" at the beginning of the last three lines is an example of anaphora. It's yet another moment of repetition in a poem that's full of repetition.
I search for an instant alive as a bird,
for the sun of five in the afternoon
tempered by walls of porous stone:
the hour ripened its cluster of grapes,
and bursting, girls spilled out from the fruit,
scattering in the cobblestone patios of the school,
one was tall as autumn and walked
through the arcades enveloped in light,
and space encircled, dressed her in a skin
even more golden and more transparent,
- This stanza gives us some clues as to the moment that the speaker is searching for.
- It's a particular moment—five in the afternoon—and a particular place—a schoolyard.
- In line 98 we get a clue relating the scene to Mexico (and it's not such a reach, given the Aztec calendar that inspires the whole poem) because the porous stone is volcanic (in the original Spanish it's called tezontle).
- The schoolgirls are likened to grapes bursting—a fertile metaphor.
- But then we get autumn again (remember line 38?), in a simile that tells us a particular girl is as tall as autumn and walks dressed in a golden and transparent skin.
- We're getting more and more information about the memory the speaker has been searching for all along, but it's drawn out. It's like the speaker is digging back through time to find the missing parts of his memory.
- But hey, at least we know there was a girl.