Study Guide

Piedra de sol

Piedra de sol Summary

This poem is about death, love, and the circle of life…no big deal, right? Uh, okay, fine. Those are some pretty heavy themes. But let's just break it down for you.

"Piedra de sol" is about a person trying very hard to remember someone he's forgotten. He can't remember her face or her name, but it seems like he loved her very much, even though it was a long time ago and he's had a few girlfriends that get mixed up in his memory (cut him some slack, he's an old man). But now he is at the end of life and is hating getting old (this was written pre-Botox) and is doing his best to remember.

Toward the middle of the poem he finally does remember, and it winds up being quite the bummer. Their relationship happened during the Spanish Civil War, in Madrid, and she seems like a really nice girl, one whom he compares to lots of famous mythological and literary women, drowned a long time ago. Yep, big bummer.

The cool part, though, is, after all the sadness, the speaker gets into this really Zen meditation state where he becomes one with the universe, and that's when he figures out that he can be with her. The end of the poem, after all the talk about death, is about rebirth, and ends up with the exact same lines that it starts with, to take us back to the beginning.

  • Stanza 1

    Lines 1-6

    a crystal willow, a poplar of water,
    the tall fountain the wind arches over,
    a tree deep-rooted yet dancing still,
    a course of a river that turns, moves on,
    doubles back, and comes full circle,
    forever arriving: […]

    • These first lines are über-important because they are repeated at the end of the poem—they're like a clasp that makes the poem-chain into a loop. 
    • Basically, what we have here is a list of images. And those images are all of natural elements—trees, water, and wind—in circular forms. The trees are bent over, the water is blown by the wind into an arc, the river curves. All these round images are like echoes of the circle that is the poem.
    • The lines in the original Spanish are hendecasyllabic, aka they all have eleven syllables, and this pattern will continue throughout the poem. Check out the "Form and Meter" section for more on hendecasyllables, but for now we'll just note that sadly, this English translation doesn't preserve that nifty pattern.

    Lines 6-14

    […] the calm course
    of the stars or an unhurried spring,
    water with eyes closed welling over
    with oracles all night long,
    a single presence in a surge of waves,
    wave after wave till it covers all,
    a reign of green that knows no decline,
    like the flash of wings unfolding in the sky,

    • You can see that Paz is into lists of natural elements—he keeps going here with the stars, the seasons, more water—but in these lines a presence also shows up: eyes and wings give us animal features, and the oracles add a human mysticism into the natural mix. 
    • Besides those times that you accidentally swim up next to a blue whale, water usually doesn't have eyes. Check out the personification in Lines 9-10, when the water does have eyes, and the eyes are the ones that produce the prophecies. So water is given the attributes of a human being, and one that can tell the future, at that. Things are gettin' crazy up in here.
    • Notice, too, the sense of eternity that the poem is pushing—the green water "knows no decline." Curious, though, that never-ending water would be like a "flash of wings"—flashes are usually pretty quick. What is the speaker trying to do by likening eternity to the blink of an eye?
    • Also notice the repetition of the word "wave" in lines 11-12, which might try to mimic the sea, which is basically a whole bunch of repeated waves. 
    • Keep your eye out for more repetitions, circular images, and loops as you read the rest of the poem.
  • Stanzas 2-3

    Lines 15-20

    a path through the wilderness of days to come,
    and the gloomy splendor of misery like a bird
    whose song can turn a forest to stone,
    and the imminent joys on branches that vanish,
    the hours of light pecked away by the birds,
    and the omens that slip past the hand,

    • More birds! Here they are not pecking our eyes out like in Hitchcock's movie, but rather pecking away the days. 
    • The birds (remember the flash in the last stanza?) are working like time does here; their songs make trees into petrified forests (like the one in Arizona), and their beaks peck the hours of light away. 
    • So we've got a poem that is structured like an Aztec calendar, and some birds that are like eternity, who make forests turn to stone, and who peck away the days—sounds like time might be an important theme in this poem.
    • And let's not forget about the future—once again we get omens; here, though, instead of coming from the water, they "slip past the hand." Birds, water, and wind don't have hands—people do. We finally have human presence.

    Lines 21-33

    a sudden presence like a burst of song,
    like the wind singing in a burning building,
    a glance that holds the world and all
    its seas and mountains dangling in the air,
    body of light filtered through an agate,
    thighs of light, belly of light, the bays,
    the solar rock, cloud-colored body,
    color of a brisk and leaping day,
    the hour sparkles and has a body,
    the world is visible through your body,
    transparent through your transparency,

    • Paz is taking it slow, but little by little revealing the elements that will make up the poem. Here we still have wind, sea, mountains, and now light. Nature must be pretty important to this guy. 
    • And the bird-human connection continues. We get a burst of song: is it like the birdsong that turned the trees to stone, or is this a new one? Check out our "Symbols" section for more on birds in this poem.
    • A clue comes in the next line: "like the wind singing in a burning building." The wind does sing around a fire, but the presence of the building indicates human presence; it's the first manmade object to be mentioned in the poem. So we should be on the lookout from now on for instances of nature and civilization coming together.
    • Things then get a little bit trippy—one glance that holds the whole world in the air? Who could have a perspective like that? God? Aliens? 
    • And if that's not New Age enough for you, try the body of light filtered through an agate (an agate, in case you snoozed through Rocks for Jocks, is a precious stone that has varying patterns, kind of like a marble)—what would that look like? Probably pretty cool.
    • Then we get what shows us we're dealing with some kind of animal: thighs, belly (of light), but the poetic voice switches it up on us just as we picture the animal by throwing in bays and rocks. Is he calling the earth a body? He certainly repeats the word enough.
    • And as if that's not loony enough, here comes time again to shake things up: "the hour sparkles and has a body." Time is coming to life in these lines. 
    • Sounds are important here, too. There's the consonance of the K sound in the lines "[…] rock, cloud-colored body / color." So not only do words (like "body" and "wave") repeat in this poem—sounds do, too. It's like an endless, cyclical echo chamber.
    • And finally, the last two lines of the stanza take the poem in a whole new direction. Suddenly, there's a you involved; the word "your" is mentioned twice, which means that the speaker of the poem is addressing it to someone.
    • And that someone makes the world both visible and transparent. Sounds like someone pretty special.
  • Stanzas 4-5

    Lines 32-38

    I travel my way through galleries of sound,
    I flow among echoing presences,
    I cross transparencies as though I were blind,
    a reflection erases me, I'm born in another,
    oh forest of pillars that are enchanted,
    through arches of light I travel into the corridors of a diaphanous fall,

    • We thought that the you in the last stanza was pretty thrilling, but here we get an I. Yippee. 
    • The poetic voice has defined itself as a first-person singular, and, in case that doesn't get you as excited as it does us, this reveals a lot about the poem and helps us understand what's going on. See the "Speaker" section for more.
    • Even though the speaker is narrowed down to an I, he's still a slippery kind of guy. He travels (by the way, be on the lookout for the refrain "I travel" in future stanzas), flows, is erased, is born—he is obviously not limited by regular human time and space. In fact, the way he travels through sound, echoes, transparencies, and light, you might get the idea he doesn't even have a body. 
    • Do notice that this voice seems to be more rooted in the realm of civilization than nature? Unlike the you from before, he finds himself in a forest of enchanted pillars and corridors of a transparent autumn (the fall in English should only be read as autumn, based on the Spanish original—no skydiving here). Still pretty trippy though. 
    • He even uses apostrophe to address the forest of pillars instead of the "you" from before. It almost sounds like he's hallucinating.

    Lines 39-48

    I travel your body, like the world,
    your belly is a plaza full of sun,
    your breasts two churches where blood
    performs its own, parallel rites,
    my glances cover you like ivy,
    you are a city the sea assaults,
    a stretch of ramparts split by the light
    in two halves the color of peaches,
    a domain of salt, rocks and birds,
    under the rule of oblivious noon,

    • Are those wedding bells? Nope? Well, either way this stanza is where the I and the you finally come together. How romantic. 
    • Now I is traveling (refrain alert!) through you's body as through the world—which fits with the way that your body was compared to the world before. 
    • Instead of revealing bays and rocks, though, your body is covered in the marks of civilization. A plaza, two churches, ivy—all of these references show the way the natural world is taken over by humanity and given a mystical touch. Check out our "Symbols" section for information on ivy and architecture.
    • The churches "where blood performs its own, parallel rites" might make you think of communion in a Catholic church, where the wine becomes blood; or the Aztec (since we are talking about the Aztec calendar) ritual of sacrificing warriors' blood to the sun. Get it—two rituals for the "parallel rites"? 
    • The speaker lays it out for us in line 44: "you are a city the sea assaults," so there's really no getting around the metaphor of the poetic object (a.k.a., the other person or you) as a city. (Also notice the alliteration of the S sound in that line)—sounds like a slippery, slithery snake.
    • If things are getting a little too out-there for you, you could have a little fun with the next metaphor: what do you think the two peach-colored halves are? Check out line 41 for a clue.
    • The stanza ends up going back to the earlier natural images and an emphasis on time. Salt, rocks, and birds reinforce the fact that we're near the sea, and the "rule of oblivious noon" lets us know that time is still in charge.
  • Stanzas 6-8

    Lines 49-58

    dressed in the color of my desires,
    you go your way naked as my thoughts,
    I travel your eyes, like the sea,
    tigers drink their dreams in those eyes,
    the hummingbird burns in those flames,
    I travel your forehead, like the moon,
    like the cloud that passes through your thoughts,
    I travel your belly, like your dreams,

    • Things are heating up in this stanza. We find out (through a little bilingual-edition sleuthing—vestida or "dressed" and desnuda or "naked" are feminine forms of the adjectives in the original Spanish) that the you is a woman, and that she is definitely desired by the speaker. 
    • Plus, we find out that she's naked, or "dressed in the color of my desires" (flesh-toned, that is), and the speaker then zooms in on her body parts, "traveling" them (ahem, refrain), and comparing them to natural elements like water and fire.
    • Tigers and hummingbirds also take part in consuming and being consumed by her body—the tigers drink dreams in her eyes, while the hummingbird burns in the flames—a natural element that signifies, naturally, hotness. Check out the "Symbols" section for more on water, fire, and birds.
    • Also look at the similes in lines 49, 54, 55, and 56. All of them compare a body part (eyes, forehead, thoughts, and belly) to either a natural element or part of her inner life (sea, moon, cloud, dreams). The "Symbols" section has even more on the body if you're interested.
    • This all gives the whole affair a really cosmic feel—the woman's body is like the sea or the sky, and her lover, the speaker, can access her body and her thoughts and dreams. Creepy or romantic? You be the judge.

    Lines 57-64

    your skirt of corn ripples and sings,
    your skirt of crystal, your skirt of water,
    your lips, your hair, your glances rain
    all through the night, and all day long
    you open my chest with your fingers of water,
    you close my eyes with your mouth of water,
    you rain on my bones, a tree of liquid
    sending roots of water into my chest,

    • The first lines here dress our woman not just in the color of the speaker's desires, but in a series of skirts made of, you guessed it, natural elements. Corn, crystal, and finally the skirt of water lead to her body parts, which rain onto the speaker. Now that's style.
    • Her fingers of water, mouth of water, and finally a liquid tree all rain down, opening up the chest of the speaker. 
    • Like the rain or the tree penetrates the earth in nature, here the woman penetrates the man. That might sound a little bit weird if you think it through, and it is definitely an inversion of typical poetic sexual roles. The woman here is like Mother Nature, while the man is the earth.

    Lines 65-71

    I travel your length, like a river,
    I travel your body, like a forest,
    like a mountain path that ends at a cliff
    I travel along the edge of your thoughts,
    and my shadow falls from your white forehead,
    my shadow shatters, and I gather the pieces
    and go on with no body, groping my way,

    • These lines give us another clue into the nature of the speaker. 
    • He's still traveling up and down his lover's body (here the refrain becomes an anaphora, because it is repeated at the beginning of successive lines), still using simile to compare her body to nature ("like a river"; "like a forest"; "like a mountain path that ends at a cliff").
    • At the end of the path that is his lover, the speaker finds an abyss, and not he but his shadow falls from her forehead. 
    • The shadow shatters—why would that happen? Is there no more sun? Is it broken up by something between it and the sun? 
    • But the most interesting clue comes at the end when the speaker picks up the pieces of his shadow and goes on with no body. It's as though he only has a body if he has a shadow, instead of the other way around. What could that tell you about the way he relates to others and the world?
  • Stanzas 9-12

    Lines 72-79

    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.

    Lines 80-85

    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.

    Lines 86-94

    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.

    Lines 95-108

    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.
  • Stanzas 13-14

    Lines 105-117

    tiger the color of light, brown deer
    on the outskirts of night, girl glimpsed
    leaning over green balconies of rain,
    adolescent incalculable face,
    I've forgotten your name, Melusina,
    Laura, Isabel, Persephone, Mary,
    your face is all the faces and none,
    you're a tree and a cloud, all the birds
    and a single star, the edge of the sword
    and the executioner's bowl of blood,
    the ivy that creeps, envelops, uproots
    the soul, and severs it from itself,

    • Things are coming back to our poor, amnesiac speaker. 
    • Now he remembers a night filled with tigers and deer, the girl leaning over a balcony through the rain—he still can't remember her face or name though.
    • Tough break, buddy.
    • In lines 109-110 the list of names takes us through literary girls (except for Isabel—wonder who she is? Maybe she has something to do with Isis, the Egyptian goddess of fertility, because some people say the name comes from Isis—bella in Latin). To find out who they all are, check out the "Allusions" section. 
    • So we have a list of women who were adored throughout history and in literature, but who also have a strong connection to the earth and nature. The poet addresses her/them in an apostrophe, since he can't really talk to her directly.
    • Any one of them will do for the speaker's long-lost love, since he can't remember her name or her face, but certainly remembers her as being cosmically huge—"you are all the hours and none, / you're a tree and a cloud, all the birds / and a single star."
    • Things take a dark turn though in line 114 when the images switch from being natural to violent: "the edge of the sword / and the executioner's bowl of blood." Hey, wasn't there something about blood rituals earlier in the poem, like in Lines 41-42? 
    • The ivy comes back again, too. It seems like it's a bit of a go-between between the natural world (it's a plant) and civilization (it crawls up buildings). This ivy is especially invasive though, as it uproots and severs the soul from itself. Ouch. Itching to know more? Check out our "Symbols" section for the scoop on ivy.

    Lines 118-135

    writing of fire on a piece of jade,
    crack in the stone, queen of snakes,
    column of mist, spring in the rock,
    lunar circus, aerie of eagles,
    anise-seed, thorn tiny and mortal,
    thorn that brings immortal pain,
    shepherdess of valleys under the sea,
    gatekeeper of the valley of the dead,
    liana that drops from the cliffs of vertigo,
    tangling vine, poisonous plant,
    resurrection flower, grape of life,
    lady of the flute and the lightning-flash,
    terrace of jasmine, salt in the wound,
    branch of roses for the man shot down,
    snow in August, gallows' moon,
    writing of the sea on basalt rock,
    writing of the wind on desert sand,
    the sun's last will, pomegranate, wheat,

    • Now would be a good time to look up the myth of Persephone, because it looks like the speaker has settled on her, for now, as a way to talk about his beloved. 
    • This stanza begins and ends with writing, but not the kind you might do in a Word document.
    • These are elemental forces writing over other elements—"writing of fire on a piece of jade"; "writing of the sea on basalt rock, / writing of the wind on desert sand"—which takes writing first to a permanent level (if something is set in stone it's pretty much, well, set in stone) and then to a totally ephemeral level (how permanent can writing in the sand be, especially when it's windy out?). 
    • Next the speaker sets the scene with a list (gotta love the lists) of suggestive images—"crack in the stone, queen of snakes, / column of mist, spring in the rock, / lunar circus, aerie of eagles / anise-seed, thorn tiny and mortal, / thorn that brings immortal pain, / shepherdess of valleys under the sea, / gatekeeper of the valley of the dead [. . .] the sun's last will, pomegranate, wheat."
    • In Greece, after a funeral, there's a dish called kolyva that everyone has to eat, because of the story of Persephone, queen of the underworld. It turns out that it's full of anise, pomegranates, and wheat berries (yes, we are going somewhere with this). 
    • Here's the story: Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, and only allowed to come back to earth if she hadn't eaten anything in the underworld. She got distracted and ate some pomegranate seeds (doh!) and because of those measly seeds had to spend half the year (winter) in Hades. Wheat is one of her symbols, given to humans by her mother, Demeter. (Check out "Allusions" for more on Persephone.)
    • But there in the middle we get the ivy back—the "liana" in line 126 is a climbing plant, and it is named over and over again as "tangling vine, poisonous plant, / resurrection flower, grape of life"—do you notice how everything is a play between two forces?
    • Hades and earth; winter and summer; poison and resurrection….
    • The darker forces seem to win out, as in Line 131 we get "the man shot down" followed in the next line by "snow in August, gallows' moon." These symbols are clearly modern—being shot down and the gallows are contemporary images that stick out in the middle of all the mythological references. 
    • Whatever it is the speaker is trying to remember, it seems to have a lot of death and violence mixed up in it.
  • Stanza 15-17

    Lines 136-146

    face of flames, face devoured,
    adolescent face plagued by phantom years
    and circular days that open out
    on the same patio, the same wall,
    the moment is aflame, and all the faces
    that appear in the flames are a single face,
    all of the names are a single name,
    all of the faces a single face,
    all of the centuries a single moment,
    and through all the centuries of the centuries
    a pair of eyes blocks the way to the future,

    • The violent images continue with an adolescent face devoured by flames—could it be the girl's face? Check out the "Symbols" section for Shmoop's take.
    • Line 138 refers to "circular days" which remind us of the circular form of the calendar on which the poem is based. The days "open out / on the same patio, the same wall, / the moment is aflame, and all the faces / that appear in the flames are a single face."
    • Time is connected to a certain moment, a moment that might have taken place in that schoolyard (note the repetition of the word "patio"), a moment that is on fire.
    • In the fire faces, names, and even centuries are boiled down to singular examples: a single face, a single name, a single moment. 
    • The repetition of the word "face" gives us the idea of tons and tons of faces. Also, the anaphora of the phrase "all of the" in the last part of the stanza adds to that feeling of a universe full of identities. 
    • The speaker can't seem to get past this moment, and must always return to it, because "a pair of eyes" (the girl's eyes?) "blocks the way to the future."

    Lines 147-154

    there's nothing in front of me, only a moment
    salvaged from a dream tonight of coupled
    images dreamed, a moment chiseled
    from the dream, torn from the nothing
    of this night, lifted by hand, letter
    by letter, while time, outside, gallops
    away, and pounding at the doors of my soul
    is the world with its bloodthirsty schedules,

    • The speaker is back in the present here, and aware of a dream. It's a dream made up of paired images—kind of like the ones we saw a couple stanzas ago—and he has only a moment in front of him, a moment from the dream. 
    • We get a hint that the moment, or the memory, is also a word (he's a writer, remember?): "lifted by hand, letter / by letter."
    • Of course time keeps driving him nuts. Outside it gallops while he's stuck inside, trapped in one instant that he can't get past.
    • The world continues to seem like a violent place, having "bloodthirsty schedules" (and you thought your short lunch hour was bad). Here, time is a source of pressure and stress.

    Lines 155-162

    only a moment while the cities, names,
    flavors and everything that is alive
    all crumble inside my blind skull,
    while the sorrows of night press on my thoughts,
    weigh down my spine, and my blood runs
    a little slower, my teeth wobble,
    my eyes cloud over, and the days
    and years heap their empty horrors,

    • Still stuck in that moment, the speaker loses all contact with the world. Cities, names, flavors—everything he has experienced crumbles in his head while he's trapped in that sorrowful instant.
    • But hey, at least he has a body again—no more out-of-body experiences, right?
    • Only now his pain weighs on his spine, blood, teeth, and eyes. In case you haven't noticed, he's getting old, and it ain't pretty. All he has left is time, which just heaps "empty horrors" on him. Can you say bleak?
  • Stanzas 18-20

    Lines 163-179

    while time folds its fan shut
    and behind its images there's nothing,
    the moment plunges into itself
    and floats surrounded by death,
    threatened by night's lugubrious yawn,
    threatened by death that is masked and alive,
    the moment plunges into itself,
    into itself like a closing fist,
    like a fruit that ripens toward its center
    and drinks from itself, spilling over,
    the moment, translucent, seals itself off
    and ripens inward, sends out roots,
    grows within me, taking me over,
    its feverish leafing drives me out,
    my thoughts are nothing more than its birds,
    its mercury runs through my veins, tree
    of the mind, fruit that tastes of time,

    • The first image of this stanza is of a fan folding shut, like time collapsing into one moment, as we've seen before. 
    • The moment becomes its own object, and floats in nothingness. Only death is outside of the moment. 
    • There is a simile of the moment closing in on itself like a closed fist, and another of the moment ripening into itself, sealed off, and feeding off of itself. 
    • This moment grows within the speaker and obsesses the speaker. It is like a fruit tree that drives him out (remember anyone else who was driven out because of a fruit—Adam and Eve ring any bells?) and the tree takes over the speaker's mind.

    Lines 180-184

    oh life to live, life already lived,
    time that comes back in a swell of sea,
    time that recedes without turning its head,
    the past is not past,
    it is still passing by,
    flowing silently into the next vanishing moment:

    • This stanza speaks to life and time. It starts out with "oh life to live, life already lived" which gives it the feeling of an ode. This is the first time the speaker addresses something that isn't the beloved—here the speaker is speaking to life itself. 
    • And the speaker is obsessed with the way that time is not fixed, and is, somehow, at the same time permanent and temporary. He prefers to think of time metaphorically, as an ocean, ebbing in and out like the tide.

    Lines 185-208

    in an afternoon of stone and saltpeter,
    armed with invisible razors you write
    in red illegible script on my skin,
    and the wounds dress me like a suit of flames,
    I burn without end, I search for water,
    in your eyes there's no water, they're made of stone,
    and your breasts, your belly, your hips are stone,
    your mouth tastes of dust, your mouth tastes
    like poisoned time, your body tastes
    like a well that's been sealed, passage of mirrors
    where anxious eyes repeat, passage
    that always leads back to where it began,
    you take me, a blind man, led by the hand,
    through relentless galleries toward the center
    of the circle, and you rise like splendor
    hardened into an axe, like light that flays,
    engrossing as a gallows is to the doomed,
    flexible as whips and thin as a weapon
    that's twin to the moon, your sharpened words
    dig out my chest, depopulate me
    and leave me empty, one by one
    you extract my memories, I've forgotten my name,
    my friends grunt in a wallow with the pigs
    or rot in ravines eaten by the sun,

    • Back in Lines 118-135 we saw things being written in fire on stone, or by the sea or the wind on basalt and sand. Here things get a little bit more real: "armed with invisible razors you write in red illegible script on my skin." In case you thought the red ink wasn't blood, the next line tells us that the speaker is covered in wounds like fire, and that he is constantly burning but there is no water to put him out.
    • In lines 57-64 we saw a woman made of water, touching the speaker. Here the woman is made of stone—eyes, breasts, belly, and hips. This might recall the petrified forest of Lines 15-20, and remind us that, in this poem, stone is usually related to the past and to death, while water is related to the present and life, which you can learn even more about in our "Symbols" section.
    • Here the beloved is long gone—her mouth tastes like dust or like an old well, and she becomes not only dead but an executioner—she is an axe, a gallows, a whip, a weapon. What with his woman being both stone and executioner, this guy seems more than a little preoccupied with death in these lines.
    • Words, too, come back: "your sharpened words / dig out my chest, depopulate me / and leave me empty, one by one / you extract my memories, I've forgotten my name."
    • Oblivion, loss of memory, and death. This is the passage of time, for the speaker.
    • The stanza ends with the horrible image of the speaker's friends grunting among pigs or rotting in the sun. Whatever the speaker wants to remember is, once again, tainted with violence and general awfulness.
  • Stanzas 21-24

    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?
  • Stanzas 25-28

    Lines 241-248

    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.

    Lines 248-269

    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.)

    Lines 269-275

    names, places,
    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.

    Lines 276-296

    Madrid, 1937,
    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.
  • Stanzas 29-31

    Lines 296-323

    rooms adrift
    in the foundering cities, rooms and streets,
    names like wounds, the room with windows
    looking out on other rooms
    with the same discolored wallpaper,
    where a man in shirtsleeves reads the news
    or a woman irons; the sunlit room
    whose only guest is the branches of a peach;
    and the other room, where it's always raining
    outside on the patio and the three boys
    who have rusted green; rooms that are ships
    that rock in a gulf of light; rooms
    that are submarines: where silence dissolves
    into green waves, and all that we touch
    phosphoresces; and the tombs of luxury,
    with their portraits nibbled, their rugs unraveling;
    and the traps, the cells, the enchanted grottoes,
    the birdcages and the numbered rooms,
    all are transformed, all take flight,
    every molding is a cloud, every door
    leads to the sea, the country, the open
    air, every table is set for a banquet;
    impenetrable as conches, time lays siege
    to them in vain, there is no more time,
    there are no walls: space, space,
    open your hand, gather these riches,
    pluck the fruit, eat of life,
    stretch out under the tree and drink!

    • Following this love scene is a series of fairly ordinary images of rooms and the people in them. 
    • Toward the end the speaker sneaks in some kind of funky images—a room where it's always raining outside with three boys who have rusted green (here's hoping they're statues); "rooms that are submarines," because they are so silent that it is as though they were underwater; and finally the "tombs of luxury"—basically decaying mansions. 
    • All of these spaces are affected by the passage of time. Go to "Symbols" for more on architecture.
    • Then things take a turn toward the fantastic—everything can fly, the rooms become the sky, and "every table is set for a banquet."
    • What is the speaker getting at here? Death? The afterlife? 
    • These are the spaces where, according to the speaker, time is powerless. We're back in paradise after Adam and Eve were cast out: "pluck the fruit, eat of life, / stretch out under the tree and drink!" It's as if there's no history, no future, and no time at all.

    Lines 324-346

    all is transformed, all is sacred,
    every room is the center of the world,
    it's still the first night, and the first day,
    the world is born when two people kiss,
    a drop of light from transparent juices,
    the room cracks half-open like a fruit
    or explodes in silence like a star,
    and the laws chewed away by the rats,
    the iron bars of the banks and jails,
    the paper bars, the barbed wire,
    the rubber stamps, the pricks and goads,
    the droning one-note sermon on war,
    the mellifluous scorpion in a cap and gown,
    the top-hatted tiger, chairman of the board
    of the Red Cross and the Vegetarian Society,
    the schoolmaster donkey, the crocodile cast
    in the role of savior, father of the people,
    the Boss, the shark, the architect of the future,
    the uniformed pig, the favorite son
    of the Church who washes his blackened dentures
    in holy water and takes classes in civics
    and conversational English, the invisible walls,
    the rotten masks that divide one man
    from another, one man from himself,

    • While you and I have dominated the poem so far, this stanza is impersonal, describing the stark difference between a romantic relationship and the rest of society. 
    • First the speaker celebrates the way that lovers are separate from the rest of the world, are the center of the world, and that everything seems new when they kiss. 
    • All of the annoying parts of society—laws, jails, hypocrites (who are described humorously as animals like scorpions, tigers, donkeys, crocodiles, sharks, and pigs)—are named here. The speaker refers to masks (which are a big theme for Octavio Paz, by the way) that keep people from showing their true nature, and divide people from one another.

    Lines 346-352

    they crumble
    for one enormous moment and we glimpse
    the unity that we lost, the desolation
    of being man, and all its glories,
    sharing bread and sun and death,
    the forgotten astonishment of being alive;

    • As if you didn't see this coming, these lines assert that all of those nasty things from the stanza before crumble when two lovers come together. 
    • All of the division between people is erased and there is a sort of communion. In fact, the poem even mentions "sharing bread," an important part of Catholic communion ceremonies, and all of the glories of life. 
    • So what happens with love is that everything that separates people from one another goes away, and individuals come together to become one.
  • Stanzas 32-35

    Lines 353-363

    to love is to battle, if two kiss
    the world changes, desires take flesh,
    thoughts take flesh, wings sprout
    on the backs of the slave, the world is real
    and tangible, wine is wine, bread
    regains its savor, water is water,
    to love is to battle, to open doors,
    to cease to be a ghost with a number
    forever in chains, forever condemned
    by a faceless master;

    • Ah love. It crumbles glory and pain. At least, it does so according to our speaker.
    • The famous line "to love is to battle" is repeated twice, in line 353 and line 360, which might seem a little weird. But the speaker doesn't mean that love is to battle each other—it means that love battles all of the things that divide people. (Check out "Best of the Web" for some spin-offs on this line.)
    • The stanza tells us all the wonderful things love can do, like make desires and thoughts flesh, and give a slave wings. But it's not all make believe, either. The cool thing about love here is that it makes the world more real—"wine is wine, bread / regains its savor, water is water."

    Lines 363-369

    the world changes
    if two look at each other and see,
    to love is to undress our names:
    "let me be your whore" said Héloise,
    but he chose to submit to the law
    and made her his wife, and they rewarded him
    with castration;

    • That "love is to battle" line is altered in Line 365 to say "to love is to undress our names," meaning that loving means getting rid of identity, like the lovers in the room at the center of the world earlier. And that makes sense, too. If you're one with another, well you're not yourself anymore, are you?
    • Lines 365-369 make yet another literary and historical allusion to Heloise. See "Allusions" for more on her tragic story.

    Lines 369-381

    better the crime,
    the suicides of lovers, the incest committed
    by brother and sister like two mirrors
    in love with their likeness, better to eat
    the poisoned bread, adultery on a bed
    of ashes, ferocious love, the poisonous
    vines of delirium, the sodomite who wears
    a gob of spit for a rose in his lapel,
    better to be stoned in the plaza than to turn
    the mill that squeezes out the juice of life,
    that turns eternity into empty hours,
    minutes into prisons, and time into
    copper coins and abstract shit;

    • If Heloise and Abelard are examples of what not to do (which is follow the law), the poem then lists a bunch of types of love that might, depending on time and place, be considered deviant. 
    • Forbidden loves that end in suicide like that of Romeo and Juliet, along with incest, adulterers, and sodomites are all considered brave in the poem—they choose to face the punishment and taste love rather than conform and suck all the joy out of life. 
    • Check out the metaphor that has everybody turning a mill, grinding life away, squeezing time into worthless or nasty things. That brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "daily grind."

    Lines 382-394

    better chastity, the invisible flower
    that rocks atop the stalks of silence,
    the difficult diamond of the holy saints
    that filters desire, satiates time,
    the marriage of quietude and motion,
    solitude sings within its corolla,
    every hour is a petal of crystal,
    the world strips off its masks,
    and at its heart, a transparent shimmer
    that we call God, nameless being
    who studies himself in the void, faceless
    being emerged from himself, sun
    of suns, plenitude of presences and names;

    • The last stanza was a celebration of all the "criminal" types of love, and this one takes the other extreme. 
    • Also better than conforming is chastity, because it keeps time satisfied, and all of the names of everything slip away and we find God at the center of time. 
    • At the beginning of the poem it was the beloved who was nameless and faceless; here, God is nameless and faceless, the object of meditation. 
    • Why do you think the speaker refers to both the beloved and God in these terms? What do they have in common here?
  • Stanzas 36-38

    Lines 395-410

    I follow my raving, rooms, streets,
    I grope my way through corridors of time,
    I climb and descend its stairs, I touch
    its walls and do not move, I go back
    to where I began, I search for your face,
    I walk through the streets of myself
    under an ageless sun, and by my side
    you walk like a tree,
    you walk lie a river,
    and talk to me like the course of a river,
    you grow like wheat between my hands,
    you throb like a squirrel between my hands,
    you fly like a thousand birds, and your laugh is like the spray of the sea, your head
    is a star between my hands, the world
    grows green again when you smile,
    eating an orange,

    • The speaker is back and is back to moving around, or traveling. Here he goes through rooms, streets, and, once again, the "corridors of time." He's still looking for the face of the beloved. 
    • A series of similes liken the beloved to natural elements again: "you walk like at tree, you walk like a river / and talk to me like the course of a river, / you grow like wheat between my hands, / you throb like a squirrel between my hands, / you fly like a thousand birds, and your laugh / is like the spray of the sea."
    • This series seems more optimistic, with the growth and the laughter. 
    • And finally we move to a metaphor in which the head of the beloved is a star in the hands of the speaker. Save that one for your next love letter.

    Lines 410-420

    the world changes,
    if two, dizzy and entwined, fall
    on the grass: the sky comes down, trees
    rise, space becomes nothing but light
    and silence, open space for the eagle
    of the eye, the white tribe of clouds
    goes by, and the body weighs anchor,
    the soul sets sail, and we lose
    our names and float adrift in the blue
    and green, total time where nothing
    happens but its own, easy crossing,

    • Here get an echo of the line "the world changes" from the "to love is to battle" section above. 
    • But in these lines, it's not society that changes, but nature itself: "the sky comes down, trees / rise, space becomes nothing but light / and silence."
    • An interesting metaphor comparing the lovers to ships has the body being anchored but the soul setting sail, as if the lovers have become transcendent—they are outside of all names and time.

    Lines 421-455

    nothing happens, you're quiet, you blink,
    (silence: just now an angel crossed,
    huge as the life of a hundred suns),
    is nothing happening, only a blink?
    —and the banquet, the exile, the first crime,
    the jawbone of the ass, the opaque thud
    and the startled glance of the dead falling
    on an ash-strewn plain, Agamemnon's
    great bellow, the screams of Cassandra,
    over and over, louder than the sea,
    Socrates in chains (the sun rises,
    to die is to wake: "Cristo, a cock
    for Aesculapius, I am cured of life"),
    the jackal discoursing in the ruins of Nineveh,
    the shade that appeared to Brutus on the eve
    of the battle, Moctezuma insomniac
    on his bed of thorns, the ride in the carriage
    toward death—the interminable ride,
    counted minute by minute by Robespierre,
    his broken jaw between his hands,
    Churruca on his cask like a scarlet throne,
    the numbered steps of Lincoln as he left
    for the theater, Trotsky's death-rattle
    and his howl like a boar, Madero's gaze
    that no one returned: why are they killing me?,
    and the curses, the sighs, the silence
    of the criminal, the saint, the poor devil,
    graveyards of anecdotes and phrases scratched up
    by rhetorical dogs, and the shouts of victory,
    the raving, the dark sound we make
    when dying and that pulsebeat of life
    as it's born, and the sound of bones being crushed
    in the fray and the foaming mouth of the prophet
    and his scream and the scream of the hangman
    and the scream of the victim…

    • This long stanza is a meditation on death, in which our speaker tries to figure out what happens to a person when they die. 
    • At first it claims that nothing happens, that it's quiet and an angel passes (in Spanish-speaking cultures it is common to say that an angel passed over when there is a lull in the conversation). 
    • Then comes the list of many, many allusions to famous murders. For explanations of the references see the "Allusions" section. 
    • Then comes a range of the sounds that accompany death, from curses to raving to silence and finally a bunch of screams: "the foaming mouth of the prophet / and his scream and the scream of the hangman / and the scream of the victim."
    • After all that swoony love stuff, this stanza has taken quite a turn for the worse.
  • Stanzas 39-42

    Lines 455-464

    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.

    Lines 464-468

    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.

    Lines 469-485

    —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.

    Lines 486-513

    —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.
  • Stanzas 43-46

    Lines 514-523

    Mary, Persephone, Héloise, show me
    your face that I may see at last
    my true face, that of another,
    my face forever the face of us all,
    face of the tree and the baker of bread,
    face of the driver and the cloud and the sailor,
    face of the sun and face of the stream,
    face of Peter and Paul, face
    of this crowd of hermits, wake me up,
    I've already been born:

    • The speaker once again gives various names to his conversation partner: Mary, Persephone, Heloise. More allusions.
    • But after reading the previous stanza, where everyone is part of everyone, we're starting to think it makes more sense that the lost lover has many names and no name at the same time.
    • The speaker wants to see her face because that way he will be able to see his own—remember the philosophical riff from before, about how everyone is everyone? 
    • So it's only by seeing his beloved that the speaker can see himself. There is a lot of repetition of the word "face" in this the stanza, and a list of different types of faces of people and things, all of whom share one face.

    Lines 523-535

    life and death
    make a pact within you, lady of night,
    tower of clarity, queen of dawn,
    lunar virgin, mother of mother sea,
    body of the world, house of death,
    I've been falling endlessly since my birth,
    I fall in myself without touching bottom,
    gather me in your eyes, collect
    my scattered dust and reconcile my ashes,
    bind these unjointed bones, blow over
    my being, bury me deep in your earth,
    and let your silence bring peace to thought
    that rages against itself:

    • This section refers to the various feminine figures alluded to earlier. Check out "Allusions" for a refresher.
    • For the purposes of these lines, though, all you need to know is that Mary is the queen of the dawn and the virgin and Persephone is the lady of night and house of death. He's praying to them here, asking for help out of his sad predicament.
    • The speaker talks as though he were already dead: "collect / my scattered dust and reconcile my ashes," asking his beloved to "bury me deep in your earth."
    • Maybe he's throwing in the towel because he thinks that through death he can finally get back to the lost love.

    Lines 535-543

    open
    your hand, lady of seeds that are days,
    the day is immortal, it rises and grows,
    it has just been born, its birth never ends,
    each day is a birth, each dawn is a birth
    and I am dawning, we are all dawning,
    the sun dawns with the face of the sun,
    John dawns with John's face,
    the face of John that is everyone's face,

    • Finally we return to Persephone, the "lady of seeds that are days," and after all the talk about death we get talk about birth. Ah, that's better.
    • The speaker says that he is "dawning, we are all dawning" (in Spanish it makes more sense—the same word means something like "to wake up" and "to dawn") and mentions a John or "Juan"—this common name is probably used to represent everyman, sine his face is everyone's face.

    Lines 544-551

    door of being, dawn and wake me,
    allow me to see the face of this day,
    allow me to see the face of this night,
    all communicates, all is transformed,
    arch of blood, bridge of the pulse,
    take me to the other side of this night,
    where I am you, we are us,
    the kingdom where pronouns are intertwined,

    • This stanza is like a birth itself—the "door of being" and "arch of blood, bridge of the pulse" could very well describe the passage of a newborn from the womb to life. 
    • The last part focuses in on language—a confusion of I, you, we ("the kingdom where pronouns are intertwined") reflects the desire for universality that we have been seeing in the last few stanzas, which have claimed that we are all one. 
    • Note the repetition in Lines 545-546 of "allow me to see the face of this (day/night)." What effect does the repetition have on the speaker's message?
  • Stanzas 47-48

    Lines 552-560

    door of being: open your being
    and wake, learn to be, form
    your face, develop your features, have
    a face I can see to see my face,
    to see life until its death, a face
    of the sea, bread, rocks and a fountain,
    source where all our faces dissolve
    in the nameless face,
    the faceless being,
    the unspeakable presence of presences…

    • This stanza opens with repetition of the previous stanza's first words: "door of being." Before, we suggested that might be an image of birth. This time the speaker seems to be talking to the one who is being born. 
    • He tells it to "open your being / and wake, learn to be, form / your face, develop your features." In the prior stanza he asked for the door to "wake me, / allow me to see the face of this day." 
    • So before it is the speaker being born (in one possible interpretation) and here the speaker is speaking to the one being born. Transformation alert. 
    • But since we know that there is a big confusion among individuals in this poem—one is the other, and we are all one—he is probably talking to himself in both instances. Anything goes in this poem. 
    • He asks again for a face to see in order to see his own face, and we are back to natural elements (with some man-made ones thrown in too): "a face / of the sea, bread, rocks and a fountain."
    • The poem is winding down with a desire to return to the source of life, where everyone is one. That source was described earlier as God ("the nameless face, the faceless being"). 
    • Note the repetition of the word "face" again. Any ideas on why that word pops up so much?

    Lines 561-580

    I want to go on, to go further, and cannot:
    as each moment was dropping into another
    I dreamt the dreams of dreamless stones,
    and there at the end of the years like stones
    I heard my blood, singing in its prison,
    and the sea sang with a murmur of light,
    one by one the walls gave way,
    all of the doors were broken down,
    and the sun came bursting through my forehead,
    it tore apart my closed lids
    cut loose my being from its wrappers,
    and pulled me out of myself to wake me
    from this animal sleep and its centuries of stone,
    and the sun's magic of mirrors revived
    a crystal willow, a poplar of water,
    a tall fountain the wind arches over,
    a tree deep-rooted yet dancing still,
    a course of a river that turns, moves on,
    doubles back, and comes full circle,
    forever arriving:

    • This last stanza is super important for understanding the poem as a whole. Let's break it down. 
    • Lines 561-564 reflect the ugly parts of the poem that hated growing old, forgetting, and dying. "I want to go on, to go further, and cannot" and "I dreamt the dreams of dreamless stones" (whoa, repetition, anyone?) seem to refer to death. 
    • Then, though, the dead speaker wakes up and hears his blood singing, and the sea singing. This has to do with the cycle of reincarnation—the cycle of the calendar that always repeats itself and allows for the rebirth we just saw in the last few stanzas. 
    • What happens when death is conquered? Well, walls and doors break down; the sun comes through the forehead and wakes up the speaker from his stone sleep. 
    • Remember way back in Line 44, where the speaker says "you are a city the sea assaults"? Well, here we get a description of the sea conquering the city and reviving the dead. 
    • Perhaps through death the speaker is revived, because he finally reunited with his drowned lover? Or perhaps there is some other explanation that you can't wait to tell us about—we're all ears.
    • Finally the sun revives "a crystal willow, a poplar of water […]." Sound familiar? 
    • We're back to where we started, just like on New Year's Day, everything "comes full circle, forever arriving." Pretty cool, right? 
    • By the way, these lines don't count toward the magic number 584 in the original Spanish, since they are a repetition of the first lines of the poem. Just in case you were stressed about Paz's math.