Study Guide

Proem Introduction

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Proem Introduction

Poems about poems about poems! "Proem," by Nobel-prize-winning poet Octavio Paz, was published in 1987 as the introductory poem to Paz's collection A Tree Within. More than that, it's a meditation on what poetry is, or what it can be. Paz relates poetry to everything from losing your balance to breaking commandments. He finally lands on poetry as a living, organic creature.

Of course, our man Paz wasn't just a poet. He was also a really important essayist and novelist. So it shouldn't be surprising that he was very interested in where the lines are between prose and poetry. And like any good author, he wants to cross that line.

So "Proem" is the result. It's a mix between poetry and prose, and uses prosaic (prose-like) methods to discuss what poetry really is. If that sounds dry and boring to you, well friends you just haven't read this poem! And really, if you had the choice between reading a whole book on the definition of poetry and an actual, real life poem about poetry, wouldn't you rather go with the poem? It's more fun and, let's face it, a lot shorter. So open those books and let's get down to business with "Proem." It'll be well worth it, we proemise. Get it? Promise? Proem? Anyone?

What is Proem About and Why Should I Care?

Hmm… a poem about a poem. Probably not the most pressing, urgent item on your list of things to do. You could be solving world hunger, curing the common cold, writing the great American novel, or even making a grilled cheese sandwich! So why would you want to read this example of navel-gazing at its egocentric finest?

Well, let us tell you why! And, to match your to-do list, our arguments will come in list form (they're bulleted too!):

  • First off, poet Octavio Paz was one of the most important thinkers in literature in the twentieth century—not just in Mexico; we're talking international, here! They gave the guy a Nobel Prize, for crying out loud. So whatever he has to say about poetry is probably pretty smart.
  • This poem gives us a little tour through Latin American poetry history, all in the space of 14 lines. Now that's quicker than a whole school year.
  • Have you ever felt, when reading or writing a poem, that language is more than just words on the page? That it has a life of its own? "Proem" zooms in on that feeling and lets you know you weren't just hallucinating. Or, if you were, Paz had the same hallucination.

So there. Just try and top that list, why don't you?

Proem Resources


Paz on
Check out a brief bio, with a bibliography and links to some of his work.

Nobel Paz
Here is the Nobel Prize's write-up on Paz, who won the award in 1990.

Paz All Around
This is a pretty well-rounded collection of info on Paz's life and work.


Watching Paz Watch a Movie
We have a poem about poetry, and now a film about film, starring the poet Octavio Paz.

The Poet at Play
Here's an old movie, shot by another important Latin American writer, Julio Cortázar, of Octavio Paz dancing when he was posted as diplomat in India.

Making Sweet Music Together
Here's the poet and his translator, double-teaming his poems in DC.


Don't Mind if I Do…
accept a Nobel Prize, that is. Listen to the poet's acceptance speech here.


Poppin' it Like He's Hot
Dig this picture of Paz in a nice trench coat.

Feelin' no Pain
Check out this picture of a sculpture of that old Epicurean, Epicurus.

Here's the cover of the collection of poems where "Proem" can be found.

But My Friends Call Me Neza…
Behold! The poet-king Netzahualcoyotl.

Articles and Interviews

Surrealist Bro-mance
In this interview excerpt, Paz gets all mushy about fellow surrealist, Andre Breton.

Posthumous Popularity
Even after his death, Paz can drum up a lot of noise in the publishing business when a new translation of his poems comes out.


Where It All Begins…
Here's the book for which "Proem" is the… proem!

For the Bilingual Among Us…
Here's the original Spanish version of the book of poems, in all its glory.

Movies & TV

Low Self-Esteem
This film is based on a novel that Octavio Paz wrote about another Mexican poet (from the Spanish colonial times), Sor Juana.

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