Study Guide

Proem Themes

  • Language and Communication

    "Proem" is about poetry, so its big-deal, major theme is Language and Communication. This is about how poems are written, what they have the power to do, and the words and sounds that they're made up of. (By the way, this kind of poetry-about-itself is called "metapoetry.") Just how to know that a poem is a poem, and just what a poem is capable of, are some of the major goals of this imaginative investigation. Sort of like CSI-Poetry!

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. What difficulties in communication does the poem bring up?
    2. How does the poem suggest that poetry might solve those difficulties? 
    3. How do the images used to describe language change the reader's idea of poetry?
    4. What is the effect of comparing language to plants and animals?

    Chew on This

    It's natural, baby. In "Proem," language is made out to be a living, breathing thing, and poetry is therefore a natural occurrence, not an artificial creation.

    Let's break it down. Even though syllables contain no meaning (most of the time) in and of themselves, they are the basic building blocks for a poem.

  • Identity

    Mixing it up, worshiping it, dissolving it, burying it—all things you might do with an Alka-Seltzer tablet or, in this case, what poetry does with identity. "Proem" shows how poetry can stretch and twist the self, and in the end is really a self-absorbed art. And the fact that this poem is about itself is just another nail in the coffin of selflessness.

    Questions About Identity

    1. What can we learn about the poetic speaker's identity from the poem?
    2. What happens to identity when it comes to poetry, and how does this happen?
    3. Is the poet made out to be an egomaniac, or rather someone with no ego at all? Or is there some way to be both in this poem? How can you tell?

    Chew on This

    Mine, mine, mine. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Poetry, because it is a solitary activity for both poet and reader, is a selfish pursuit.

    No, no. You're way off. Poetry, because of its roots in language and spoken word, is a collective activity that dissolves identity.

  • Memory and the Past

    Poetry is all about revolution, rock and roll, and breaking rules! The past is always present in the poem, but it's challenged—or at least remembered—with a twist in "Proem." And we're not talking about a few days ago or last month; this is the ancient past, which gives the poem some weight and a place in the very tradition it is both praising—and challenging.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. Whose memory is being portrayed in this poem?
    2. Why do you think the poem goes back to such a distant past for its references?
    3. What is the effect of the pun on "recollection" in line 9?

    Chew on This

    Time to hop in the way-back machine. "Proem" attempts to dig into a collective, cultural past to explain poetry's source.

    Poet Ezra Pound famously said "Make it new." When Pound speaks, Paz listens. "Proem" is all about breaking with the past and starting something entirely new.

  • Art and Culture

    What can we say? Paz is a cultured guy. Way cultured, in fact. We're talkin' more cultured than Yoplait! And a poem about poetry is definitely going to have themes of art and culture popping up all over the place. "Proem" mentions poetry, like we said, but also music and philosophy.

    Questions About Art and Culture

    1. What is the effect of putting an ancient Greek and an ancient Texcoco philosopher together in the same line in the poem?
    2. Why do you think that, in a poem about poetry, Paz chose to add a little flute solo in the middle?
    3. What evidence does the poetic speaker give for poetry being extra special as an art form?

    Chew on This

    Calling ancient Greece! Come in, ancient Greece. Paz attempts to insert his poem into the long tradition of Western culture with references to ancient Greece.

    Paz reminds us that poetry is not only a Western art form, but also an indigenous American one by mentioning Netzahualcoyotl. Paz keeps it real, yo.