Wise Poets – Octavio Paz – Letter of Testimony Cantata

Octavio Paz Lozano (March 31, 1914 – April 19, 1998)

There is an uncertain territory
between night and day.
It is neither light nor shadow:
                                              it is time.
An hour, a precarious pause,
a darkening page,
a page where I write,
slowly, these words.
                                  The afternoon
is an ember burning itself out.
The day turns, its leaves dropping.
A dark river files away
                                   at the edges
of things.
                Tranquil, persistent,
it drags them along, I don’t know where.
Reality drifts off.
                           I write:
I talk to myself
                       — I talk to you.
I wanted to talk to you
as the air and this small tree talk
to each other,
                       nearly erased by the shadows;
like running water,
the murmur of an incessant stream;
like a still puddle,
that reflector of instantaneous shams;
like fire:
with tongues of flame, a dance of sparks,
tales of smoke.
                         To talk to you
with visible and palpable words,
words with weight, flavor and smell,
like things.
                  While I speak,
things imperceptibly
shake loose from themselves,
escaping toward other forms,
other names.
                    They leave me these words:
with them I talk to you.
Words are bridges.
And they are traps, jails, wells.
I talk to you: you do not hear me.
I don’t talk with you:
                                I talk with a word.
That word is you,
                              that word
carries you from yourself to yourself.
You, I, and fate created it.
The woman that you are
is the woman to whom I speak:
these words are your mirror,
you are yourself and the echo of your name.
I too,
         talking to you,
turn into a whisper,
air and words, a puff,
a ghost that rises from these letters.
Words are bridges:
the shadow of the hills of Meknes
over a field of static sunflowers
is a violet bay.
It is three in the afternoon,
you are nine years old and asleep
in the cool arms of a pale mimosa.
In love with geometry
a hawk draws a circle.
The soft copper of the mountains
trembles on the horizon.
The white cubes of a village
in the dizzying cliffs.
A column of smoke rises from the plain
and slowly scatters, air into the air,
like the song of the muezzin
that drills through the silence,
                                                ascends and flowers
in another silence.
                              Motionless sun,
the enormous space of spread wings;
over the flat stretches of reflections
thirst raises transparent minarets.
you are neither asleep nor awake:
you float in a time without hours.
A breeze barely stirs
the distant lands of mint and fountains.
Let yourself be carried by these words
toward yourself.
Words are uncertain
and speak uncertain things.
But speaking this or that,
                                         they speak us.
Love is an equivocal word,
like all words.
                       It is not a word,
said the Founder:
                             it is a vision,
base and crown
of the ladder of contemplation
— and for the Florentine:
                                         it is an accident
— and for the other:
                                 it is no virtue
but it is born of that which is perfection
— and for the others:
                                   a fever, an aching,
a struggle, a fury, a stupor,
a fancy.
              Desire invents it,
mortifications and deprivations give it life,
jealousy spurs it on,
custom kills it.
                        A gift,
a sentence.
                    Rage, holiness.
It is a knot: life and death.
                                         A wound
that is the rose of resurrection.
It is a word:
        speaking it, we speak ourselves.
Love begins in the body
—where does it end?
                                   If it is a ghost,
it is made flesh in a body:
                                          if it is a body,
it vanishes at a touch.
                                    Fatal mirror:
the desired image disappears,
you drown in your own reflections.
A shades’ banquet.
                  the moment has eyes and a body,
it watches me.
                         In the end life has a face and a name.
To love:
              to create a body from a soul,
to create a soul from a body,
to create a you from a presence.
                                                      To love:
to open the forbidden door,
                                            the passageway
that takes us to the other side of time.
The moment:
                       the opposite of death,
our fragile eternity.
To love is to lose oneself in time,
to be a mirror among mirrors.
                                                 It is idolatry:
to deify a creature
and to call eternal that which is worldly.
All of the forms of flesh
are daughters of time,
Time is evil,
                    the moment
is the Fall;
                 to love is to hurl down:
interminably falling,
                                the coupled we
is our abyss.
                      The caress:
hieroglyph of destruction.
lust: the mask of death.
To love: a permutation,
                                      barely an instant
in the history of primogenial cells
and their innumerable divisions.
of the rotation of the generations.
Invention, transfiguration:
the girl turns into a fountain,
her hair becomes a constellation,
a woman asleep an island.
music in the branches of the veins,
light in the night of the bodies.
of nature’s fatality,
that links freedom and fate,
engraved on the forehead of desire:
accident or predestination?
Memory, a scar:
—from where were we ripped out?
                                                         a scar,
memory, the thirst for presence,
                                                      an attachment
to the lost half.
                         The One
is the prisoner of itself,
                                      it is,
it only is,
               it has no memory,
it has no scars:
                          to love is two.
always two,
                    embrace and struggle,
two is the longing to be one,
and to be the other, male or female,
                                                          two knows no rest,
it is never complete,
                                  it whirls
around its own shadow,
for what we lost at birth,
the scar opens:
                           fountain of visions,
two: arch over the void,
bridge of vertigoes,
mirror of mutations.
Love, timeless island,
island surrounded by time,
besieged by night.
                              To fall
is to return,
                    to fall is to rise.
To live is to have eyes in one’s fingertips,
to touch the knot tied
by stillness and motion.
                                       The art of love
— is it the art of dying?
                                     To love
is to die and live again and die again:
it is liveliness.
                        I love you
because I am mortal
and you are.
                     Pleasure wounds,
the wound flowers.
In the garden of caresses
I clipped the flower of blood
to adorn your hair.
The flower became a word.
The word burns in my memory.
           reconciliation with the Great All
and with the others,
                                 the small and endless
      To return to the day of origin.
The day that is today.
The afternoon founders.
Lamps and headlights
drill through the night.
                                    I write:
I talk to you:
                     I talk to me.
With words of water, fire, air and earth
we invent the garden of glances.
Miranda and Ferdinand gaze forever
into each other’s eyes
until they turn to stone.
                                     A way of dying
like others.
                   High above
the constellations always write
the same word;
here below, write
our mortal names.
        The couple

is a couple because it has no Eden.
We are exiles from the Garden,
we are condemned to invent it,
to nurture our delirious flowers,
living jewels we clip
to adorn a throat.
                             We are condemned
to leave the Garden behind:
                                              before us
is the world.
Perhaps to love is to learn
to walk through this world.
To learn to be silent
like the oak and the linden of the fable.
To learn to see.
your glance scatters seeds.
It planted a tree.
                            I talk
because you shake its leaves.

Translated from the Spanish by Eliot Weinberger