Excerpts from Octavio Paz‘ speech at the Nobel Banquet, December- 1990
At the close of this century we have discovered that we are part of a vast system (or network of systems) ranging from plants and animals to cells, molecules, atoms and stars. We are a link in “the great chain of being”, as the philosophers of antiquity used to call the universe. One of man’s oldest gestures, repeated daily from the beginning of time, is to look up and marvel at the starry sky. This act of contemplation frequently ends in a feeling of fraternal identification with the universe. In the countryside one night, years ago, as I contemplated the stars in the cloudless sky, I heard the metallic sound of the elytra of a cricket. There was a strange correspondence between the reverberation of the firmament at night and the music of the tiny insect. I wrote these lines:
Up there, worlds scatter.
unfazed by so much night,
a cricket: brace and bit.
Stars, hills, clouds, trees, birds, crickets, men: each has its world, each is a world, and yet all of these worlds correspond. We can only defend life if we experience a revival of this feeling of solidarity with nature. It is not impossible: fraternity is a word that belongs to the traditions of Liberalism and Socialism, of science and religion.
Between going and staying the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.
The circular afternoon is now a bay
where the world in stillness rocks.
All is visible and all elusive,
all is near and can’t be touched.
Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.
Time throbbing in my temples repeats
the same unchanging syllable of blood.
The light turns the indifferent wall
into a ghostly theater of reflections.
I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.
The moment scatters. Motionless,
I stay and go: I am a pause.
-Octavio Paz (1914-1998)
Translated by Eliot Weinberger