When I get asked why I play with language
…. and voice…sound…words and silence
This would be a very good answer.
Zacatecas 1997. Opening address at El Congreso International de la Lengua Española.
By Octavio Paz
Callings are mysterious. Why does one child tirelessly draw in his school sketchbook, whilst another makes boats or planes from the paper? Why does one construct canals and tunnels in the garden, builds cities of sand on the beach, whilst another forms football teams and leads bands of explorers, or locks himself alone in a room solving endless jigsaws? Nobody knows for certain.
What we do know is that over the years, these inclinations and affinities become crafts, professions and destinies. The mystery of the poet’s calling is no less uncertain, yet more enigmatic.
It begins with an unanticipated love of words, their colour, their sound, their brilliance and the array of meanings they display. As we sound words, we hear meanings. This love soon becomes a fascination for the reverse of language, silence. Each word at once speaks and silences. This understanding distinguishes the poet from the philologists and the grammarians, from the orators and from those who practice the subtle art of conversation. Unlike these masters of language, the poet is known for their silences as much as their words.
From the beginning the poet knows, indistinctly, that words are inseparable from the grave and womb of silence. The word buries silence; the earth germinates the word. We are children of the word, it is our creation and our creator, without it we wouldn’t be. In turn, the word is the daughter of silence: born and taken by her depths.
Octavio Paz, 1997
translated by Hannah Silva