afterBy Octavio Paz
Translated by Eliot Weinberger
after chopping off all the arms that reached out to me;
after boarding up all the windows and doors;
after filling all the pits with poisoned water;
after building my house on the rock of no,
inaccessible to flattery and fear;
after cutting off my tongue and eating it;
after hurling handfuls of silence
and monosyllable of scorn at my loves;
after forgetting my name;
and the name of my birthplace;
and the name of my race;
after judging and sentencing myself
to perpetual waiting,
and perpetual loneliness, I heard
against the stones of my dungeon of syllogisms,
the humid, tender, insistent
onset of spring.
Octavio Paz is considered as one of the greatest Latin American Poets of Twentieth Century. A Mexican poet, he was the former Ambassador to India and Nobel Prize Winner for Literature.
The imageries in this poem are guttural, and the violence highlights the lengths we will go to in isolating ourselves. It could be read as a kind of confession and late realization of someone who has inflicted many inner lacerations in life. Our adamancy, unwillingness to accept faults, negation of all hands of help, neglect of one's own voice, wallowing in toxic waters can finally lead to our own perpetual confinement and desolation.
This poem depicts the state of those of us who invite misery and alienation due to our own actions. Very often the sense of humiliation, hurt, shame we experience may be our own doing: the judging and sentencing, the perpetual waiting and lowliness that criticism inflicts. But even after we have forgotten our names and the places of birth, the heart still has the capacity to open again to love.
When these things occur, when people square off against one another in angry debate, when someone closes down in hurt or discloses a trauma too horrible to imagine, reading this poem can be a restorative act. Even if we abandon ourselves, lose our hope, and push others away, there is still, within us and around us, the formidable persistence of “spirit”.
The winter has been long and cold. Where are the cracks that you can widen in yourself, to let in the spring? You belong in the sunlight, it insists. The image of spring at the end points to hope, optimism , salvation and possibility to redeem ourselves .
A Wonderful, inspiring poem!