A Tale of Two Gardens: Poems from India, 1952-1995

A Tale of Two Gardens: Poems from India, 1952-1995


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A Tale of Two Gardens collects the poetry from over 40 years of Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz's many and various commitments to India—as Mexican ambassador, student of Indian philosophy, and above all, as poet.

Despite having written many acclaimed non-fiction books on the region, he has always considered those writings to be footnotes to the poems. From the long work "Mutra," written in 1952 and accompanied here by a new commentary by the author, to the celebrated poems of East Slope, and his recent adaptations from the classical Sanskrit, Paz scripts his India with a mixture of deft sensualism and hands-on politics.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780811213493
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 04/28/1997
Series: New Directions Bibelot Series
Pages: 112
Product dimensions: 4.80(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Octavio Paz (1914-1998) was born in Mexico City. He wrote many volumes of poetry, as well as a prolific body of remarkable works of nonfiction on subjects as varied as poetics, literary and art criticism, politics, culture, and Mexican history. He was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 1977, the Cervantes Prize in 1981, and the Neustadt Prize in 1982. He received the German Peace Prize for his political work, and finally, the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990.

Eliot Weinberger is an essayist, editor, and translator. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt



Like a too-loving mother, a terrible mother of suffocation,
like a silent lioness of sunlight,
a single wave the size of the sea,
it has arrived noiselessly and in each of us has taken its
place like a king
and the glass days melt and in each breast is erected a
throne of thorns and live coals
and its dominion is a solemn hiccup, a crushed breathing
of gods and animals with eyes dilated
and mouths full of hot insects uttering one same syllable
day and night, day and night.
Summer, enormous mouth, vowel made of fumes and

This day wounded to death creeping along the length of
time and never finished with dying,
and the day to come, now scraping impatiently at the
no-man's-land of dawn,
and the rest waiting their hour in the vast stables of the
this day and its four pups, morning with its crystal tail
and noon with its one eye,
noon absorbed in its light, seated in splendor,
afternoon rich in birds, night with its bright stars armed
and in full regalia,
this day and the presences that the sun exalts or pulls
down with a simple wingblow:
the girl who appears in the street and is a stream of quiet
the beggar raising himself up like a feeble prayer, a heap
of garbage and whining canticles,
red bougainvillea black through darkness of red, purple
in accumulated blue,
women bricklayers carrying stones on their heads as if
they carried extinguished suns,
the beauty in her cave of stalactites, the sound of her
scorpion's scales,
the man covered with ashes who worships the phallus,
dung and water,
musicians who tear sparks out of daybreak and make the
airy tempest of the dance come down to earth,
the collar of sparkle, electric garlands in equilibrium at
the sleepless children picking fleas by moonlight,
fathers and mothers with their family flocks and their
beasts asleep and their gods petrified a thousand
years ago,
butterflies, vultures, snakes, monkeys, cows, insects
looking like madness,
all this long day with its frightful cargo of beings and
things slowly being stranded on suspended time.

We all go declining with the day, we all enter the tunnel,
we cross through endless galleries whose walls of solid
air close behind us,
we imprison ourselves in ourselves and at each step the
human animal pants and topples,
we fall back, we give our ground, the animal loses the
future at each step,
that which is erect and hard and bony in ourselves finally
gives way, falling heavily into the mother mouth.

Within myself I crowd myself, in my own self I press
myself and as I crowd myself I overflow,
I am extended and I expand, the full one, spilling and
filling myself,
there is no vertigo nor mirror nor nausea facing the mirror,
there is no downfall,
only a being, an overflowing being, full to the brim, and
not like the bow that curves and arches on itself to let the
arrow leap straight to the mark,
not like the breast that awaits it, on whom hope already
draws the wound,
not concentrated nor in trance, but tumbling from step
to step, spilled water, we return to the origin.
And the head falls on the breast and body falls on body
without finding its goal, its final body.

No, take hold of the ancient image: anchor existence and
plant it in the stone, base of the lightning!
Some stones never give way, stones made of time, time
made of stone, centuries that are columns,
assemblies singing the hymns of stone,
fountains of jade, obsidian gardens, towers of marble,
high beauty armed against time.
One day my hand brushed against all that constructed
Stones also lose their footing, stones too are images,
and they fall and they scatter and mix and flow with the
flowing river.
The stones also are the river.
Where is the man who gives life to the stones of the dead,
the man who makes the stones and the dead speak?

Foundations of stone and of music,
the factory that produces the mirrors of discourse and
the poem's castle of fire
entwine their roots in his breast, rest in his head; his
hand sustains them.
Under the breastplate of rock-crystal I searched for the
man, groped for the imperceptible opening;
we are born and the rent is no more than a scratch and it
never scars over and it burns and it is a star giving off
its own light,
the little wound never quenched, the sign of the blood
never erased, through that door we go down to the
Man also flows, man also falls and is an image that vanishes.

Marshes of lethargy, accretions of algae, bees in cataracts
over half-open eyes,
a feast of sand, hours chewed, images chewed, life
chewed centuries
with no existence other than ecstatic chaos which floats
among the sleeping waters,
water of eyes, water of mouths, wedding waters lost in
contemplation, water of incest,
water of gods, copulation of gods, water of stars and
reptiles, water-forests of burnt bodies,
beatitude of fullness, overflowing itself, we are not, I do
not want to be
God, I do not want to grope in the dark, I will not return,
I am a man and man is
man, he who leapt to the void and since then nothing
has sustained him but his own wing,
the one who let go of his mother, the exiled, rootless,
with neither heaven nor earth, a bridge, a bow
stretched over nothing, in himself unified, made whole,
and nevertheless split from the moment of his birth,
against his shadow, always running behind himself,
blundering, exhausted, without ever reaching himself,
condemned from childhood, alembic of time, king of
himself, son of his own works.

The ultimate images overthrown, the black river drowns
night doubles over, the soul gives way, clusters of confounded
hours fall, man falls
like a star, the clusters of stars fall, like overripe fruit the
world and its suns fall.
But in my head keep vigil adolescence and its images,
the only treasure not ravaged:
ships afire on seas still unnamed and each wave striking
memory in a storm of reminders
(fresh water in the island cisterns, fresh water of women
and their voices sounding through the night like many
streams meeting,
goddess of green eyes and human words who planted in
our breast her reasons, a lovely procession of lances,
the calm reflection before a sphere, swollen with itself
like an ear of wheat, but immortal, perfect, sufficient,
contemplation of numbers that join like notes or lovers,
the universe like a lyre, a bow, the victorious geometry
of gods, sole abode that is worthy of man!)
and the high-walled city that on the plain glitters like a
jewel in pain
and demolished watch-towers and the champion defeated
and in the smoking chambers the treasure of
and the hero's epitaph stuck in the road at the narrow
place like a sword
and the poem rising and covering with its wings the
embrace of day and night
and the straight tree of discourse planted in potency in
the middle of the city
and justice in the open air of a people who weighs each
act in the scale of a delicate spirit sensitive to the
weight of light;
acts, the high pyres burnt by history!
Under these black remains asleep, truth, who roused the
works: man is only man among men.

And I reach down and grasp the incandescent grain and
plant it in my being: it must grow one day.

Delhi, 1952

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