Get Your Premium Membership

Octavio Paz Biography | Poet

Photo of Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz Lozano (March 31, 1914 – April 19, 1998) was a Mexican writer, poet, and diplomat, and the winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Early life and writings

Paz was born in Mexico City during tumultuous times, as his country was undergoing a revolution. He was raised in the nearby village of Mixcoac (now a part of Mexico City) by his mother, Josefina Lozano, a religious woman, as well as his aunt and paternal grandfather, a former soldier turned supporter of Porfirio Díaz, liberal intellectual, and novelist. His father, also named Octavio Paz, worked as a journalist and lawyer for Emiliano Zapata, and was involved in agrarian reform following the revolution, but these activities caused him to be largely absent from the home.

Paz was exposed to literature early in his life through the influence of his grandfather and library filled with classic works and modernist Mexican literature. He discovered the European poets Gerardo Diego, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and Antonio Machado during the 1920s, and these foreign writers had an influence on his early writings. He published his first poem as a teenager in 1931, calling it Caballera and carrying an epigraph from the French poet Saint-John Perse. Two years later, at the age of 19, Paz published Luna Silvestre ("Rustic Moon"), a collection of poems. By 1939, Paz considered himself first and foremost a poet.

In 1937, Paz ended his university studies, and left for Yucatán for work to find a school near Mérida. There, he began working on the poem Entre la piedra y la flor ("Between stone and flower") (1941, revised in 1976), which describes the situation and fate of the Mexican campesino (peasant) as a result of capitalist society. [1]

In 1937, Paz visited Spain during that country's civil war, showing his solidarity with the Republicans. Upon returning to Mexico, Paz co-founded a literary journal, Taller ("Workshop") in 1938, and wrote for the magazine until 1941. In 1943 he received a Guggenheim fellowship and began studying at the University of California at Berkeley in the United States, and two years later, he entered the Mexican diplomatic service, working in France until 1962. While there, in 1950, he wrote and published El laberinto de la soledad ("The Labyrinth of Solitude"), a groundbreaking study of Mexican identity and thought.

Later life

In 1962, Paz was appointed as Mexico's ambassador to India, and while there, he completed several works, including The Monkey Grammarian and East Slope. His time in government service ended, however, in 1968, when he resigned in protest of the Mexican government's killing of hundreds of students in the Tlatelolco massacre. He returned to Mexico in 1969, and worked as a visiting professor of Spanish American Literature at several universities in the United States. From 1971 to 1976 he edited and published Plural, a magazine he founded that was dedicated to arts and politics. In 1976 he founded Vuelta, a publication with a focus similar to that of Plural, and continued editing that magazine until his death. He won the 1977 Jerusalem Prize for literature on the theme of individual freedom. In 1980 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Harvard University, and in 1982 he won the Neustadt Prize. A collection of his poems (written between 1957 and 1987) was published in 1988. In 1990, he won the Nobel Prize "for [his] impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity" [1]. He died in 1998.


A prolific author and poet, Paz published scores of works during his lifetime, many of which were translated into other languages. His early poetry was influenced by Marxism, surrealism, existentialism, as well as religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. His poem, Piedra del sol ("Sunstone"), written in 1957, was praised as a "magnificent" example of surrealist poetry in the presentation speech of his Nobel Prize. His later poetry often focused on the paintings of international artists like Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Antoni Tapies, Robert Rauschenberg, and Roberto Matta. Several of his poems have also been adapted into choral music by composer Eric Whitacre, including Water Night, Cloudburst, and A Boy and a Girl.

As an essayist Paz wrote on topics like Mexican politics and economics, Aztec art, anthropology, and sexuality. His book-length essay, The Labyrinth of Solitude (Spanish: El laberinto de la soledad), delves into the minds of his countrymen, describing them as hidden behind masks of solitude. Due to their history, they are ashamed of their origin and do not know who they are, acting "like persons who are wearing disguises, who are afraid of a stranger's look because it could strip them and leave them stark naked". A key work in understanding Mexican culture, it greatly influenced other Mexican writers, such as Carlos Fuentes.

His works include the poetry collections La estación violenta, (1956), Piedra de sol (1957), Alternating Current (tr. 1973), Configurations (tr. 1971), Early Poems: 1935–1955 (tr. 1974), and Collected Poems, 1957–1987 (1987); the volumes of essays The Labyrinth of Solitude (tr. 1963), The Other Mexico (tr. 1972); and El arco y la lira (1956; tr. The Bow and the Lyre, 1973); criticism; and studies of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Marcel Duchamp (both, tr. 1970).

Octavio Paz: Poems | Best Poems | Short Poems | Quotes