Octavio Paz is largely regarded as the greatest Mexican poet of the 20th Century. His life (1914-1998) encompassed most of the century. He is also revered as a world poet as acknowledged with his 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature. I have read numerous works by Paz and I find his works to be challenging. Fortunately, most of his works are available in English translations.


 As with many Latin American poets, Paz also had a lot of political clout. He was the Mexican ambassador to India in the 60s. A Tale of Two Gardens collects poems from over 40 years and reflects Paz' love affair with the nation of India. He came to view India as a second home and was passionate in his ruminations on the nation.


New Directions saw fit to issue A Tale of Two Gardens as part of their New Directions Bibelot series. This is a means for smaller literary works to be released in small and reasonably priced editions. The poems were written from 1952 to 1995. That covered a large part of his adult life. He studied Indian philosophy and religion and absorbed into his own poetic sum.


This edition of A Tale of Two Gardens was edited and translated by poet Eliot Weinberger. Weinberger seems to have a firm grasp on the passion and spirit of Paz. He notes that Paz was more immersed in Indian culture than almost an other Western poet.


The book starts off with an epic poem called Mutra which was written in 1952 on the first visit to India. Mutra was a great city in Ancient times and remains an important city today. Paz was moved to write a lengthy piece celebrating its glory. It concludes with the weighty: And I reach down and grasp the incandescent grain and/plant it in my being: it must grow one day. This foretells the passion for India that would remain with him for the rest of his life.


There are also many poems from volumes called East Slope and Toward the Beginning  where Paz further expounded on his love of this nation and culture. It has been noted that all these poems included in this volume are also available in the Collected Poems of Octavio Paz. The Balcony is one of the most famous poems from this collection. It was originally part of the East Slope collection. With Eyes Closed is a brief but pretty poem from Toward the Beginning.


 The poems here do often cite religious symbols and metaphor. Some of this can be difficult to follow. There are extensive notes from Paz on different poems. This glossary is essential to appreciating and understanding the poems. I would not know what to make of Ootacamund or Cochin without the notes. Even with the notes some of the terminology is elusive. It is ultimately worth the effort because Paz had a depth of understanding toward the culture and a wondrous grasp of language. Weinberger also does an exceptional job relating that beauty to the reader. This is a very worthwhile collection.


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