Octavio Paz, born in Mexico in 1914, is the latest Nobel laureate in literature. A poet, essayist, editor, and diplomat, he has also proved to be, in such works of cultural criticism as The Labyrinth of Solitude, the master analyst of the Mexican temper. Foreign readers seeking the essence of Spanish North America, and Mexican readers seeking a sense of their country’s relation to the modern world, can have no better guide on their journey than Paz. And there is no better place to begin with Paz than here, in his address last year to the Swedish Academy, for here he speaks not only of Mexico but of himself, and not only of the forces that shaped his world but of those that shaped him as a poet, a Mexican poet, a writer bound to the European tradition by the accident of the Spanish language yet separated from it by historical circumstance.

Paz’s story is that of the search of a Third World intellectual for the...

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