101 CHRONICLESnVIEWSnCEREMONIES IN THE CATACOMBSnby Octavio PaznThe following is the text of Mr. Paz’s address at then1987 IngersoU Prizes Awards Banquet.nIt moves me to be the recipient of the T.S. Eliot Award,nestablished by The IngersoU Foundation to honor poetsnand writers of different languages. The emotion I feel isnonly natural. Primarily because of the award itself and whatnit signifies in the realm of contemporary literature: it is annaward foreign to those two passions that pervert our culture,nideology and nationalism. Secondly, because of the eminencenof my three predecessors: Jorge Luis Borges, Eugenenlonesco, and V.S. Naipaul. And finally, I am moved by thenname T.S. Eliot. In all truth, though I mentioned it last, thenfact that the award bears the name of the Anglo-Americannpoet is of the utmost significance for me and is bothninhmate and symbolic. It is more than an award: it is ancountersign, a password. I was an adolescent when I readnEliot for the first time, and that reading opened the doorsnfor me to modern poetry; now upon receiving the awardnthat bears his name, I see my life as a long “rites of passage”nthat leads me back, more than a half a century after myninitiation, to one of the masters of my youth.nIn 1930 I was 17 years old and eagerly read poetry. Innthose years a group of Mexican writers edited a literarynjournal, Contempordneos. The name of the magazinenalluded to their intention to open doors and windows so thatnOctavio Paz received the T.S. Eliot Award for CreativenWriting on November 5, 1987.nnnthe fresh air of world culture could enter Mexico. In thenAugust issue of 1930 a long and strange poem appeared,nand I read it with awe, bewilderment, and fascination: ThenWaste Land. It was preceded by an intelligent prologue bynits translator, a young Mexican poet, Enrique Mungui’a,nwho died a few years later. I never knew him, but today Inremember his name with gratitude and sorrow. It’s notndifficult to imagine the puzzlement that this first readingncaused me: perplexity but also curiosity, seduction. I readnthe poem over and over again; I managed to get anotherntranslation that had been published in Madrid; I read Eliot’snother poems in Spanish versions (in those days there werenmany translations of his poetry, especially in Mexico).nLater, with a fuller grasp of English, I ventured reading himnin the original. As the years passed, my image of the poetnchanged according to both the successive turns in hisnthought and writing and my own. His image changed, butnnot my attachment to his poetry. The Waste Land is still fornme, through so many years and turns, like an obeliskncovered with signs, invulnerable to the fluctuation of tastenand the vicissitudes of time.nHow is it that a Mexican boy fond of poetry shouldnexperience such a sudden and lasting passion for a work innEnglish bristiing with difficulties? It is hardly necessary tonanswer the question. The force that pulled me was thenexcellence of the poem, the rigor in its construction, thendepth of its vision, the variety of its parts, and the remarkablenunity of the whole. But not just its excellence: itsnnovelty and strangeness as well. The form of the poem wasnunexpected: the ruptures, the sudden jumps and unforeseennconnections, the fragmentary nature of each sequence andnthe apparent disorder in which they are related (thoughngoverned by a concealed coherence), the amalgam ofndistinct characters and figures, the juxtapositions of time andnspace — the 20th century and the Middle Ages, Alexandrianand London, the fertility rites and the Punic Wars — thencombination of colloquial phrases and quotations of religiousnand poetic texts from the Greek and Sanskrit. Thenpoem didn’t resemble any of the poems I had read before. Itnoccurred to me that its true likeness was not in literary worksnbut in modern painting: in a Cubist canvas of Picasso ornin a “collage” by Braque. I wasn’t wrong. A few yearsnlater I discovered that The Waste Land’s method ofncomposition — as Pound’s Cantos and other poems of thenperiod — obeyed the same principles that had inspired thenCubist painters: the juxtaposition of fragments destined tonpresent a pictorial reality never seen before that neverthelessnexchanges knowing glances with real reality.n