Octavio Paz was born in Mexico City, Mexico in March of 1914. He grew up in the wake of the Mexican Civil War, which had a significant impact on his family’s finances. Nonetheless, he had continual access to his grandfather’s library. The books exposed him to both Mexican and European literature and he develops an early passion for writers such as Juan Ramón Jiménez. Paz’s first poems were published when he was a teenager, around 1931. It was only two years later that he published, Luna Silvestre, (or “Wild Moon”) his first collection of poems.
Paz was educated at a Roman Catholic school and then later at the University of Mexico. When he was twenty-three he left university where he was studying law to work at a school for disadvantaged children in Mérida. It was around this period of time that he began composing one of his better-known volumes, Entre la piedra y la flor or, Between the Stone and the Flower. The volume explores the everyday lives of Mexican peasants who suffer under the landlords for whom they work. It wasn’t published until 1941.
In 1937, he visited Spain where he was deeply influenced by the Spanish Civil War. He wrote the collection, Bajo tu clara sombra y otros poemas, (or Beneath Your Clear Shadow and Other Poems), in reaction to what he experienced. This book was the one which first drew the public’s attention to his writing. When Paz returned to Mexico he began work editing literary reviews. These include Taller and El hijo pródigo.
In 1943, he received a Guggenheim fellowship and studied at the University of California at Berkeley. He then worked for the Mexican diplomatic service and traveled to Paris. It was around this time he published El Laberinto de la Soledad (or “The Labyrinth of Solitude”). Over the next decade, he spent time in India, Tokyo, and Geneva. One of his greatest poems was written upon his return to Mexico, ‘Piedra de sol’ (or “Sunstone”).
In 1965, he was married and a few years later he founded the magazine Plural. The later part of his life saw him serve as the Simón Bolívar Professor at Cambridge University and A. D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University. Before his death, he won the Jerusalem Prize for literature and then later the Nobel Prize in 1990. Octavio Paz died of cancer in April of 1998.