Yoga-Tantrismo en Blanco

Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS)
'From Yellow to Red to Black': Tantric Reading of 'Blanco' by Octavio Paz
Author(s): Victoria Carpenter
Source: Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Oct., 2002), pp. 527-544
Published by: Wiley on behalf of Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS)
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Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 527-544, 2002
Trom yellow to red to black':
Tantric Reading of 'Blanco' by
Octavio Paz
University of Derby> UK
'Blanco' (1966), is one of the most over- and underanalysed poems by Octavio Paz
(1914-1998). Its distinctive structure, combined with varied, often sexually
suggestive, imagery has been the subject of many critical readings, which often
concentrate on the poet's attempt to *discover an ultimate reality behind the
appearances of the world' (Fein, 1986, 76), or on the conflict between this attempt
and the inadequacy of language (Phillips, 1972, 135). While most analyses address
the surrealist imagery of the poem, it is surprising that many critics either ignore or
downplay its Eastern character. One of the few exceptions is Jose Quiroga's
analysis addressing the connection between the multilayered structure of the poem
and the system of 'the internal circulation of the chakras* (Quiroga 1999, 147).
Considering that Paz himself indirectly admits Yoga influences by using a quote
from The Hevajra Tantra' as the first epigraph of the poem, a Yoga-centred
reading of Paz's poetry of the mid- to late 1960s is deemed more appropriate.
Paz's in-depth knowledge of Tantra Yoga is hardly surprising, since he spent
six years in India, serving as Mexico's cultural attache from 1962 till 1968, when
he resigned the post in protest against the Mexican government's actions in the
Tlatelolco massacre. While in India, he became interested in Yoga philosophy, in
particular Tantra, a branch of Vedic religion shared by Buddhism, Hinduism and
Taoism. Paz's new interest is evident from the extensive use of Tantric imagery
and the quotes from Tantric texts, in particular in the Ladera Este collection
(1968), and 'Blanco' (1966). By the mid-1960s, it became evident that Paz was
distancing himself from French surrealism, which has been one of the major
influences on his work for several decades, although he still showed allegiance to
the movement by using a quote from Stefan Mallarme as one of the epigraphs to
'Blanco'. Taking into consideration the importance of Yoga and Tantra in Paz's
poetry of the 1960's, this analysis of 'Blanco' will address the search for
knowledge and superconsciousness from the perspective of Tantra Yoga
philosophy; therefore, it will be necessary first to explain the nature of Yoga
(including Tantra Yoga), and the meaning of Yoga terminology to be employed
in this study.
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Yoga is the ecumenical philosophy of the attainment of Nirvana through the
perfection of body and mind. *Yoga is the mystic science of Asia, the accepted
basis of all spiritual development of all religious form' (Marques-Riviere, 1970,
15); Hinduism, Buddhism, Tantrism, Taoism and other Asian philosophies are
derived from Yoga. Yoga practices emphasise various aspects of the teaching.
The names of these practices describe their focus: for example, Hatha Yoga
concentrates on physical exercises, Jnana Yoga focuses on the attainment of
knowledge, and so on. Swami Sivananda's teachings define the four main paths
of Yoga - Karma Yoga (the path of action), Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion),
Jnana Yoga (the path of knowledge and wisdom), and Raja Yoga (the path of
physical and mental control; Hatha Yoga is part of this path) - and explain the
nature of the connection of these practices: 'Each is suited to a different
temperament or approach to life. All the paths lead ultimately to the same
destination - to union with Brahman or God - and the lessons of each of them
need to be integrated if true wisdom is to be attained* (http:// Similarly, Jean Varenne posits that 'all these different
sorts of yoga are no more ... than variants ... of classical yoga, the only one
treated unanimously in the tradition as the valid reference. [...] The reference [to
the focus of a particular yoga] is merely to a subdivision within a stage, as with
mantra-yoga, the 'yoga of magic formulas' which deals with the magical efficacy
of the specific words or phrases employed to help concentrate the mind, etc'
(Varenne, 1973, 82-3). The primary Yoga teachings are concentrated in three
books, or tantras (hence the name tantra-yoga, derived from the fact that it is
described at length in a number of manuscripts): 'the Bhagavad-Gita says why
one should practice yoga, the Sutras teach one how to do so, and the Upanishads
reveal what actually happens as one advances along the path' (id., 145-46).
Among the Yoga texts used in this study is that by Sri Swami Sivananda (1887?
1958), a Vedanta teacher and practitioner. Like all yogis, Sivananda applied the
philosophy of the four main paths of yoga in his practices, basing them on the
classical Vedanta text Hatha Yoga Pradipika. However, it would be erroneous to
suggest that he created a Sivananda yoga, since neither the philosophy nor the
application of the terminology change from practitioner to practitioner.
According to Yoga teachings, the main purpose of all forms of Yoga is the
union of the individual self (jiva) with the Absolute or pure consciousness
(Brahman). This state of unity, known as Samadhi, is characterised by total peace
of mind and body. 'In Samadhi one rests in the state of bliss in which the Knower,
the Knowledge, and the Known become one. This is the superconcious state
reached by mystics of all faiths and persuasions' (
Once the yogi reaches Samadhi, s/he becomes one with the Brahman, or the
Absolute Reality. According to Swami Vishnu Devananda, 'for the spiritual
seeker, Brahman is Truth; this world is unreal, it is a mere illusion. The world is
an untruth, the Absolute is the only Truth' (http://216.1677.104/yogalife/
spring98/spring 2.htm). In order to attain the state of Samadhi, the yogi has to
practice the four Yoga paths described earlier, focussing specifically on releasing
the energy within his/her astral body; this energy, Kundalini, travels up the body
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through seven chakras (or energy centres). These are located in the plexi along
the energy column Sushuma, 'whose counterpart in the physical body is the spinal
cord' (Sivananda, 1983, 70). Up the energy column travels the astral energy
Kundalini; once it reaches the energy centre Sahasrara Chakra (the crown chakra,
corresponding in the physical body to the pineal gland), the yogi reaches the state
of Samadhi, or superconsciousness: 'still operating on the material plane, he has
reached a level of existence beyond time, space and causation' (id., 71). The
nature and location of the seven chakras is as follows:
At the base of Sushumna is Muladhara, which corresponds to the
sacral plexus. It is here that Kundalini lies dormant. Next is
Swadhisthana, corresponding to the prostatic plexus. Manipura, the
third chakra, corresponds to the solar plexus; it is the main storage
centre for prana [the life energy]. Anahata - located in the region of
the heart - corresponds to the cardiac plexus, Vishuddha - in the
throat region - to the laryngeal plexus and Ajna chakra - located
between the eyebrows - to the cavernous plexus. Sahasrara, the
seventh and highest chakra, corresponds in the physical body to the
pineal gland. (ibid.)
One of the tools used to practice meditation is mantra - a rhythmical chant of
Sanskrit syllables aimed at *bring[ing] the individual to a higher state of
consciousness' (Sivananda 1983, 98). Mantra-yoga, 'the 'yoga of magic formulas'
... deals with the magical efficacy of the specific words or phrases employed to
help concentrate the mind' (Varenne, 1973, 83). The practice of mantra, or the
repetition of a syllable or a combination of syllables, is incorporated in other
practices, such as pranayama and hatha yoga, the main aim of which is to perfect
the physical aspect of the human body to facilitate the release of Kundalini in the
attempt to reach Nirvana.
The result of the attainment of superconsciousness is the destruction of Maya,
or the illusion of the objective world. The creation of Maya is best described as
the separation of the universal spirit (Purushta) and its physical or objective
manifestation (Prakriti). 'The manifest universe is only a superimposition on the
real, it is projected on the screen of reality' (Sivananda, 1983, 16). As the yogi
practices the four paths, s/he reunites the physical and spiritual manifestations of
the universal spirit, thus destroying Maya and re-establishing the oneness of the
spiritual and physical manifestations of Purushta.
Having defined the principal premises of Yoga philosophy and explained the
main concepts herein, it is essential to establish the relationship between Tantra
and Yoga emphasised in a number of studies of Yoga. Harish Johari succinctly
describes the underlying focus of Tantra Yoga: 'In the ancient science of Tantra,
the human body is viewed as the most perfect instrument for the expression of
consciousness, a perfection realised through the development of psychic centers
known as chakras' (Johari, 1999). Sir John Woodroffe's study of Tantra, in
particular Introduction to Tantra Sastra, examines the process of attaining
superconsciousness through a number of practices, including physical exercises
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(Hatha Yoga), breathing exercises (Prana Yoga), sexual experience (Tantra
Yoga), and other means (see Woodroffe, 1969, 126-49). Hence, it becomes clcar
that Tantra is an integral part of Yoga. Marques-Riviere defines Tantra and
Tantrism (the philosophy of Tantra), as 'the traditional aspect of Yoga doctrine
as adapted for our time' (Marques-Riviere, 1970,16). Mircea Eliade continues to
accentuate the interdependence of Tantra-yoga and other aspects of Yoga:
'Hatha Yoga and tantra transubstantiated the body by giving it macranthropic
dimensions and assimilating it to the various "mystical bodies" (sonorous,
architectonic, iconographic, etc.)' (Eliade, 1969, 203). Moreover, it should be
noted that Kama-Sutra, the most famous book on Tantric practices, is part of the
Yoga teachings. Explaining the nature of Tantra, Gavin Flood states that 'the
tantras and agamas are a vast body of literature which generally take the form of
a dialogue between Siva and his consort (Sati), dealing with ritual, the divine
nature of the body, the female energy (sakti) of god, cosmology (particularly
speculation on the cosmos as an emanation of energy as divine sound), and the
construction of ritual formulae or mantras* (Flood, 1998, 174). The focus of
Tantra Yoga is on the worship of the female aspect of Siva, the destructive aspect
of Brahman; this aspect, as well as the union, is seen as possessing great sexual
energy, leading to the release of Kundalini, much as it is released through every
Yoga practice. Eliade posits that Tantric texts are often composed in an
'intentional language'..., a secret, dark, ambiguous language in which a state of
consciousness is expressed by an erotic term and the vocabulary of mythology or
cosmology is charged with Hatha-yogic or sexual meanings' (Eliade, 1969, 249).
The intrinsic link between Yoga and Tantra (both in Hinduism and
Buddhism) is described as 'esoteric tradition of ritual and yoga known for
elaborate use of mantra, or symbolic speech, and mandala, or symbolic diagrams;
the importance of female deities, or Shakti; cremation-ground practices such as
meditation on corpses; and, more so in Hindu than in Buddhist tantra, the ritual
use of wine, meat, and sexual intercourse. Tantric practices use both ritual and
meditation to unify the devotee with the chosen deity. In Hindu Tantra, practice
is graded into three types, corresponding to three classes of devotees: the animal,
i.e., those in whom the guna ... of tamas (darkness) predominates; the heroic,
those in whom the guna of rajas (activity) predominates; and the divine, those in
whom sattva (goodness) predominates' ( Tantric
practices are seen as less restrictive than the traditional Brahman teachings. 'In
contrast to the controlled Brahman householder ..., other religious traditions
within Hinduism, notably the tantric traditions, present very different images, at
least at an ideological leveP (Flood, 1998, 45). While Tantric ideology allows for
more physical and ideological freedom than the traditional facets of Yoga
(condoning, for one, inter-caste sexual relationships and meat-eating), it is based
on the same theoretical premise as other paths: the use of Yoga terms, like
chakras, Kundalini, gunas, purushta and other components of the spiritual and
physical body, is the same in the Tantric context. Thus, it becomes clear that
Tantra and Yoga are not opposing or conflicting philosophies; Tantra is part of
Yoga and should not be viewed as a separate or antithetic philosophy.
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The above summary of the principles and applications of Yoga and Tantra
philosophies will serve as a basis for the Tantric analysis of 'Blanco'. As will
become evident in the analysis, the focus of the poem is on the attainment of
superconsciousness through sexual experience. Through Tantric practices
comprising physical and emotional aspects of sexual intercourse, the male
narrator1 loses connection with the objective reality. In the end all that appears
left is transparency or the absence of objective reality, leaving the male in the
subjective realm of existence. The Tantric nature of the outcome of the poem
first becomes evident insofar as the male attains the state of Nirvana through
sexual practice; the absence of the objective reality is reminiscent of Samadhi, as
the yogi passes through the veil of Maya and attains superconsciouness. The
three parts comprising the poem represent several stages in the male's satisfaction
of sexual desire combined with the attainment of superconsciousness. The
process begins as an abstract representation of a totally cognitive existence, then
continues through the awakening of the male's primal side to its ultimate
expression in a sexual act, and returns to restoring the cognitive facet of the
male's personality. The coexistence of the cognitive and non-cognitive aspects
within the male's personality is controversial since the non-cognitive side appears
repressed in the male's overt character in an asexual environment. The sexual act,
therefore, is a way to express this forbidden side of the male's psyche. Through
the poem the reader observes awakening of the mind, followed by awakening of
the body or recognition of the body as an equally valid half of the male's
personality; the section which describes a sexual act may also be viewed as
depicting coexistence of the subjective and objective realities. By the last section,
the male reaches the state of superconsciousness as his body and mind re-create
each other and cannot exist separately, connoting that the male's mental selfawareness depends largely upon his physical or sexual experiences.
Although the poem may be read as representing Nature's elements (this
interpretation relies mainly on the analysis of the form and structure of the
poem), it also alludes to a mantra addressed to achieve the superconsciousness
through sexual expression. The male travels an imaginary path from the
nothingness of innocence through sexual experience to the nothingness of
knowledge. From the Tantric perspective, the poem can be divided into three
parts corresponding to the three stages of a mantra chant. While the black and
red-typeface section of the poem can also be seen as two separate poems joined
by a common theme of a sexual act, the three parts of the poem2 may be
The narrator in 'Blanco' is presumed to be male since the narrators of most of Paz's
poems are male. This is surmised indirectly from the fact that the narrator addresses
the woman in the poem, and since the two are engaged in a sexual act and there is no
evidence of homosexual tendencies of either partner, it becomes evident that the
narrator is male. This assumption has been made in all analyses of the poem.
This study will use the version of 'Blanco' published as a separate volume: Octavio
Paz, Blanco (1966), 2nd ed., Mexico, D.F.: Joaquin Mortiz, 1972. In this edition, the
sections are identified by typeface - non-bold, bold and the combination of black and
red italicised Iines. Since there is no pagination in this publication, the references in
the text will be given as Paz 1972.
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interpreted as representing gunas, or the all-encompassing aspects of universal
energy (Purushta). The three gunas - sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic - existin
equilibrium within everything in the Universe. The differentiation of gunas is 'the
differentiation of T and 'this', of subject and object, and mythologically as Shakti
moving out from Siva - in the raising of Kundalini [inner astral energy], when the
state of superconsciousness is attained, the two principles are reunited and the
illusion is no more' (Sivananda, 1983, 16).
Before examining each section in detail, it is important to establish the
'characters' of the poem. The male narrator appears to be the only cognitive
presence in the text; there is the image of a woman-partner, which is an
important formative component of the main theme of the poem. Many critics
have come to the same conclusion regarding the woman's role as a representative
of objective reality (Fein, Sucre, Wilson); another view of the woman as an
independent person is presented by Rachel Phillips, who considers the woman to
have a minute role in the male's search for an adequate expression of emotions
(Phillips, 1972, 139, 142). However, there is no evidence in the poem that the
woman exists independently from the male. In fact, she does not possess physical
characteristics or exist at all until the male becomes aroused and engages in a
sexual act with the woman he creates in his imagination to satisfy his sexual urge.
From the Tantric perspective, the woman's arousing nature is very important,
since it offers a clear parallel with the image of Durga/Kali, the most sexually
active goddess of the female trinity. She is hailed as 'the mother of the universe,
... the effulgent Goddess Durga,... the terrifying destroyer of ignorance' (Uttal,
1997). Durga represents the female aspect of Siva, the Destroyer god in the Hindu
Trinity. It is said that the Brahman, or the universal Absolute, contains three
aspects - birth, development, and death - represented respectively by Krishna,
Vishnu and Siva (or Shiva). Each masculine deity has a female counterpart, often
referred to as a consort, designed to emphasise one of the intrinsic qualities of
each god; Durga/Kali's duality represents the two main aspects of Siva destruction (Kali) and rebirth (Durga) of the material world. The records of the
origin of Durga/Kali are numerous; among them, the Vedanta and Tantra texts:
'Durga's story appears primarily in the Skanda Purana, in Chandi, itself a part of
the Markandeya Purana, but very similar stories are told in the Brahmanda
Purana and also in the famous epic, the Mahabharata. She also appears elsewhere
in tantrik [sic] texts, including as Mahishamardini (killer of the demon Mahisha)
in the Kulachudamani Tantra' (
Traditionally depicted as a black naked woman with a mouth red with blood
of men, she devours her human lovers-children, thus destroying the physical side
of human nature which prevents it from attaining superconsciousness. Created to
fight the demon Mahisha, Durga/Kali was armed by all gods and their consorts;
finally, she defeated the demon, immune to the gods' weapons, by touching him
with her foot. The dual nature of Durga/Kali is not the only form of this goddess;
as Lord Siva's consort, she is also known as Parvati, the symbol of marital bliss
(she was known as Sati in her previous divine incarnation). The family of Lord
Shiva, Parvati and their sons Ganesha and Kartikeya is an ideal example of family
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unity and love. She has a charming personality. She is adored by married women
for a happy married life' ( It should be
noted that there are numerous variations of the appearance of the Goddess, each
one based on a specific aspect of her nature.
Just as there is no single depiction of Durga/Kali/Parvati, there is no concrete
description of the woman in the poem; as an abstract entity created to help the
male achieve sexual satisfaction, she is void of consciousness or emotions as well
as explicit physical characteristics. The only description of her appearance is
recorded during a metaphorical coitus - 'mis manos de lluvia / sobre tus pechos
verdes'(ibid.),3 when the woman acquires attributes of flora and fauna void of
human consciousness. Later (during coitus) she is implicitly compared to a bird
of prey: 'lluvia de tus talones en mi espalda* (ibid.);4 this metaphor enhances the
description of a sexual act as an exhibition of the animal side of the human
personality. In addition, the image of a bird of prey holding its victim in its talons
establishes the first subtle connection between sexual satisfaction and fear of
physical death and reinforces the Tantric nature of the poem by characterising
the woman as Durga/Kali: Tantric worshippers of Kali thought it essential to
face her Curse, the terror of death, as willingly as they accepted blessings from
her beautiful, nurturing, maternal aspect. For them, wisdom meant learning that
no coin has only one side: as death can't exist without life, so also life can't exist
without death. Kali's sages communed with her in the grisly atmosphere of the
cremation ground, to become familiar with images of death. They said, "His
Goddess, his loving Mother in time, who gives him birth and loves him in the
flesh, also destroys him in the flesh. His image of Her is incomplete if he does not
know Her as his tearer and devourer*" (Walker, 1983, 488). However, Durga's
destructive powers, like those of Siva, are aimed at the creation of a new universe;
the revitalising character of the female goddess is evident from the folk paintings,
where 'she is shown striding on Shiva, and giving him life and energy (seen
through his arousal). This reflects the notion that the Goddess's energy is
essential to all life, and that without her nothing would come into being'
(Rawson, 1978, plate 3).
The image of fire dominates the second section, as the partners are united in a
sexual act. The fire, which metaphorically represents the male's sexual arousal, is
described in highly sensual imagery:
ni ries - desnuda
en los jardines de la llama ...
llama rodeada de leones
leona en el circo de las llamas
anima entre las sensaciones
frutos de luces de bengala (ibid.)5
3 4My hands of rain / on your green breasts' (all translations by Victoria Carpenter).
4 'Rain of your claws on my back'.
5 'You laugh - naked / in the gardens of flame [...]/ a flame surrounded by lions / a
lioness in the circle of flames / a spirit among sensations / fruit of Bengal lights\
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The woman's promincnt prescnce in this section suggests that her image is a
result of the male's imagination to release his sexual tension by engaging in a
sexual act with her and by watching her reach orgasm. This voyeuristic side of
the male's sexual desire is evident in a metaphoric description of the woman's
te precipitas en tus semejanzas
caes de tu nombre a tu cuerpo
en un presente que no acaba
caes en tu comienzo (ibid.)
Once the male experiences orgasm, his partner disappears, and the male rcceivcs
a revelation of his superconsciousness that combines the subjective and objcctive
realities7 - 'La irrealidad de lo mirado / da realidad a la mirada' (Paz, 1972).8 The
woman's image is the superimposition of the male's sexuality onto his subjective
reality, ultimately, she is a result of the male's imagination being fueled by sexual
desire. The woman's appearance after the orgasm is surprising because it
interferes with the male's contemplation of a newly discovered subjective reality.
To prevent her from damaging his inner equilibrium, the male assigns her an
abstract quality. It may ssem that the male perceives the woman and the objective
reality which she represents as part of his subjective world, since he renders her
existence a projection of the conflict and coexistence of his subjective reality and
the objective world evident in the juxtaposed images below:
Mirala fluir
entre tus pechos caer
sobre tu vientre
blanca y negra
primavera nocturna
jazmin y ala de cuervo
tamborino y sitar
No y Si (ibid.)9
The above analysis allows the conclusion that the woman-partner is a figment
of the male's imagination fueled by sexual desire; the Tantric characteristics of
the union of the male narrator and the woman allow for continuing the analysis
6 'you precipitate in your likenesses / and fall from your name onto your body / in the
present that never ends / you fall into your beginning'.
7 The second edition of 'Blanco' does not have page numbers; therefore, the quotes will
be cited in association with the sections in which they appear, as deemed appropriate.
8 The unreality of what is seen / gives reality to the gaze'. It should be noted that the
word la mirada' can also be translated as 'she who is watched'; having deduced that
the woman represents objective reality, it is possible to draw a parallel between the
two versions of the word - the gaze, emanating from the physical reality, is as
objective as the woman at whom it is aimed.
9 'Watch it flow / fall between your breasts / onto your belly, / black and white, / night
spring / jazmin and a raven's wing / tambourine and sitar / No and Yes'.
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of the poem from the Trantra Yoga perspective. Therefore, when examining the
three sections of the poem, it is necessary to allude to the order of chakras in the
spiritual body, their main elements, and the effect their awakening has on the
attainment of superconsciousness. It should be noted that the chakra division of
the poem has already been discussed (Quiroga, 1999, 146-48). However, the
descending order presented in Quiroga's 1999 study - ether, water, air, fire, earth
- does not correspond to the widely accepted ascending scheme, which outlines
the chakras as follows: earth (Muladhara), water (Swadhishthana), Manipura
(fire), Anahata (air), Vishuddha (ether), Ajna and Sahasrara.10 It is important to
emphasise that the line of the chakras begins at the base of the spine and ends at
the top of the head in a thousand-petal Sahasrara chakra; the ascending
progression reflects the movement of the Kundalini up the Sushumna column
(corresponding to the spine) to the crown chakra, which is the seat of the
Absolute, or superconsciousness. This sequence, outlined in the numberous Yoga
writings, does not change with each practitioner; therefore, this analysis is based
on the aforementioned scheme, as described in the works of Chandra Mohan
Jain, Huzur Swami Vishnu Devananda, Swamiji Maharaj, Swami Sri Sivananda,
Shyam Sundar Goswami, and Sri Aurobindo, to name but a few. The importance
of chakras in Tantra is best described by Harish Johari: 'Located within the
cerebrospinal system, chakras are the stage upon which the interaction between
higher consciousness and desire is played out. Consequently, it is though
understanding and utilising the energy of the chakras that we ultimately reach the
enlightened state of being' (Johari, 1999).
While the first part of the poem may be interpreted as addressing primarily the
Freudian psychoanalysis of constraints of the word as the part of rational
language which hides superconsciousness and imposes limitations on sexual
expression, we will examine this section from a Tantric perspective. The nonbold section (first 13 lines, and the section after the last double-column stanza)
metaphorically corresponds to air; this is evident not only from an ethereal
quality of the print, but also from numerous references to air. The most manifest
examples are the repetition of the line 'aire son nada' (Paz, 1972),n and the
spread-out first stanza whose lines frequently consist of one word and appear to
be floating in the air:
inocente promiscua
la palabra
sin nombre sin habla (ibid.)12
Taking into consideration the prevailing ethereal quality of this section, it becomes
evident that it exhibits the characteristics of the Anahata Chakra - a smoke10 The last two chakras in the order do not have elements associated with them because
they represent the non-material projections. Both are activated once the yogi enters
the plane of superconsciousness.
11 'air are nothing'.
12 'innocent promiscuous / the word / without a name without speech'.
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coloured chakra, whose element is air (Sivananda, 1983, 71); the light colour of the
print and the spread-out lines enhance this similarity. The section is akin to the
expression of pure consciousness that does not recognise its physical manifestation
(sexual or otherwise). This is supported by the absence of verbs or adjectivcs of
physical attributes; in fact, the only body parts mentioned in the first stanza are
eyes and tongue, i.e., those involved in the process of cognitive communication.
This section continues following the two parts with numerous sexual images;
it may be connoted that after experiencing release of sexual tension through
orgasm, the male returns to the state of pure consciousness, having reconciled the
existence of his mental and physical traits by assigning subjectivity to both (as
may be noted in the presence of physical attributes in the last stanza). The spirit,
or the cognitive part of the male's psyche, is still its leading force, but its nature is
complemented by primal physical traits of the body. The following quote reflccts
succinctly the essence of the principles of Tantra Yoga - the interdependence of
body and spirit, and the subjective reality (or the universal spirit) created as
aresult of this interconnection:
El espiritu
es una invencion del cuerpo
El cuerpo
es una invencion del mundo
El mundo
es una invencion del espiritu
No Si (Paz, 1972)13
Apart from the fact that this section may be interpreted as representing air, it may
also be seen as a sattvic guna, described as a peaceful state, void of bodily needs
(Sivananda, 1983, 80), which is the prevailing mood of the first part of the poem.
It is evident in the level emotional tone of the section, the absence of physical
descriptions, adjectives characterising extreme moods, and sexually arousing
The second part of the poem (the bold black typeface; in later editions - the
sections between the double-column stanzas, and after the non-bold part) is more
sexually explicit since it reflects the physical manifestation of the male's psyche.
A parallel may be made between the nature of this section and the Swadhishthana
chakra (located in the prostatic plexus), whose element is water and which
represents the centre of male sexual energy. Sexually charged imagery augments
this comparison. The recurring images of water and river are the most obvious
sign, and the fluid appearance of print reinforces this supposition: 'Rio de sangre,
/ rio de historias / de sangre, / rio seco:* (ibid.), 'tienes la boca llena de agua'
(ibid.).14 It should be noted that each line in this section is either part of a phrase
13 The spirit / is the invention of the body / The body / is the invention of the world /
The world / is the invention of the spirit / No and Yes'.
14 *A river of blood / a river of histories / of blood / a dry river'; 'you have a mouth full
of water*.
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or is phonetically similar to the previous line, thus creating the illusion of fluidity.
The frequent references and allusions tow ater denote the male narrator's sexual
arousal (the parallel between flowing water, ejaculation and vaginal secretion is
easily established); it is at this point that his ability to communicate is impeded.
The mouth of the language is muzzled by 'la conjuracion anonima / de los
huesos' (ibid.)15 - the similie of bone and penis suggests that sexuality is blocking
the expression of the cognitive aspect of the male's psyche. This imagery also
suggests a similarity of this section and the tamasic guna, characterised by
clouded reasoning and dark emotions.
The male approaches the point of extreme arousal before he engages in a
sexual act; this moment is very important because of the first shift in the male's
nature from predominantly cognitive to mainly driven by sexual desires. The two
facets complement each other in the following quote:
mientras los otros trabajan
es pulir huesos
hasta la transparencia,
hasta la ondulacion,
el cabrilleo,
hasta el agua (ibid.)16
The act of talkiing is regarded as an expression of individuality or consciousness;
yet the morbid and sexually prominent reference to polishing bones, and later the
allusion to orgasm through the images of water ('hasta la ondulacion, / hasta el
agua'), assigns sexual intercourse cognitive characteristics. Hence, cognition may
also be seen as an extension of sexuality, which invites the conclusion that the
primal side of human nature is responsible for creating a higher order of being
that will deny itself an overt expression of its 'animal' nature that bore it. A
similar interpretation is offered by Jason Wilson in his 1986 volume: the
beginning of the poem 'the wordplay, like bells, releases overlapping meanings:
analogies of the origins, the see, sperm, the latent poem (liberating mental
experience) that this poem is pursuing' (Wilson, 1986, 111).
Progressively, cognition is becoming less important as language is heard, not
seen (read) or pondered (understood). In fact, language and its products are
almost always paired with physical imagery which becomes more related to
nature (especially fauna), losing its connection with the male's cognitive side. In
the beginning of the section, 'el lenguaje deshabitado' (Paz, 1972)l7 connotes a
previous presence of an inhabitant who may be presumed to be human, since
15 'an anonymous conspiracy of bones'.
16 'To speak / while others work / is to polish bones / to sharpen / silences / to the point
of transparency / to the point of waves / of whitecaps / to the point of water\
17 kuninhabited language'.
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language is one of the principal signs of human consciousness. However,
language is also characterised as shelter, thus implying the satisfaction of one of
the basic primary needs of any living being - the need for shelter (Maslow, 1954,
81). Therefore, language is losing its connection with a higher order of mentality.
As the male's attention is directed more towards physical sensations, he begins to
lose his cognitive characteristics and reverts to a primal stage of development
characterised by the absence of language. Another expression of the male's loss of
cognitive traits is revealed in the phrase 'un presentimiento de lenguaje' (Paz,
1972).I8 Since language is the main sign of human cognition, the male's fear of
language suggests that he regresses to an earlier stage of evolution, becoming
closer to wild animals, who are usually frightened by the sound of speech,
perceiving it as a sign of danger. Still, language is an integral part of the male's
psyche, as he keeps using it. The repression continues until eventually language
takes on mainly non-cognitive traits, explicitly connected with the natural world
void of life of a higher order - 'la tierra es un lenguaje calcinado' (ibid.).19
Morbid imagery is prevalent in this section, and it is of particular importance
to note that the morbid images coincide with sexual images. 'Cabeza en una pica'
(ibid.)20 is an explicit example of the dual representation of death. The image of a
head on a spike is reminiscent of medieval (and Eastern) execution traditions,
when the heads of the executed were displayed in public, often on a pole or a
spike, to instill fear into the subjects of a ruler by demonstrating his power and
ruthlessness. One cannot help but recognise a voyeuristic attitude to death and a
parallel which may be drawn between it and sexual voyeurism, especially if the
image of a head on a spike is regarded from a sexual perspective as representing
an erect penis. There are many instances in the poem of morbid images with
sexual undertones. It is noteworthy that most of these images are in the 'water*
section that depicts the male's increasing sexual ajrousal. Therefore, it is not
surprising that sexually implicit images of bones appear only in this section, since
a bone metaphorically represents both death (decaying flesh eventually stripped
off a skeleton) and sexual arousal (similar to an erect penis), which is reflected in
a connotative meaning of 'hueso' as a 'designacion equivoca del organo sexual
masculino' (Criado de Val, 1981, 104).21
It should be noted that the culmination of morbid imagery and the appearance
of death in the form of the sun occurs immediately before the male's first
metaphorical foreplay, transforming the objective world into his subjective
sexual fantasy:
Hay puas invisibles, hay espinas
en los ojos,
En un muro rosado
tres buitres ahitos.
18 'the anticipation of language'.
19 'the earth is a burnt language*.
20 'a head on a spike*.
21 'an ambiguous reference to the male sexual organ'.
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No tiene cuerpo ni cara ni alma,
esta en todas partes,
a todos nos aplasta: (Paz, 1972)22
The lines following this description portray foreplay, during which the male
creates the woman-partner from nature's elements. The persistent use of short
sentences and action verbs reinforces the pulsating movement of aroused sexual
organs; this is particularly visible in comparison with incomplete sentences from
the 'air' section mostly free of verbs, and the lack of verbs in the first stanza of the
'water' section when the male is not aroused. The images of physical suffering
and death appear to arouse the male, who then uses them to create a sexual
fantasy of fire during the metaphorical coitus.
The dual imagery of the poem - that of sexual desire and death - also suggests
a connection with the nature of Siva and his consort, Durga Ma. Siva the Dancer
is the destroyer of Maya, which, as previously stated, 'is only a superimposition
on the real, it is projected on the screen of reality [...]. Without illumination [or
knowledge] we mistake the unreal for the real - we superimpose or project our
own illusion on the real world' (Sivananda, 1983, 16). Siva's dance, always
accompanied by the beat of his two drums, announces the end of objective
reality; the image of Durga/Kali, the female aspect of Siva, has been discussed
earlier in the analysis of the woman-partner.
Sexual acts between the male and the imaginary woman are presented in the
double-column section (in the earlier editions - in the black and red columns,
either separate or joined). These columns respectively may be seen as
representing earth and fire; the black and red colour scheme of the print
suggests that this section reflects the union between Siva and Durga Ma. The
black (left) column appears solid, with its short phrases, parts of which are
repeated throughout the section, like building blocks: 'en el muro la sombra del
fuego / en el fuego tu sombra y la mia / el fuego te desata y te anuda' (Paz, 1972),
'entrar en mi / al entrar en tu cuerpo' (ibid.), 'caes de tu cuerpo a tu sombra I en
un caer inmovil de cascada / caes de tu sombra a tu nombre' (ibid.).23 Other
representations of this characteristic are: an approximately equal length of lines,
the great number of verbal / 'action' phrases and phrases with explicit sexual
connotations - 'se desata se esparce / se levanta se erige Idolo' (ibid.),24 and the
absence of extensive images expressed in adjectives - that is, sexual metaphores
are mainly action phrases that may or may not contain an actual verb:
22 'There are invisible needles, there are thorns / in the eyes, / On the pink wall / three
vultures in a row. / It has no bodv, no face, no soul, / it is everywhere, / it crushes us
23 'On the wall the shadow of fire / your shadow and mine on fire / the fire unties you
and ties you up'; *to enter me / by entering your body*; *you fall from your body into
your shadow / in a silent cascade fall / you fall from your shadow into your name*.
24 *it comes undone / it spreads / it rises it erects the Idoi'.
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entera en cada parte te repartes
tu cuerpo son los cuerpos del instante
pensado sonado encarnado (ibid.)
From the Tantra perspective, this section may also be viewed as
metaphorically representing the Muladhara chakra located in the sacral plexus
and thus responsible for sexual sensations; therefore, the black 'earth' column
implicitly depicts the sexuality of the male in the poem. It is also worth noting
that the Muladhara chakra is where the spiritual energy Kundalini lies dormant.
The connection between sexual expression and the release of the Kundalini
illustirates the subject of the poem which can now be identified as the search for
superconsciousness through sexual experience. This is supported by a
comparison of this section to the rajasic guna, aimed at feeding the body at
the expense of the mind. This guna is characterised by openly expressed passion
or arousal that makes the mind restless (Sivananda, 1983, 80).
Assuming that the male is the only 'character' in the poem and the woman is a
figment of his imagination, the logical conclusion is that this section portrays the
sexual aspect of the masculine nature. As the columns are brought closer
together, the images become more sexually explicit and the lines of more equal
length. If one compares the following passages paying attcntion to sexual
imagery, the structure of the poem shows the male's heightened arousal and
subsequent orgasm:
1. los rios de tu cuerpo
pais de latidos
entrar en ti
pais de ojos cerrados (Paz, 1972)26
2. se desata se esparce
se levanta se erige Idolo
desnuda como la mente
en la reverberacion del deseo (ibid.)27
3. caes en tu comienzo
derramada en mi cuerpo
ni te repartes como el lenguaje
tii me repartes en tus partes (ibid.)28
25 'complete in every part you split / your body are the bodies of an instant / thought
dreamt incarnate'.
26 'the rivers of your body / the country of palpitations / to enter you / the country of
closed eyes'.
27 'it comes undone / it spreads / it rises it erects the Idol / naked like the mind / in the
reverberation of desire'.
28 'you fall into your beginning / poured into my body / you split yourself like language /
you tear me up into your parts'.
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It should be noted, however, that there is no explicit description of the male's
physical climax; it is either seen as an emotional release, or is inferred from the
implicit images of natural forces. Another view of climax as a way of achieving
superconsciousness suggests that the black single lines centred at the end of the
double-column section represent the male's acquisition of knowledge. These lines
do not repeat the rhythm or imagery of the black left column; instead, the ideas
contained in them are of a superconscious nature - 'La transparencia es todo lo
que queda' (ibid.).29 This implies that the male has reached a higher level of
consciousness, although the appearance of the lines (black bold typeface) suggests
their belonging to the left column representing the male's sexuality. This once
again supports the notion that the male reaches superconsciousness by satisfying
his sexual desire.
A lack of higher emotions or cognitive expression becomes evident in this
section, as the male is involved in the primarily physical activity of the sexual act.
Even when he compares his physical experience to a representation of a cognitive
side of his psyche, its physical aspect prevails over mental ('te repartes' vs. 'el
lenguaje'). Still, he concentrates on looking at the woman, and the product of this
activity (the woman's visual image) is not as important as the gazing itself. Since
the poem bears many Tantric influences, the act of gazing takes on a meditative
meaning, and the woman's body (as imagined by the male) is used in Tratak, or
steady gazing at an object of meditation, which is an essential part of yoga
training. 'It involves alternately gazing at an object or point without blinking,
then closing your eyes and visualizing the object in your mind's eye ... [Tratak is]
primarily intended to strengthen your powers of concentration and purify the
mind' (Sivananda, 1983, 95). This allows the conclusion that the male uses the
image of the woman as part of his search for superconsciousness.
The red (right) column may be analysed frpm several perspectives. Firstly, the
colour of the print in this section is that of the Manipura chakra located in the
solar plexus. This chakra 'is the main storage centre for prana [vital energy, life
source]' (Sivananda, 1983, 71), and it is through both physical and mental
exercises that it opens and releases prana into the body. It is noteworthy that the
main element of this chakra is fire. Secondly, assuming that the woman is an
objective entity in the poem (i.e., she exists regardless of the man's
consciousness), the red column may represent the woman's sexuality. However,
since it has been determined that the woman has been imagined by the man as
part of his search for self through sexual experience, the column may be read as
an expression of emotional or mental aspects of the man's sexual drive. The
Tantric characteristic of this section as representing fire is supported by highly
emotionally charged and sexually explicit imagery, and multiple references to
light, sun or fire:
arida ondulacion
entre brazos de arena
29 Transparency is all that is left'.
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brilla se multiplica se niega [...]
pradera quemada
color de sol en la arena [...]
testigos los testiculos solares (ibid.)30
It is interesting to observe that there are also several references to rivers in this
section. This may contradict the prevalent image of fire; yet, comparing the water
imagery in the second ('water') section and the right column, it becomes obvious
that there is a significant difference. As seen earlier, the 'water' section
concentrates on the fluidity and liquid medium seen in short flowing lines
interconnected by phonetic similarity: 'empare^jJo, / cada dia / asesinjJo' (Paz,
The 'fire' section, on the other hand, adopts the image of river as a carrier of a
sexual connotation - 'el rio de los cuerpos I ... I torrente de cinabrio
somnambulo / ... / rio de soles' (ibid.),31 often combining the images of river/
water and light/fire in an attempt to reconcile the two opposite forces. This
reconciliation is similar to the male's efforts to resolve the inner conflict between
his rational consciousness and irrational sexuality. The imagery of the 'fire'
section complementing each other are evident in the following quote:
falo el pensar y vulva la palabra
espacio es cuerpo signo pensamiento
las espirales transfiguraciones
es cuerpo el tiempo el mundo
visto tocado desvanecido (ibid.)32
After a metaphorical orgasm, the male enters a reality containing more cognitive
experiences than physical sensations, similar to the state during which the Ajna
chakra - the 'third eye' - opens up, and the yogi experiences the full awakening
of Kundalini - 'En el centro / del mundo del cuerpo del espiritu / la grieta el
resplandor' (ibid.).33 The play of light and colour in the last part of the poem (the
continuation of the first 'air' section) reveals the joining of physical and mental
sensations which the male experiences from both perspectives, after the sexual
act bridges the two, and superconsciousness is born out of the physical
experience. It is interesting to observe that after the coitus and the subsequent
physical pleasure, the physical reality is dissolved, and the woman disappears,
while the male achieves the state of superconsciousness. Therefore, it may be said
that there can be no superconsciousness without physical or sexual experience to
instigate it.
30 'dry undulation / in the arms of sand / shines multiplies refutes itself [...] burnt
meadow / the colour of the sun in the sand [...] / witnesses the solar testicles*.
31 'the river of bodies / ... / the torrent of sleepwalking cinnabar / ... / the river of suns'.
32 'phallus the thought and vagina the word / space is body sign thought [...] / rhe
spirals transformations / is body time world / seen touched faint'.
33 'In the centre / of the world body spirit / rhe crack rhe brilliance'.
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The title of the poem also influences the Tantric interpretation of the piece.
'Blanco' (white) implies a blank page; yet since there are words printed on the
page, the whiteness referred to is behind the words. Metaphorically speaking,
words on the page are irrelevant; it is the consciousness behind them that is the
driving force of the poem. From the Tantric perspective, this interpretation
compares the poem to a mantra: the spoken sounds (Sanskrit syllables) on their
own do not contain the superconscious meaning, but the mental focusing behind
the sounds helps create the state of superconsciousness.
The poem begins with a statement of innocence (or a statement of
nothingness), and ends in the male reaching superconsciosness after revealing
his previously concealed primal side to himself. Therefore, the stanzas void of
substance represent th emale's consciousness, while the darker 'earthly' sections
portray his sexual or animal nature, and the reconciliation of the two occurs in
the double-column section representing sexual act. Observing the changes
throughout the poem, one can see the difference between the tightly packed
middle section and ethereal first and last stanzas, which imply the absence of
substance. Words, like masks, are removed to reveal nothing recognisable in the
objective reality; what is hidden beneath is seen only by the male on the
subjective plane. The real and the unreal are products of the mind expressed in
words, which are inherently ambiguous due to connotations, double meaning,
etc. However, if the denotative meaning is removed and words are not used by
the male for communication, he cannot express himself in a way that reveals his
mental uniqueness and separates him from animals. He still can and does express
himself sexually even when he appears to exhibit purely cognitive traits. The
male tries to shed the 'animal' self expressed in sexual intercourse, by engaging in
an abstract monologue (the *air' section), but the rational verbal expression is a
mask under which his nature is expressed in primarily non-cognitive terms. This
interpretation supports the notion of Tantric influences on Octavio Paz's poetry
of the mid-1960s. The main premise of Trantra teachings is that the physical
aspect of sexual experience is one of the main means of attaining Samadhi;
combined with other Yoga paths (most of which are of a sexual nature), it leads
the yogi to the union with the Brahman. The structure of the poem further
illustrates the process of the joining of body and mind in search for
superconsciousness. The poem starts in the mind (air), describes a physical
experience of the body (water), then a sexual experience of lovemaking (earth/
fire), and returns to the cognitive plane changed by the previous experiences.
Body and mind complement each other throughout the poem, especially during
the sexual encounter; therefore, the male's attainment of superconsciousness
depends on the satisfaction of his sexual desire.
Sexuality is a driving force of the search for superconsciousness, which
ultimately leads to self-discovery and joining with the Brahman, without which the
male is lost in the material world where he does not belong. Sexual expression
allows the male to create a subjective world considered by him the only true reality.
The objective reality existing around the male before he reaches this state is
regarded as Maya, or the illusory aspect of the manifest universe. Consequently,
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there is no objective point of reference in the poem. The male's subjective reality is
objective to him; on the other hand, what he sees as an objective outside reality is,
in fact, Maya. This is the most important parallel between the theme of the poem
and the Tantric teachings - the objective material reality is an illusion; the Truth
(or Knowledge) revealed to the yogi during meditation is subjective, as is his world
void of concepts of time, space and causality.
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