Octavio Paz was introduced to literature early in his life through the influence of his grandfather’s library, filled with classic Mexican and European literature. During the 1920s, he discovered Gerardo Diego, Juan Ramn Jimnez, and Antonio Machado, Spanish writers who had a great influence on his early writings.
As a teenager in 1931, Paz published his first poems, including “Cabellera”. Two years later, at the age of 19, he published Luna Silvestre (“Wild Moon”), a collection of poems. In 1932, with some friends, he founded his first literary review, Barandal. In 1937 at the age of 23, Paz abandoned his law studies and left Mexico City for Yucatn to work at a school in Mrida, set up for the sons of peasants and workers. There, he began working on the first of his long, ambitious poems, “Entre la piedra y la flor” (“Between the Stone and the Flower”) (1941, revised in 1976). Influenced by the work of T. S. Eliot, it explores the situation of the Mexican peasant under the domineering landlords of the day.
In 1937, Paz was invited to the Second International Writers Congress in Defense of Culture in Spain during the country’s civil war; he showed his solidarity with the Republican side and against fascism. Upon his return to Mexico, Paz co-founded a literary journal, Taller (“Workshop”) in 1938, and wrote for the magazine until 1941. In 1937 he married Elena Garro, who is considered one of Mexico’s finest writers. They had met in 1935. They had one daughter, Helena, and were divorced in 1959.
In 1943, Paz received a Guggenheim fellowship and used it to study at the University of California at Berkeley in the United States. Two years later he entered the Mexican diplomatic service, and was assigned for a time to New York City. In 1945, he was sent to Paris, where he wrote El Laberinto de la Soledad (“The Labyrinth of Solitude”). The New York Times later described it as “an analysis of modern Mexico and the Mexican personality in which he described his fellow countrymen as instinctive nihilists who hide behind masks of solitude and ceremoniousness.” In 1952, he travelled to India for the first time. That same year, he went to Tokyo, as charg d’affaires. He next was assigned to Geneva, Switzerland. He returned to Mexico City in 1954, where he wrote his great poem “Piedra de sol” (“Sunstone”) in 1957, and published Libertad bajo palabra (Liberty under Oath), a compilation of his poetry up to that time. He was sent again to Paris in 1959. In 1962, he was named Mexico’s ambassador to India.