Brotherhood Summary by Octavio Paz
Octavio Paz & Littary
Along with Pablo Neruda, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz is considered one of the cornerstones of 20th century Latin American literature. Mainly a poet and a critic Octavio Paz, like most of his illustrious continental contemporaries was quintessentially a cerebral writer with much erudition .
The great minds of the whole world down the centuries laid deep-set influences on the making of his persona. He was influenced by Marxism, existential philosophy, Zen Buddhism and Hinduism to name a few. Out of his indebtedness to different great persons like thinkers, writers, musicians and painters Paz wrote a number of poems as homage to them much in the likeness of the genre of littany. The poem ‘Brotherhood’ is a homage to Claudius Ptolemy, the first century Roman scholar of Egypt.
Ptolemy Claudius versatile was Greco-Roman astronomer, mathematician, Claudius Ptolemy geometrician, geographer and astrologer of the first century from Alexandria in Egypt. His most famous work is ‘Almagest’, a mathematical treatise on astronomy. In it Ptolemy presented his geo-centric model of the universe and this was treated as authentic model till the emergence of heliocentric model of Gallileo Gallili and Johannes Kepler during the Renaissance.
Ptolemy’s idea of Universe
In the second part of the ‘Almagest’ there is also a treatise on astrology, called ‘Tetrabiblios’ or ‘Four books’ by Ptolemy. Though Ptolemy is considered by many as the father of Western zodiacal astrology, he treated the subject of astrology objectively as part of his astronomical quest about the inter-relationship of elements and the influence of astral bodies on earth. He tried to establish the fact that everything on earth including the animate and the inanimate come under the influence of stellar, planetory and satellite bodies. They affect earthly organisms according to their nature of heating, cooling, moistening and drying as per Aristotelian belief.
Again in one of the epigrams attributed to Ptolemy we find the expression almost akin to Octavio Paz’s poem –
Relationship of Man and Universe
Well do I know that I am mortal, a creature of one day But if my mind follows the winding paths of the stars Then my feet no longer rest on earth.
Paz may have reflected Ptolemy’s lines in the first part of his poem but draws up his own conclusion of cosmic inclusiveness in the universal design. It was much in the line of Ptolemy, probably the first recorded human to have tried to explain the relationship of man and the universe in terms of his astronomy, astrology and epigram.
Paz’s poetic credo
Between what I see and what I say Between what I say and what I kept silent Between what I kept silent and what I dream Between what I dream and what I forget : poetry. something of deep spiritual Poetry, to him is realization of his existence and an integral part of his individual life. In this poem ‘Brotherhood’ he assimilates his life, his vocation as a poet with the entire infinite universe in a cosmic design, partly envisaged long ago by the Greco – Roman savart Ptolemy.
SOURCE OF THE POEM
The poem was originally composed as ‘Hermandad’ (Brotherhood in English) in Spanish in 1987. It has been translated into English as ‘Brotherhood’ by American translator Eliot Weinberger.
The short eight line poem begins with the poet’s simple realization that he is a man. Through it he wants to point out his innate consciousness as a human being or in his existence. But at the same time he realizes that his existence is not long-lasting. For as a human being his life-span is short. Here is an implicit comparison with the other elements of the universe.
In the second line the poet exposes the limitation of his existence. In contrast, he finds the night, enwrapping the invisible universe beyond his own insignificant existence, enormous. It is immense physically and also timeless. His own existence pales into insignificance at the backdrop of infinite and enigmatic expanse of the universe.
But like one of his primeval ancestors, he looks up into the starry sky overhead to unravel the mystery of his relationship with the universe. He finds that the stars with their far-off blinks and movements write a message for him to read through their language of silence. He cannot decipher the message through logic. But his intuition paves the way for understanding his position in this universe.
A new realisation illuminates his perception. He feels that his course of life is determined in the universal scheme as a coded message. As a poet or creative artist he is to be understood meticulously by other people. He envisages that in distant future whenever anyone reads this poem, he is analytically understanding his self. That is the purpose of his poetic life in the universal scheme.
The poet asks a question in this poem about the meaning of human life. He wants to know how significant human life is when compared to the vast universe that surrounds us. The poet is very humble. He acknowledges that he is a very small part, an insignificant part of the universe. He also feels that not only does man take up a very small amount of physical space, he also lives for a very short span of time.
The universe is millions of years old. However, towards the end of the poem, the poet says that in the general scheme of life, there is a very good reason for his existence. He exists because he has been given a role. He might live for a short while, but his life has a purpose. He is a vital part in the schemes of the universe.
TITLE OF THE POEM
The title of the poem, ‘Brotherhood : Homage to Claudius Ptolemy’ appears to be a little longer for a very short eight-line poem. The keyword in the title is certainly ‘Brotherhood’, used in this poem to mean the inter-connectedness between man and other elements in this infinite universe.
Ptolemy, the Greco-Roman astronomer of Alexandria tried to establish the relationship between man and the universe through his mathematical calculation and logical hypothesis. In this poem too the poet has realized the meaning of his life in the universal perspective. Thus, the dedication part of the title stands quite relevant and meaningful.
The single word ‘brotherhood’ bears the connotation of common interest of a homogeneous community of people. In this poem it has been used to mean the relationship between man and universe in a broader perspective. The suggestiveness of the title corporates befittingly with the suggestive spirit of the poem itself and makes it appropriate.
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