Octavio Paz Lozano (1914 – 1998) was a Mexican poet and diplomat. For his body of work, he was awarded the 1977 Jerusalem Prize, the 1981 Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the 1982 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature.
In 1962 he was appointed the Mexican Ambassador to India. The ‘Ootacamund’ was written during his tenure in India. Critics consider this poem as not just a travel poem but a deeper commentary on human-nature relationship.
“This poem seems to be about nature and how it doesn’t care a single bit about humans. The last sentence in particular made me think that wilderness does not care that we have learned to talk and communicate. It flourishes whether we are there or not- it doesn’t need anything but other nature. This world is not ours, and we shouldn’t treat it as so”.
Another critic writes, “In the very first stanza one may see that the speaker is searching for Todas. Todas are an ethnicity of people who live in the Nilgiris of India. It then goes on to describe the people and their homes. Because I believe this poem is about the loss of respect for the Earth and things wiser than you. The last line from this stanza that I think is interesting goes like this: “shines like the moon on an empty well” . When a well is out of water, it kind of means you’re screwed if that’s your only water source. Water means survival because you can’t live more than a few days without it, signifying a metaphor for the end of our days if we run out.
The next stanza really stands out as backing me up on my hypothesis of this poem being about how the Earth could not care less if humans survived and that it would keep on living without us, probably stronger than before. From my understanding, Miss Penelope seems like a metaphor for white people or maybe just the British. She says how India could be so much more, but we never put it to it’s full potential. The next few lines seem to point out how the crows still do not care a single bit that we haven’t put India to it’s full use. They are part of the Earth and don’t care either way. Even though the British are disappointed at the use of the goods in India, the real goods are the secrets that the elders know, Wisdom.
The next stanza makes me think of humans destroying forested areas and how this is a prevailing problem that needs to be stopped. Clearings are made by restructurings of forested areas, and thus termites try to build back what was already theirs. For this next paragraph, I am skipping the 4th stanza because it is short and doesn’t seem to have much significance to the meaning I find is suggested in this poem. First off, this is where the poem starts to have a more hopeful theme to it. “A vision on the mountain road:/ the rose camellia tree/ bending over the cliff”. This image seems to bring out how we humans may do terrible things to our environment, but the environment will still function, just as a camellia tree can lean over a cliff for years without falling. The next lines describe in more detail how the tree is impervious to what we do. Trees represent the Earth as many other things in this poem do. The Earth does not need language, and does not get the same vertigo we humans get. It can function on its own, and human’s problems are minor compared to the Earth.
The last stanza seems to have a very uplifting ending because of its’ last line. “The charitable stars/ not crushing- calling me” .I think “charitable” stars are referencing how the stars have wisdom, and could be charitable if only we could understand them and worship them. In the beginning I thought this poem had no meaning at all, but as I looked deeper it really stood out as something to show people that we need to save our planet.
Nilgiri Documentation Centre