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The Shame of the Olympics

Octavio Paz, translated by Mark Strand

Note: Octavio Paz, the distinguished Mexican poet, resigned his post as Ambassador to India after the recent uprisings in Mexico City. Following are a letter he wrote to the Mexican officials in charge of the “cultural program” of the 1968 Olympics and a poem that accompanied it.

Señores Coordinadores del
Programa Cultural de la
XIX Olimpiada,
Mexico, D. F.
New Delhi, October 7, 1968

Dear Sirs:

Some time ago, you had the kindness to invite me to participate in the World Meeting of Poets that will be celebrated in Mexico during the present month of October, as part of the activities of the Cultural Program of the XIX Olympiad. At the same time, you invited me to write a poem extolling the spirit of the Olympics.

I declined both invitations because, as I expressed it to you at that time, I did not think I was the person best suited to contribute to this international gathering and, above all, to write a poem on this theme. However, the recent turn of events has made me change my mind. I have written a short poem in comemmoration of this Olympiad. I send it to you, enclosed with this letter with the request that you do me the favor of giving it to the poets who will be present at the Meeting.

I thank you in advance for giving to the request in the final part of the second paragraph of this communication the attention it deserves.

MEXICO: THE XIX OLYMPIAD

to Dore and Adja Yunkers
Clarity
   (Maybe it’s worth
Writing it down on this clear
White paper)

Is not clear:

It is a madness
(A yellow and black
Concentration of bile in Spanish)
Stretched over the page.
Why?
   Shame is anger
Turned against oneself:
If
A whole country feels shame
It is a lion crouched
Ready to leap.
(City
Employees wash away blood
In the Plaza de los Sacrificios.)
Look at this,
Stained
Before having said anything
Worthwhile,
Clarity.

Delhi, October 3, 1968

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