The ancient naturalist Pliney states:
"The Salamander seeks the hottest fire to breed in, but quenches it with the extreme frigidity of her body." In this context the Salamander is an accurate symbol for the Hermetic foundation that everything exists within and in opposition to each other. When I read the great poem Salamander by Octavio Paz, I feel that I am reading a cryptic alchemical description of the refinement of raw sexual energy through the experience of contrast within existence.
The poem begins with a description of a Primal Fire that is the Soul. Paz uses phrases like "crouching Japanese warrior" to illustrate this extension of Source energy that is, in its pure state, in complete "repose...impassive under torture." Then is is suggested that this Primal Fire, through the process of love, "amante" as catalyst, acts as both the consuming force and the antidote to the consuming force.
During the next stanzas the author illustrates the "Fallen" human experience. The constant wheel of contrast, the cyclical trap that results in the "Soul" of Woman becoming a "fallen star... in the endlessness of bloodstained opal." Walls of granite imprison the Divine Feminine Energy. She is doomed to repeat circles of reproductive patterns.
The next stanzas speak of the concept of Transparency. It is the transparency that results when the Divine Feminine emerges in full awareness and "explodes like the sun...opens like a wound...and speaks like a fountain." The veils are lifted, the layers of deceit are peeled away. In holographic consciousness all exists at once, nothing can be hidden.
In my opinion, the lines that follow describe in eloquent alchemical language Woman's journey within her blood cycles, her suffering within the constant flux between barren and fertile, being accepted and rejected.
The following few lines are a reference to Mercury, symbol of artistic creative energy. Mercury is known as "the Tears of Sulfur", or water of sulfur in alchemy. It is that which initiates the transformation process of the Primal Fire. One way to interpret the next 24 lines is to look at the words as churning and rolling around in a flask. It is a message about reproduction and communication. In my opinion it is a reference to the value of conscious conception in ones quest for quantum awareness. He talks about the young feeding off one another, then "swimming sluggishly as adults."
The next ten lines are hugely significant, in my view. Paz states, (I am paraphrasing) ...when the sun becomes fixed at the center...
Breath Stops...Blood sacrifice stops...
the wheel of the days stops... Humans no longer exist
by consuming the myth of the ancestor...
Octavio Paz was the Mexican Ambassador to India for a while. He studied Yoga, Tantra, and other Indian arts. He was interested in Yogic concepts of breath elongation and retention which dissolve the illusion of time, and facilitate quantum awareness. The next few lines address the introduction of ancestor worship
"... the world was set in motion
the procession of dates and names
Xolotl the dog, guide to Hell
He who dug up the bones of the fathers.."
Paz suggests that one's innate quantum awareness has been blocked from access through the patriarchal social parameters that require guilt driven concepts of time and aging.
The rest of the poem is pretty much beautifully arranged erotic word groups in true Octavio Paz fashion.
"...the Infinite Weight of Light
a half-drachm on your eyelashes..."
Paz tells us that the Salamander represents both the sun and the moon, hot and cold water water falling on the skin at once, the conscious awareness of being fully passionate and remaining completely cold at the same time. The Salamander in this context may be a symbol of Tantric celibacy. It may represent that place where the incorruptible pearl of wisdom remains untouched even within the fiery flames of passion.
"Conserve in that Sea the Fire" Hermes
The ancient alchemical significance of the Salamander is interesting. The story of the Salamander suggests that the purest Gold does not represent the most profound awareness and incorruptibility. Gold must first be tried seven times in fire, and only then does it contain the pure white essence, or Primal Spirit. These stages are birth, death, rebirth, resurrection, separation,
exultation, and sublimation. Passion (Fire) symbolizes the Soul. This is the alchemical Sulfur. This Passion blazes through mineral, plant, and animal forms in nature. It is the fire that transforms their substance, and emerges as the pure White Spirit that dwells within them. (see Theurgy by E. J. L. Garstin.) This White, or crystallized stone is often a symbol for the Muse, the Divine inspiration for painters, poets, and musicians. It is that which remains cold and incorruptible within the all consuming flames of Passion.
The Muse is that which the artist constantly strives for, but can never touch.
"the Red and White are Soul and Spirit
which emerge in union from the Blackness
of the Mystical Death, and, we are told
that when the artist sees it
he knows that he has the Great Arcanum."
the Hermetic Corpus
The last lines of Salamander are of great significance
"if she carves Herself in the flame
She burns her monument
fire is her passion, her PATIENCE
In my opinion, this poem could be an affirmation everlasting life through the practice of Tantric celibacy (a conscious Yogic celibacy involving Breath awareness. ) She carves her reality out of the present moment, there can be no monuments to something that has never existed. Her celibacy is her enlightenment, she has become the Muse through trial of Fire. She is ever present, yet untouchable. She remains unchanged within the flames of Passion. She is patient.
My favorite translations of Octavio Paz are those by Eliot Weinberger . The book I used for reference today is
The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz 1957-1987 published by New Directions.