Alvaro Mutis was born in Bogotá, Columbia. His father was a diplomat, posted at one time in Brussels, where Alvaro spent his primary and secondary school years. His ancestors in Colombia had been large coffee plantation owners and livestock farmers.
This fact, he says, has influenced his writing, as it defines to a degree the landscape of his poetry: the tall forests and turbulent mountain streams of the Andes region, the sultry heat. Other major themes in his work are the sea and travel. Octavio Paz calls him the poet-errant, always about to explore new horizons, drawn by the mystery of the far and beyond. In Mutis' self-created world in poetry and prose, one figure features prominently: Maqroll el Gaviero (the ship's lookout in the mast).
During the nine years of their stay in Brussels, Mutis’ father took the family on annual boat-trips to Colombia to spend the holidays at his father’s coffee hacienda. For Alvaro Mutis, the impressions of these early years are the main spring of his work. The whole family were avid readers, and in the library of his grandfather young Alvaro could lose himself in the complete works of Jules Verne. It was on reading Pablo Neruda’s ‘Residencia en la tierra’ (Residence on Earth) that Mutis decided to become a poet himself. He also felt close affinity with the work of Saint-John Perse and the surrealists. In 1948 the newspaper La Razón printed his first ‘real’ poem, ‘Fear’.
There is no political message in Mutis’ work. He says of himself that he has no head for politics and no time whatsoever for political isms. He is, if anything, a supporter of ‘absolute monarchy, although, unfortunately, it no longer exists’. He takes a keen interest in history, an interest that is clearly reflected in his poetry and prose.