Mexican author Octavio Paz, whose lyrical poetry explores the loneliness of man and draws on the rich imagery of Mexico's landscape, won the Nobel Prize in literature Thursday.

Paz also has written many distinguished essays critical of Mexican society, which have angered both the right and the left in his homeland.The Nobel Academy cited Paz, 76, for "impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity."

Paz, who continued writing during a 25-year diplomatic career, also was praised for his "wide international perspective."

"Paz's poetry and essays evolve from an intractable but fruitful union of cultures, pre-Colombian Indian, the Spanish Conquistadors and Western modernism," the academy said.

The academy said one of the high points of his poetry was the long 1957 poem "Sun Stone," which was inspired by a huge, Aztec calendar stone.

It was the second year in a row for a Spanish-language winner. Last year, the literature laureate was Camilo Jose Cela of Spain. The last Latin American winner was Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Colombia in 1982.

The academy said Paz himself embodies a "union of cultures - it is in his blood. His mother's family was Spanish, from Andalusia. On his father's side the Indian and the Spanish are combined."

"He has got his very own style, which combines a deep knowledge of the classical European heritage with the Mexican, that is the Central American cultural heritage," said Swedish Radio culture expert Jan-Olov Ullen.

Critics have praised his poetry as lyrical and erotic and have said it expresses his sense of the deep loneliness of man, which can be transcended only through attempts at communion, sexual love, compassion and faith.

They have described his poetry as rich in the images drawn from Mexico's landscape and his own Indian heritage.

Paz was born in 1914 in Mexico City and, thanks to his grandfather's extensive library, came into contact early with literature, the academy said.

After joining the diplomatic service, he wrote "The Labyrinth of Solitude," a critical essay of the Mexican character. The essay deeply affected how Mexican society was perceived at home and abroad, but the left and the right denounced it as an attack on the Mexican character.

Paz left the diplomatic service in 1968 - resigning as ambassador to India - when the Mexican army crushed an anti-government movement and killed more than 300 students.

Paz has always considered himself a socialist but also has criticized the left and for this he has been ostracized.

"I think that if there is one profoundly reactionary sector in Latin America, it is the leftist intellectual," he said in an interview in 1979. "They are people without memory. I have never heard any one of them admit he made a mistake."

Nevertheless, the academy said Paz has retained his open-mindedness and therefore remains a strong influence on contemporary literature. He still publishes the journal "Vuelta," which he founded in 1976.