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December 22, 2003

GEMINO H. ABAD

Somewhere I have never traveled I came upon what Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams: “In our youth, we witnessed the dull monotony of our colonial subservience; in later years, we became part of the labors and perils of working out of it.” I was struck by the essential similarity with our own colonial struggle. Our writing in Spanish and English—as well as in our indigenous languages which have assimilated them—is part of the labors and the perils of working out of the monotony, the anonymity, of “our colonial subservience.” Such writing may be described as a labor of expression by which we overcome our invisibility to ourselves, by which we recognize who we are through our historical experience and take responsibility for the country we have lost and regained. The recognition comes from the imaginative enactment of how we think, how we feel, how we live.

If someone should ask you, “What is your country?” you would answer, “The Philippines”; if he should pursue his query, “What is your country like?” you would have to imagine our land and our people and the way we live. Our country is in a deep sense how we imagine her. To speak of her is to re-imagine her. Our sense then of our country is a sustained act of imagination. From that vantage, it can be said that our writers and artists, who are men and women of imagination, create our country. That is to say: they evoke those images of ourselves as we live life day and night, those images of ourselves which we share and by which we recognize our nativity. We are our own best interpreters of our history and culture because it is we who have lived through that history and created our own values by which we live.

The poet Amador T. Daguio says it very well in a poem addressed “To Those of Other Lands,”1 c1941:
 

Though I may speak the English language,

Let me tell you: I am a Filipino,

I stand for that which make my nation,

The virtues of the country where I was born.

I may have traces of the American,

Be deceived not: Spain has, too, her traces in me,

But my songs are those of my race

Would you prove the courage of our blood?

The frank disdain of the man who is free?

We might have had chains, but of the spirit never;

Beyond us we see time, leveler of all.

Simple our manners? Our fathers gave the graces,

Our hearts pure as the hills, clear as the seas,

I tell you not of greed nor of accumulation,

We have washed off these stains of the West.

Look through us then, beyond what you think,

Know us, understand us; we, too, have our pride.

If you give us flowers, we exchange pearls;

We greet you sincerely; acclaim what we have.

 

Writing in whatever language is labor of imagination. Truly we speak of a literary work as work of imagination.

II

The American New Critic, Leonard Casper, in his “Introduction” to Six Filipino Poets in 1954, says that the poetic “impulse is to sanctify endeavor, to celebrate the honest estimate, the long hard look and piecing-together …through [a] fine sensing of the farthest edges of reality.”2 Around that time, too, during an interview, the poet Amador T. Daguio said that as a young man in the late 1920s “I began to see possibilities [for stories and poems} in the suffering and miseries of my lonely and repressed boyhood …and the struggles of poor people around me. I wish to write [about] the poor and ambitious, therefore, of the majesty of life, [the] search for man’s meaning in this world. Most of all, I wish to translate the beauty, immensity, and depth of the Filipino soul.”3 [Italics mine] My life, says Daguio on another occasion, has been a series of “back-breaking hardships. Which is why, perhaps, [I am] a poet. …I was poor as a student, with hardly anything to wear and hardly anything to eat. [But] having known hardships, having experienced them, is something of a blessing especially to one who writes.”4

Daguio “came by [poetry] naturally.”5 When he was in grade 6 in Lubuagan, he found his classmates crying one day because “our dearly beloved teacher was being transferred to another school.”6 He vividly recalls it:

All I could do was go to the blackboard, pick a piece of chalk and scribble a sentimental piece of verse in which I expressed the class’ deep feeling of sorrow. …[It] must have touched [our] teacher deeply, for she blew her beautiful nose into a handkerchief. Right there I saw how a string of words could affect the feelings of people.7

Daguio was born 8 January 1912 in Laoag, Ilocos Norte, but grew up in Lubuagan, Mountain Province, where his father, an officer in the Philippine Constabulary, was assigned. He was class valedictorian in 1924 at the Lubuagan Elementary School. Then he stayed with his uncle at Fort William McKinley to study at Rizal High School in Pasig. Those four years in high school were, according to Daguio, the most critical in his life. «I spent them literally in poverty, extreme loneliness, and adolescent pains …In my loneliness, I began to compose verses in earnest.”8 He was in third year high when he broke into print in a national weekly, The Sunday Tribune Magazine (11 July 1926), with a poem, “She Came to Me.” He was going to be valedictorian or salutatorian, but his teacher in “utter lack of justice …put down my marks in history—my favorite subject. That just about broke my heart because then I would have had free tuition at the U.P.”9

Thus out of school for the first semester in 1928, he earned his tuition (P60.00) by serving as houseboy, waiter, and caddy to officers at Fort McKinley. He enrolled for the second semester with only P2.50 left for books and other expenses. He commuted between the Fort and Padre Faura, Manila, walking about two kilometers from Paco station twice daily. He would eat his lunch alone on Dewey Blvd. and arrive at the Fort about 9 o’clock in the evening. This continued for three years. Then an uncle arrived from Honolulu who paid his tuition during his third year; before this, he worked Saturday and Sunday as printer’s devil at the U.P. and served as Philippine Collegian reporter. During all this time, he learned the craft of writing from Tom Inglis Moore, an Australian professor at U.P., and was especially grateful to A.V.H. Hartendorp of Philippine Magazine. His stories and poems appeared in practically all the Manila papers.

One of ten honor graduates at U.P. in 1932, he returned to teach at his boyhood school in Lubuagan; in 1938, he taught at Zamboanga Normal School where he met his wife Estela. They transferred to Normal Leyte School in 1941 before the Second World War. During the Japanese Occupation, he joined the resistance and wrote poems in secret, later collected as Bataan Harvest.1 0 He was a bosom-friend of another writer in the resistance, Manuel E. Arguilla.

In 1952, he obtained his M.A. in English at Stanford U. as a Fulbright scholar. His thesis was a study and translation of Hudhud hi Aliguyon (Ifugao Harvest Song). In 1954, he obtained his Law degree from Romualdez Law College in Leyte. Daguio was editor and public relations officer in various offices in government and the military. He also taught for twenty-six years at the University of the East, U.P., and Philippine Women’s University. In 1973, six years after his death, Daguio was conferred the Republic Cultural Heritage Award.

III

Amador T. Daguio was only 20 when he wrote “Man of Earth”1 1 in 1932, but the translated voice in Fernando M. Maramág’s “Cagayano Peasant Songs”1 2 in 1912 seems to have already found an English tongue that does not falsify it. The word translation is from Latin transferre, translatus, meaning, to carry or ferry across. “Man of Earth” is translation in that deeper sense: the poet ferries across the (English) words his soul’s native cargo; no sea-change is suffered because the words have rather been found again or reinvented so that, in the poem’s own usage, they establish a native idiom. We must quote Daguio’s poem in full because it marks a turning-point in Filipino verses from English.

 

Pliant is the bamboo;

I am man of earth;

They say that from the bamboo

We had our first birth.

Am I of the body,

Or of the green leaf?

Do I have to whisper

My every sin and grief?

If the wind passes by,

Must I stoop and try

To measure fully

My flexibility?

I might have been the bamboo,

But I will be a man.

Bend me then, O Lord,

Bend me if you can.

 

The opening stanza bears the pronouns of power—I, They, We: the self-assertive individual, the foreigner (the view imposed from outside), the community (imposed upon). “Am I of the body / Or of the green leaf?”—if this is a ghost of Yeats (“Among School Children”) and dearly purchased, yet does the poem’s body absorb the cost, for it reconverts those English words into the individual cry of protest:
 

Pliant is the bamboo;

I am man of earth;
 

Not “pliant as,” for the native route seeks contrast and difference from a common origin (as commonly, or rather, unconsciously accepted)—that is, the old legend, as interpreted for us, that the first man and woman came whole from a bamboo afloat at sea and pecked open by a bird. “They say,” repeats the poem, “from the bamboo / We had our first birth”; so they say, but the poem asserts its own authority as it encompasses the interpretation of our mythology, puts it in doubt, and reads it again in the living space of the poet’s own ground where he is “man of earth.” The poet rejects the imposition of “our first birth” upon his community; and if the community has acquiesced in the interpretation of its mythic provenance, he puts himself over against it, scornfully asking, “Am I of the body, / Or of the green leaf?” He excoriates a people’s subservient, self-deprecatory, confessional humility: “Do I have to whisper / My every sin and grief?” There is no denial of weakness and disaster, for the telltale bamboo suggests a people’s tragic history of connivance and betrayal, of dupes and collaborators. But the poem takes its stand upon the individual’s sense of his own integrity: “If the wind passes by / Must I stoop?”

The poem casts a challenging judgment upon our possible nature as a people, from the image and mythology of our bamboo origin. As the winds of change and conquest blow, as our colonizers—Islam, Spain, America, Japan—change our native ground, must I indeed stoop and, even taking pride perhaps in my resiliency, “try / to measure fully / my flexibility?” Such flexibility has been our people’s undoing; so were we tried and obligated by “special relations,” as when Maramág in 1912 celebrated Commodore Dewey’s triumph in “Moonlight on Manila Bay,”1 3 saying
 

Here bold Olympia, one historic night,

Presaging freedom, claimed a people’s care.
 

But Daguio says, “I might have been the bamboo, / But I will be a man.” Our people have stooped long enough, they must now stand their ground, even if it change still. “Bend me then, O Lord, / Bend me if you can.” Here is a people’s mighty self-affirmation in the individual cry. The Lord may be God Himself who judges “every sin,” but I myself, the individual first of all, must no longer only adjust and borrow and accommodate, but believe above all in my own ground and boldly stand upon it.

By such a possible reading, Daguio’s “Man of Earth” marks a turning point in Filipino verses from English; more than in Aurelio S. Alvero’s “1896”1 4 (written in 1932 when Alvero was only 19), the use of English is chiefly toward a native clearing within the adopted language where its words are found again to establish and affirm a Filipino sense of his own “world,” what Maramág so ironically denotes as “this scene so fair.” We may read Daguio’s poem amiss if we do not make ourselves aware that the poem’s speaker, Daguio’s “man of earth,” translates a favorite Romantic theme among local poets in the 1930s—the theme of the pagan in such other poems by Daguio in 1931, by Guillermo Castillo in 1934, and later, by Bienvenido N. Santos in 1948, all entitled “Pagan”1 5; in poems by Trinidad L. Tarrosa-Subido called “Lines from a Mountain Lass” in 1934 and “Paganly,” c1935;1 6 and much later, in 1951, a poem called “Sagada” by Perfecto Llacar.1 7 The pagan is the “natural man,” from Latin pagus, the countryside, the fields of grain, and paganus, peasant, country folk (rather than heathen or infidel). In those poems or memorial verses where this theme takes root, the pagan is often defiant, perplexed, sad, defeated, but a hero nonetheless whose rebirth is ceaselessly foretold.

Here one might advert to Ma. Luisa B. Aguilar-Cariño’s “The Secret Language,”1 8 as late as 1990, but it is well worth quoting in full what is closer in time to Daguio’s poem—Guillermo Castillo’s “Pagan” in 1934 [also called “Have I Wronged Your Gods, O Brothers?” in Castillo’s unpublished verse collection, “Filipino, Unlimited” (typescript, 1941)]:
 

You come like the storms

to bend me to my knees.

I have not rubbed my knee-bones

on the rock-floor.

But you come

with the brightness of candle-flames

and the darkness of your black robes

and the sad faces of your gods,

and you tell me

you will save me from eternal pain.

Have I wronged your gods, O brothers?

My arrows sang into the heart

when the wild boar and the wild deer

told me I was hungry,

and the wild stranger came unknown.

I have not met your gods before,

Have I wronged your gods, O brothers?

Burn me in your candle-flames,

wrap me in your blackest robes,

give me your eternal pain.

But your gods, O my brothers,

they are sad-faced.

No better companion-piece to “Man of Earth” may be found. In Daguio, the religious/institutional mutation of the native grain is well enough underscored in “whisper / My every sin” (how many revolts against Spain were betrayed at the confessional) and the defiant challenge at the end: “Bend me then, O Lord, / Bend me if you can.” But in Castillo, it is the theme itself: You have come, says the poet, to bend me, but “I have not rubbed my knee-bones / on the rock-floor.” The image of subjection is that of lowly folk dragging themselves on their knees toward the altar. That the friar as deceiver (“brightness of candle-flames / darkness of black robes”) is yet to the native mind a “brother” is poignantly ironic. And when the native asks twice, “Have I wronged your gods, O brothers?” the tone is gently recriminatory. But the deepest wrong comes rather from the stranger who threatens “eternal pain” and robs the community of joy in its own life: “But your gods, O my brothers, / they are sad-faced.” Here a passage from O. D. Corpuz’s The Roots of the Filipino Nation becomes quite moving:

The highlanders resisted the missionaries’ lure for them to live in pueblos. They loved their forest and mountain abodes, and did not want to leave the worship of their nonos (ancestral spirits) and anitos that dwelt in the trees and glades and fields and streams, watching and guarding over them. In Cauayan (in modern Isabela) [cauayan, incidentally, is also the native word for bamboo] the people would tell the missionaries: “We know there are fires in hell, but we wish to go there, because our ancestors are there. Do not speak to us of salvation, for we do not wish to abandon our anitos, and we want to offer sacrifices to them, according to our traditions.”1 9

But the fault did not lie entirely with the missionaries and colonizers. A fundamental weakness in our nature seems to prevent us from gathering our islands into one nation. Or, as Daguio puts it in another remarkable poem called “The Hordes”2 0 in 1934, “We could not make the ruby / Into the stone of a ring.” The poem, originally called “Land of Our Desire,” is quintessential Daguio: the verse or medium is English but the poetry or matter is Filipino –

The land was a black dream

Of ruby

On the navel of the earth.

We built our homes on her belly,

We tilled there our desires.

But we could not find the ruby

On the navel of the earth,

We could not make the ruby

Into the stone of a ring.

The land of our visions loomed

A rich, vast land for us,

But strange hordes came after us

And drove us all away!

In a formalist reading, the poem may only be symbolic—that is to say, evacuated of a Filipino sense. Yet it is certainly more than a Romantic evocation of a lost homeland, such as that in Francisco G. Tonogbanua’s “O Queenly Moon,”2 1 c1945:

…thou dost muse on days

When pagan maids, adoring thee, raised hands

Like lustrous pearls that shone through sapphire haze!

“Hordes” sounds a primal depth in our pre-Hispanic past. The boy Daguio grew up in Libuagan, Kalinga, because his father, a Philippine Constabulary officer, was assigned to the Mountain Province. His memory of that time and place enters into his poetry—white blossoms of pomelo and camia, rice terraces he climbed with his playmates, steep wild mountains and clear streams rushing down gorges to the Chico River, mists enveloping the wilderness and fleecy clouds in cool, tranquil skies. But more than the Romantic nostalgia for innocence and the love of Nature’s beauty is a knowledge of the Igorot in whom Daguio caught a glimpse into our prehistory before we were gathered to Spain and America—as in his poem, “Mountain People,”2 2 c1934:
 

Have you heard the way they say matter-of-factly:

“We eat wild honey”? “I work with the sun;

Our gospels are rivers ever-flowing”?

Have you heard them say: “Have you ever, ever

Watched our mountains die slowly?”

These are some of their words for any day:

“We sleep well, we simple, primitive mountaineers.”

They walk up their trails whistling to scoff at

Weariness. They rest not to look up but to look

Down, yet they climb on, their thoughts saying: [cont./NO stanza]

“The blossoms of our beans will be thicker this year.”

“Our camotes need not be larger, but sweeter.”

“There’s a new field to carve out of that mountain.”

The pine trees grow like the years where they live.

Silent—they never ask questions. But have you heard

Their way of speaking, their simple everyday statements?

Like: “I am going to cook our new rice tomorrow”?
 

Daguio projects into these “simple, primitive mountaineers” his own vision of the Filipino. Christianity hardly made inroads in the Cordilleras; there a people of great faith in themselves and in Nature resisted the colonizers and kept their proud heritage. But in our own lowland history we lost our birthright bajo las campanas (under the church-bells). Our own scene was from the beginning “a rich, vast land for us,” and we always knew it to be ours. It was the “Land of Our Desire” because we yearned to possess it as our native ground. It was to be our spiritual homeland, for we had great visions of it like “a black dream / Of ruby / On the navel of the earth.” We were entirely free as children of earth, and we wove freely our dreams: “We built our homes on her belly, / We tilled there our desires.” Yet our dreams lacked clear seeing, and our hands somehow lacked the skill; we could not build terraces to our sky –
 

… we could not find the ruby

On the navel of the earth,

We could not make the ruby

Into the stone of a ring.

And so, those “strange hordes came after us / And drove us all away!” The highlanders, the Kalinga, were never conquered, but we were. We were never a country—only a market and a colony.

Is this such a dark reading? But it is certain that our verses have sometimes the sharpest cruelty of insight. To think that Daguio wrought those verses in 1934 and see, after EDSA thrice over, only again our “black dream of ruby.” Our people’s Passion unravels still through more Golgothas. Why cannot we build our nation yet? “We could not make the ruby / Into the stone of a ring.”

IV

It is very interesting to note how the poet Daguio forged a new path through English under the New Critical influence in the 1950s. His poem, “Off the Aleutian Islands,”2 3 which the American New Critic, Leonard Casper, included in his anthology, Six Filipino Poets, in 1954, is as it were the New Critical version of “Man of Earth.” It goes:
 

I have reaped the sickle edge of rain,

Rain harvests that had no grass:

In youth I let, instead, lusty mushrooms

Discover me.

Also have I known

The craving blade of rainwash, clean

To my clean bones. But overnight I rose

Upright in marsh ground, naked

Looming with rain.

Now, I do not cry, here, because I am bigger

Than a sea gull. A sea gull screams,

Ungently leaps into the wind

Following the concave shine of water.

Does it break, irrevocably,

The all-pathos of mirrors,

To look back at rain memories, unvexed?

A gull cries now to the other

Sea gulls: follow me.

Follow.

I have often wondered about the poem’s title. The Aleutian Islands lie off the Alaska Peninsula; did the poet perhaps mean to call to mind our first overseas workers, among them, our first poets in English like Juan F. Salazar, Marcelo de Gracia Concepcion, and Carlos Bulosan, who all worked in the salmon canneries in Alaska? In any case, it seems to be the case that, in a foreign land, the homesick poet is able to imagine all the more sharply our own “scene so fair.”

The poem’s opening verse summons up the expression, “to reap the whirlwind” whereby the poem suggests a disaster—say, rice fields lost to storm and flood (“rain harvests that had no grass”). Perhaps, too, the third verse calls up another expression, “to sow wild oats”; in any case, the phallic image of “lusty mushrooms” evokes a sexual awakening by which youth first comes upon the threshold to manhood. “In youth I let, instead, lusty mushrooms / Discover me.” “The sickle edge” and “the craving blade” also suggest a test or trial of hardihood in which the protagonist rejoices: “overnight I rose / Upright in marsh ground, naked / Looming with rain.” Do not these lines recall “I am man of earth. …I might have been the bamboo, / But I will be a man”? What had earlier in the poem seemed ominous now brings a kind of spiritual cleansing and bears promise of some bounty (the rain-storm is both benison and bane). The “craving,” it seems to me, reveals a depth of feeling for “rainwash, clean / To my clean bones,” as in those verses from “To Those of Other Lands,” circa 1941, where the poet says, “We have washed off these stains of the West.” And thus, having risen “overnight …Upright in marsh ground, naked,” the poet can affirm with conviction,

Now, I do not cry, here, because I am bigger

Than a sea gull.

The sea gull calls to mind Procopio L. Solidum’s poem, “The Battle of Manila Bay,”2 4 c1940, where an old man, celebrating that battle (as Maramág did in 1912 in “Moonlight on Manila Bay”), adverts to the same sea bird:

And O the night was dark and still,

As still as it could be,

That I could hear the sea gulls saying:

‘O happiest are the free.’

Daguio, having put together Solidum’s Collected Poems (published in 1961), must have caught the ironic undertone in the sea gull’s cry—the same, perhaps unwitting, irony in Maramág’s “this scene so fair.”

What the New Critic Leonard Casper values in poetry, and sees consequently in Daguio, is the “human image …the possibilities of humaneness in an age of slaughter.”2 5 But “the good poem,” says Casper, “has earned its experience …through its fine sensing of the farthest edges of reality,”2 6 and its making entails those “careful structurings which provide intensity to conviction.”2 7 What is crucial in the poem’s making is “the gathering quality of the images, their centripetal power …[by which the poet] make[s] sense of his surroundings [so that] the resultant view itself has integrity.”2 8 From that formalist vantage, the poems in Six Filipino Poets “have [says Casper] no nationality; their allegiance is to literature, that is, to the advent of truth.”2 9

While I agree with New Critics as to formal excellence in the craft of poetry, I would yet insist that a purely formalist perspective would evacuate the poems of the Filipino sense for his world, and deprive them of the grit and grace of a people’s history and culture where the poem “has earned its experience.” Thus I surmise that “the all-pathos of mirrors” of which Daguio speaks—of which “the concave shine of water” is the image—may be our own history, and it may be that we also need “to look back unvexed at rain memories”: “rain harvests that had no grass.” To break free from our past is to shatter “the all-pathos of mirrors, irrevocably.” To be free like the sea gull is to put away whining and self-pity, and follow ourselves, our own calling. “I might have been the bamboo, / But I will be a man.”

V

All poets repeat themselves because those subjects which have tried their “passionate patience” continue to haunt them. Daguio returned to the subject of “The Hordes” in “An Apostrophe to Perseus,”3 0 circa 1954.

Believe me, I too went forth in search of the Medusa,

Having grabbed the only eye of the three old women.

Was it a hard feat to unfetter Prometheus?

Harder still was to quell my country’s sorrow.

For our people, shaped this time no longer for deeds,

I have walked sick, revolted; ill winds have rocked me,

And I hear wild grim warnings, as from some wilderness,

But my voice is a minor one, and others would heed not.

Could I but wear new armor, as heroes once did

In ancient lands, but where are true weapons to bear?

Ideas are tagged; and silence subdues new beliefs

—And honor? It is a cashed vote now sold for obedience!

Perseus, if you had lived among men, not with immortal gods,

Would you have understood my grief? For ours are robots

Unlimited, and to move them are buttons ready to be touched

As the gods will, so will you but pay a margin of the price.

This land must be rid of sties; the plague of vain leaders,

Sloth of the citizenry, their dulled wills, so they will stand

And become heroes again, old virtues making them wise,

And proud not to act in crime but bold in defiance of wrongs.

Give me your sword—your right and true shield again,

So will I journey—and with mirror venture among snakes

To turn them to stone. We have need of you, Perseus,

For our land once read of your exploits, must read again.

It is no longer necessary to interpret this poem. Its subject is clear enough: why, to the present, we cannot “make the ruby / Into the stone of a ring.” “Our people,” says the poet, are “shaped no longer for deeds. Our land, once read of heroic exploits, must read again.”31

Now then I may conclude, with the caveat that while a generalization may hold water, it cannot hold the sea.

The first anthology in my three-volume series on Philippine poetry and verse in English since 1905 is called Man of Earth to honor the poet Amador T. Daguio. I began my research for that series with Prof. Edna Zapanta Manlapaz in 1984. The poetry of Daguio, as he persevered in his craft, first persuaded me about my general thesis that our writing in English over the last century seeks to recover a country we have lost, but that also, that country now is within ourselves: as it were, a spiritual terrain. English, over almost fifty years of the American colonial period in the Philippines and even long after our political independence in 1946, has through our educational system shaped our mind and sensibility. So now when we write in English, we are trying, whether consciously or unconsciously, to dream back, or shape anew, a lost territory of sensibility, and forge our country within ourselves from our own recognitions. Daguio, as exemplary of our effort in English, was able to transform an adopted tongue into a fit instrument for his poetic representations beyond what the English vocabulary and syntax might by their own cultural subscript tend to disfigure. I might rephrase my thesis: at first our writers wrote in English, but later, they wrought from it; all along, over the past century, our writers have colonized English, by which I mean that it has been remolded to our image.

A general assumption about language and about writing underlies my thesis about our writing in English.

Grant for a moment that the poet is a figure for all writers, and poetry, a figure for all writing. The poet is he or she who finds a way through language as through our daily traffic in words. I mean a way through language by which one is able not only to communicate thought and feeling, but also to express what in the living moment is the exact form or inner dynamic of the thought or feeling. I mean the living moment in one’s own life or in the life of one’s country. I have always thought that what is most real is what is most imagined.

But you may ask, Why poetry, by which you discover a new path through language, rather than the day-to-day usage of a language and ordinary discourse? Because there, in those diurnal uses of a language, nothing is represented; because, in that “continuing quandary of the quotidian,” as the poet Alfred Yuson says,3 2 communication is transient and for the nonce. It is only in written discourse—in serious writing, in scholarship and creative work—where anything of more or less permanent value is found, because there is serious effort to shape an idea or to give definite form to a feeling or attitude.

It is sometimes asked too—but not as often now as in the ‘60s—why we continue to write in English which is not our own tongue, or why it is possible to represent us truly to ourselves in an adopted language. My answer consists of two parts, but is really quite simple. First, it does not particularly matter what the medium of expression is, whether Tagalog or English. What matters is the sense for language which enables one to forge new paths there, assuming of course that one has adequate grasp of the workings of his language (including, if you will, its deconstructive futharks). What matters is what the language is made to serve, or rather, how the language is worked to yield insights into our own historical circumstances, our own ground, what we have become and what we aspire to: in short, our own spiritual landscape. This sense for language, one might add, is what makes translation an art—a discipline of the imagination.

The second part of my answer is this: that at the very heart of any form of art is invention. That is precisely what I mean by finding new paths through a given natural language. In literature, for example, the very language which is its medium is invented. Every metaphor, for example, is an invention of language by which language seeks to transcend its limitations. What the writer struggles to wrest from language, his medium, is its evocative or imagistic power by which what may at first appear to be inexpressible is finally expressed.

There is no way I can demonstrate all this except by also asking you what you imagine when the poet Daguio describes a scene on a bright day which delights his soul—for all that I quote only a part of his poem, “Day to Night,”3 3 1941—

The moss is on the tree, the rich boughs sway

In pendulums of fruitage down and up,

O beauty in that rift of cloud! O sails

Which butterfly the sea!…

Reading this poem, I couldn’t help recalling a similar poem by NVM Gonzalez, “Behold the bountiful land,”3 4 1947—

Behold the bountiful land,

the young hills and the corn;

in the green river’s womb

children are born;

Honey’s in the forest,

blue fish in the sea;

the ash-gray of the clearings

grows grain for me.

Clearly, of course, the feeling is different, but the point is, how was that feeling shaped by the poem’s words? For where NVM speaks of a simple farmer’s content in nature’s bounty, Daguio is “drunk,” as he says, in spirit over the day-bright beauty of his landscape; he says at the poem’s end, “Let my grateful heart ache /No more for having what are mine to see.” Granted that the reader himself has a sense for language, and next, has adequate grasp of English, and now, is moved by the poem, as once in 1997 a ten-year old schoolboy on Bantayan island recited from memory to NVM himself his poem on our bountiful land. What—we might ask—is the poem’s life in that reader’s consciousness? The poem’s words are not its body nor its soul but the mere soil of its thought and feeling; it was the poet’s energy of imagination that worked that soil and carefully, by its own instinctual light (its sense for language), planted the seeds (the English words) and gave them, in the clearing of the poet’s own rootedness, a life, an evocative power, by which it could touch and arouse the reader’s imagination and connect him to his own land and people. “The rich boughs sway in pendulums of fruitage… / O sails which butterfly the sea!” or “the ash-gray of the clearings / grows grain for me”: all these words, because they are only words, each one by itself without any home, any lease on life as it may be lived in flesh; because the words, when they are found, must depend for meaningfulness, for an achieved life, on how they are put together and made to do the poet’s bidding—all the poem’s English words lose the color and force of their own vintage, their specific culture and history; they vanish from the reading and dream back and evoke my land and my people, and so, connect me to my own native clearing.

NOTES

  1. In Daguio, Bataan Harvest: War Poems (Manila: Alberto S. Florentino, 1973), pp. 85-87 [Makata series: Makata 5].
  2. Six Filipino Poets [Amador T. Daguio, Dominador I. Ilio, Oscar de Zuñiga, Carlos A. Angeles, Edith L. Tiempo, and Ricaredo Demetillo], ed. Leonard Casper (Manila: The Benipayo Press, 1954), pp. xiv-xv. [The Benipayo Series on Philippine Contemporary Writing]
  3. The poet as quoted by Alberto M. Nielo, “A Critical Study of the Poetry of Amador T. Daguio” (M.A. thesis, St. Paul’s College, March 1955).
  4. The poet as quoted by D. Paulo Dizon in his regular weekly column called “Writers at Work” in Kislap-Graphic, 26 August 1959, p. 40; the piece there, devoted entirely to Daguio, bears as its title a quote from the poet, “I had to make a hard compromise with reality.”
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. The poet as quoted by Nielo, op. cit.
  9. Ibid. The rest of the biographical data are from Nielo’s thesis, from “interviews and conferences with the poet.”
  10. The poet had looked forward to this collection since his first, The Flaming Lyre, came out in 1959; but he passed away on 26 April 1966.
  11. First published in Philippine Magazine, December 1932, p. 301; also in Amador T. Daguio’s first collection of verse, The Flaming Lyre (Manila: Craftsman House, 1959), p. 22, and Abad and Manlapaz, Man of Earth (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1989), p. 195.
  12. Published in The College Folio [U.P.], of which Maramág was the editor, August 1912, p. 1, where the poet, significantly, appends this Note: “The peasant songs, when translated into English verse, lose some characteristics peculiarly their own. The singers think in their vernacular, and it is impossible to give equivalent English expression to their idiomatic stanzas. An idiom of an impoverished dialect sounds ridiculous when literally rendered into English. These translations, therefore, are the songs in spirit and substance thought out in English.” The poem is also in Man of Earth, p. 34.
  13. The College Folio, February 1912, p. 127; also in Man of Earth, p. 32.
  14. In Aurelio S. Alvero, Moon Shadows on the Waters (Manila: M. Colcol, 1934), pp. 45-46 (composed, according to the poet, November 1, 1932, for National Heroes Day); also in Man of Earth, p. 121.
  15.  “Pagan” by Daguio in The Philippine Collegian, 30 November 1931, p. 5; “Pagan” by Guillermo Castillo in The Literary Apprentice, 1934, p. 61 (also in Man of Earth, p. 107); “Pagan” by Bienvenido N. Santos in The Evening News Saturday Magazine, 10 January 1948, p. 16—also in Santos’ The Wounded Stag (Manila: Capitol Publishing House, 1956), p. 31, and in Man of Earth, pp. 176-77.
  16. Tarrosa-Subido, “Lines from a Mountain Lass,” in The Sunday Tribune Magazine, 4 March 1931, p. 19; and “Paganly” in Tarrosa-Subido, Two Voices [with Abelardo Subido]: Selected Poems (Manila: The Manila Post Publishing Co., 1945), p. 46.
  17. Llacar, “Sagada,” in The Sowers, ed. Hermogenes F. Belen and Benjamin F. Pascual (Manila: E. F. David and Sons, 1951), p. 81.
  18. In Aguilar-Cariño, Cartography (Anvil, 1992), pp. 18-19; also in Abad, A Habit of Shores (U.P. Press, 1999), pp. 408-410.
  19. The Roots of the Filipino Nation, I (Quezon City: Aklahi Foundation, Inc., 1989), p. 171.
  20. Reprinted in The Literary Apprentice, 1937, p. 81 (from The Philippine Collegian, 1934); also in The Flaming Lyre, p. 63, and in Man of Earth, p. 195.
  21. In Tonogbanua, Fallen Leaves (Manila: privately printed, 1951), p. 7.
  22. In The Flaming Lyre, p. 58.
  23. First published in The Beloit Poetry Journal (Spring, 1953); in Casper, Six Filipino Poets, p. 9; also in Man of Earth, pp. 203-04.
  24. In Solidum, Collected Poems, ed. Amador T. Daguio (1961), pp. 28-29; also in Man of Earth, pp. 51-52.
  25. Casper, “Introduction” to Six Filipino Poets, pp. xvi.
  26. Ibid., xiv-xv.
  27. Ibid., xvii.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Ibid.
  30. In Daguio’s unpublished collection called “Poet in Equinox” (TS, 1965): 79 poems in all, written probably between 1950 and 1965.
  31. The myths of Perseus who slew Medusa, and of Herakles who unfettered Prometheus, are familiar enough, too; we need only gloss “the three old women,” the Graiai or Grey-haired Sisters who had only one eye and one tooth between them. Perseus contrived to steal their only eye; the Gorgons, whose sentries the Graiai were, were left unguarded, and so, Perseus was able to surprise them.
  32. Yuson, “Towards Inventing New Personae in Poetry and Fiction,” Irwin Chair lecture at the Ateneo de Manila University, 8 March 2000; an abridged and slightly altered version appeared in his weekly column every Monday in The Philippine Star [Monday Lifestyle section on Arts and Culture], 13 March 2000.
  33. First published in The Philippines Free Press, 18 January 1941, p. 43; also in The Flaming Lyre, p. 46, and Man of Earth, pp. 196-97.
  34. In Heart of the Island: An Anthology of Philippine Poetry in English, ed. Manuel A. Viray (Manila: University Publishing Co., 1947), p. 44; also in Man of Earth, p. 139.