November 10, 2003
Angela Manalang Gloria’s poems make up part of a significant body of early poetry in English in the Philippines. Of the few published poets of the early years, Angela Manalang Gloria (b. 1907) easily stands out. Only eighteen when her first poem was published in 1925, she was one of very few females on the literary scene, and she had a fierce rival in the poet and now National Artist Jose Garcia Villa.
Her entire collection consists of 113 poems, 34 of which were written in the four years when she was an honors student of English at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) and in the following year when she was literary editor of the Philippines Herald Magazine. Soon after, she was diagnosed to have tuberculosis and moved to Bicol with her husband, Celedonio Gloria, to recuperate. She put the situation to advantage and spent a good part of her time reading and writing poetry.
In 1940, she self-published 79 poems under the title Poems. This collection, which included the best of her early work and 49 unpublished poems written between 1934-1938, was her entry to the Commonwealth Literary Awards, won by Rafael Zulueta y da Costa’s patriotic verse Like the Molave and for which Villa’s Poems by Doveglion was given honorable mention. Since the Commonwealth Awards preferred works not only of aesthetic value but also of social significance, Poems lost to Like the Molave. In addition, some poems like the four-line “Querida” were judged as not making much sense, and at least one, “Revolt to Hymen,” was “immoral” and thus objectionable.1 From 1946 to 1950, Manalang Gloria wrote only three poems. Two of these were dedicated to her husband who was killed by the Japanese during the Second World War. In 1950, Poems was reprinted as a student edition. It included new poems and the revision and deletion of a few that were regarded as “most objectionable and offensive.”
A few of Manalang Gloria’s poems appeared in some anthologies and school books before the publication of her entire collection, The Complete Poems of Angela Manalang Gloria, in 1993.
The world of imitation
Like those of most writers of her time, Manalang Gloria’s work has not been given the attention it deserves. Even today, her poetry is regarded as an early attempt at writing in English and relegated to the period of apprenticeship or the imitative phase of Philippine literary history.
In 1925, when Manalang Gloria as a college freshman published “Angelita,” her first poem, the general public was still grappling with a new language. As late as 1933, the main objective in the teaching of literature in the high school level was still to use English “to communicate not facts or thoughts, but (the) vivid realization of actions, of emotions, of ideas, in order… (to) experience all of life to the full” (The Government of the Philippine Islands 1933). In addition, the high school curriculum encouraged the Romantic notions of individualism, subjectivity or emotion, a return to nature, and revolt (62-3). In this context, early works in English could only be considered imitative.
In 1928, Professor George Pope Shannon of U.P. enumerated the “inexcusable faults” that had been committed by writers in English. These included “slovenly versification, bad grammar and idiom, inappropriate and meaningless diction, vague or confused imagery.” Similarly, in 1929, “sentimentalism and formlessness” were identified by another U.P. professor, T. Inglis Moore, as the “two chief weaknesses of all Filipino literature.” He used a few lines from Manalang Gloria’s “But the Western Stars” and “To a Lost One” as particular instances of these weaknesses. These poems illustrate that it is severity of form that is needed, and economy and clearness of expression. Filipino literature is formless and vague. The romantic fallacy has produced poetical prose whose prose rhythms are almost entirely absent, and poetry which runs to free verse, often only is an excuse for laziness and slovenliness.
That early poetry in English is generally viewed today as a loose body of apprentice poems can partly be attributed to Shannon and Inglis Moore’s valuations which were quick to become the critical norm. However, the fact that early poems were generally unpublished and were not widely disseminated (Abad and Manlapaz 1989, 6-7) should also be taken into account. In addition, the public school system, as introduced by the Americans, promoted as “the best”—or the canon of the day—“original” works in English and English translations of “world literature” (The Government of the Philippine Islands 1925).
It is not surprising, therefore, that in 1935, in his “honor roll” of writers, Villa attempted to “blast the theory” that Manalang Gloria was “a first rate poet.” Referring to her as “at her best… a third rater,” he observed that while her poems were “pretty verses and very melodious… back of it all there is nothing, no passion, no drive, only a feeble nostalgia… Her verses never disturb, one reads them and is through with them” (qtd. in Manlapaz,Literary Matriarchs 1996, 63).
In 1969, Lucilla V. Hosillos viewed these writings, particularly of the first two decades, as “unabashedly sentimental love lyrics in loose rhetoric without intellectual significance, overwritten to achieve intensity. Verbal exuberance made the poems bombastic, artificial, and insincere” (49). Even as recent as 1993, Edna Z. Manlapaz described Manalang Gloria’s poems as dealing mainly with “aspects of emotional life centered on love.” Her early work is “plaintive” and of an “excessively romantic temperament (whose persona is) living in a self-created world and suffering from self-induced melancholy” (Complete Poems 1993, 4).
An uninterrupted tradition
Today, after a hundred years of writing in English, the whole of poetry in English wants for critical attention. Like Manalang Gloria’s work, these poems are generally shrugged off or condemned to anonymity without even the benefit of having been read.
This attitude of dismissal can possibly be traced back to the conventional—and colonialist—view expressed by Shannon and Inglis Moore. Intentional or not, the introduction of English and its literature (including translations) at the beginning of the twentieth century did not seem to have taken into account the presence of other literary traditions in the country. In fact, it seems to have assumed a tabula rasa or a literary ahistorical situation on which a national literature in English could be built.
Taken in its entirety, Philippine literary history tells of the existence of poetic traditions other than English. These traditions, the native and Spanish traditions, are generally seen as integrated and formalized in Philippine vernacular literatures. In poetry in English, however, these are thought to have been disrupted and even replaced by English.
Manalang Gloria’s work, however, attempts to locate poetry in English within the contexts of other Philippine literatures that are written in languages other than English. Her poetry also attempts to prove that poetry in English is not a disruption or even a replacement, but possibly a continuation of poetic traditions.
Definitely, Manalang Gloria’s poetry shows a good understanding of English poetics. A number of her poems follow the English iambic line, including the American cinquain in “Cinquains” subtitled “A Sight in the Dark,” “Kin,” and “The Closed Heart.” (The cinquain was originally written in iambs: one iambic foot in the first line, two in the second, three in the third, four in the fourth and one in the fifth line.) She has poems that follow the fixed poetic form of the sonnet, the Shakespearean sonnet in “To a Lovely Woman,” “Change,” and “The Tax Evader,” and the Petrarchan sonnet in “The Aesthete,” “Soledad,” and “The Leper and the Nun.” Her poetry also illustrates a knowledge of techniques in English rhyme, especially of rhyme schemes.
However, Manalang Goria’s poems are also reminiscent of the syllabic nature of native verse forms and the metrical romance and other syllabic poems introduced by Spain via Mexico in the seventeenth century. Native verse forms were mainly syllabic and followed the quatrain as a poetic unit. The two-line riddle and proverb were generally heptasyllabic and other short poems in a single quatrain were either heptasyllabic or octasyllabic (Lumbera 1986, 8-12). Poems introduced in the seventeenth century and later appropriated employed various numbers of syllables, such as the dalit, which consisted of monorhyming octosyllabic quatrains (46). The metrical romance, as it found its way into the appropriated corrido, is in quatrains and is octosyllabic, and the awit is also in quatrains and is dodecasyllabic.
Around one-half (60) of Manalang Gloria’s poems are in quatrains. Seven consist of a single quatrain: “Death Patterns,” “In the Shadows,” “Canticle,” “Complaint to the Muses,” “Querida,” “The Medal,” and “Old Maid Walking on a City Street.” “Death Patterns” (1928), the first of these one-quatrain poems, relies not on accents or stresses for rhythm but on syllabics, or fourteen syllables each every two lines:
On the strings of the harp
A tracery of cobwebs glimmers (14)
Upon the crown of the harp
A soft veil of grey dust lies. (14)
Similarly, the awkwardness or “slovenly” versification of “In the Shadows” (1928) can possibly be better understood in terms of syllabics. Each of two lines (or couplet) consists of thirteen syllables:
Like a slender bamboo leaf I quiver in the
wind, in the cloudy day; (13)
Like the drooping roadside palm my soul
Whispers your name—you so far away. (13)
That these poems divide into couplets is also part of the convention of the native quatrain. Early verse forms “divided themselves into two couplets that were parallel to each other if not in construction, at least in sense” (Lumbera 1986, 20).
“Canticle” (1934) straddles between the native tradition of relying mainly on syllables and on the English tradition of combining accents and syllables to achieve rhythm. While the poem still works with thirteen syllables in the first and third lines and twelve in the second and fourth, it also tries to follow the iamb and achieves perfect iambic hexameter in the last line of the quatrain:
Into the censer of your love, my darling, I pour
These dried and yellowed kernels that are now my days;
Burn them: though they be dust thereafter I shall not grieve,
I shall but feel the incense warm against my face.
In “Complaint to the Muses” (1935), Manalang Gloria can be said to rely either on syllabics—eight syllables in the first and third lines and six in the second and last, or on English meter—the first and third lines are in iambic tetrameter and the second and last lines in iambic trimeter:
Why should I have to eat the dust
And give the bended knee
Before my lips could touch the hem
Similarly, all four lines of “Querida” (1940) consist of ten syllables each or are in iambic pentameter:
The door is closed, the curtains drawn within
One room, a brilliant question mark of light …
Outside her gate an empty limousine
Waits in the brimming emptiness of night.
In 1940, “Querida” was derided for consisting of “only four lines” and saying “nothing” but “that inside there was a light; outside, there was a limousine” (Walter Robb qtd. in Literary Matriarchs 1996, 81). However, it resembles the riddle and especially the proverb and tanaga (the heptasyllabic quatrain) in form. The riddle describes life without comment while the proverb “goes beyond description and makes a statement about what it describes.” There is reference to a situation in the first line and an observation of it in the second (Lumbera 1986, 8-10). In the tanaga, “an extension of the proverb,” the first couplet presents a situation and the second contains an observation (14).
A few of Manalang Gloria’s poems also seem to show some influence of seventeenth- century poetry in the “self-containment” or independent thought of each quatrain and of the appropriated metrical romance in its fondness for the dodecasyllabic or twelve-syllable line. The dodecasyllabic line, whose breadth could hold polysyllabic words in the vernacular, brought about a “languid lilt” (133), a rhythmic quality present in such lines as “The kiss of the wavelet stray on the moonlit beach” (“Starlight Fantasy”), “Sleep, my dead, sleep in the rest of the forgotten” (“Forgotten”), and “Your voice that once was golden no longer flowers” (“Morning After”). It can also be felt in the first and third lines of each quatrain of “To a Lost One” and accounts for the melancholic note of the poem:
I shall haunt you, O my lost one, as the twilight (12)
Haunts a grieving bamboo trail, (7)
And your dreams will linger strangely with the music (12)
Of a phantom lover’s tale. (7)
You shall not forget, for I am past forgetting. (12)
I shall come to you again (7)
With the starlight, and the scent of wild champakas, (12)
And the melody of rain. (7)
You shall not forget. Dusk will peer into your (12)
Window, tragic-eyed and still, (7)
And unbidden startle you into remembrance (12)
With its hand upon the sill. (7)
Even in early verse forms, the dodecasyllabic quatrain was described as carrying a melancholic air. This quality of sound was unheard of in those of other “Asiatic peoples” like China or India (Hosillos 1969, 6-7), and thus may be considered as unique to the Philippines.
Manalang Gloria’s poetry is also reminiscent of the use of the single metaphor or talinghaga in the tanaga. The metaphor gives the poem “an element of mystification which gives way to insight” (Lumbera 1986, 20) and is the “pivotal element to which the concept, whether stated or implied, was pegged” (103). “Medal” is an example:
If it were purest gold
How could the bright elation
You pinned upon my breast
Have dulled to black negation?
On the whole, however, Manalang Gloria’s poems can be said to reflect the shift in convention of the talinghaga from its dependence on a single metaphor to its reliance on a combination of other poetic devices which were introduced by Spain particularly through “the conventional imagery of its love ballads as well as Greek and Roman themes” (87). These devices, which include personification, metonymy, synecdoche, and apostrophe (103), were employed loosely to achieve the “virtue of affectation” which by the nineteenth century was thought to indicate sophistication or urbanity (87).
Although these devices are common to English poetry, they are possibly better understood to be part of the existing poetic tradition in the country at the time of arrival of English. Taken as a continued poetic tradition but in another language, it questions the view that early poetry in English, including Manalang Gloria’s, were merely imitative of English traditions in as far as the employment of “confused imagery” is concerned. A language which puts a premium on restraint will resist affectation or the exaggerated pose and will consider poetry written in this manner as artificial, bombastic and even insincere.
While Manalang Gloria’s poems rollick from one tradition to the other, some verbose and others more restrained, “To the Man I Married” accounts for both sensibilities:
You are my earth and all that earth implies:
The gravity that ballasts me in space,
The air I breathe, the land that stills my cries
For food and shelter against devouring days.
You are the earth whose orbit marks my way
And sets my north and south, my east and west,
Your are the final, elemental clay
The driven heart must turn to for its rest.
If in your arms that hold me now so near
I lift my keening thoughts to another one,
As trees long rooted to the earth uprear
Their quickening leaves and flowers to the sun,
You who are earth, O never doubt that I
Need you no less because I need the sky!
I can not love you with a love
That outcompares the boundless sea,
For that were false, as no such love
And no such ocean can ever be.
But I can love you with a love
As finite as the wave that dies
And dying holds from crest to crest
The blue of everlasting skies.
It is not surprising that in a 1954 textbook of literature for Philippine high schools, only Part II is reproduced. Special attention is called to “the poet’s choice of words which suggest the right picture and the right thought… (and which) achieves economy of expression together with maximum appeal” (Fosdick and Tarrosa Subido 1954, 347).
However, Part II also calls to mind pre-Spanish verse forms which looked for the qualities of “startling sincerity and spontaneity, vigor of crude form and exquisite lyricism in simplicity of utterance” (Hosillos 1969, 7).
The theme of love in a number of Manalang Gloria’s poems is also reminiscent of appropriated Spanish poems in the nineteenth century. These love poems include the comintang or lover’s lament and the cundiman, which deal with unrequited or impossible love (Lumbera 1986, 87-92). Baltazar’s Florante at Laura is said to have exercised tremendous influence in exploiting “the logic of emotion” in a poem and helped to establish popular themes that dealt with love and other similar emotions. These themes included “idealized love, frustrated love and idealized landscapes that reflect the poet’s feelings” (136) and later also love of country or patriotism.
These feelings could more rudely be felt through the employment not of visual imagination but of evocative language (Lumbera 1986, 134) or “romantic excess.” This “tradition of sentimentalism” (91) is generally understood to be characteristic of Manalang Gloria’s poetry.
“To a Lost One,” quoted earlier in full, shows this reliance on evocative language. In addition to the regular rhythm of melancholic dodecasyllabic alternating with heptasyllabic lines, words such as “haunt,” “lost,” “twilight,” “grieving,” “linger,” “phantom lover,” “starlight,” “scent of wild champakas,” “tragic-eyed,” and “unbidden” do attempt to effect sentimentality.
In conclusion, three traditions, at times working side by side but more often against the other, bring out the tensions and seeming contradictions in Manalang Gloria’s poetry. However, it is precisely because of these tensions that a clarification of her poetry can be made and ultimately, that poetry in English can be defined.
However, while her poetry does illustrate a connection to other poetic traditions, because the language of her poetry is English, the English poetic tradition must also be taken into account.
A record of shifting times
Much of the criticism of Manalang Gloria’s poetry were written prior to the publication of Poems in 1940 and therefore do not account for the fact that not all her poems deal with love. In fact, Manlapaz points out that only about half of them are about love and the rest are about “illness, death, poetry and criticism, faith and unbelief, and sexuality and war” (Manlapaz, Complete Poems 1993, 18).
In a sense, a revaluation of Manalang Gloria’s poetry is only possible after 1940, when critical institutions became less white, less male. Only in recent years has it become possible to see through Manalang Gloria’s metaphors of love and realize that they are possibly metaphors for an equally intricate and bloody relationship that is American colonization of the Philippines.
Manalang Gloria’s poetry, therefore, possibly allows a view of the historical changes wrought by American colonialism in the Philippines. This historical change is likened to “a dream,” and the figure in the dream to “a silent stranger” as referred to in “Mood in Silver: The Waterfall Bride” (1927). The “silent stranger” is possibly America whose people are “not my people, and my wild songs are not for you!” He is implored to “return to your land… and tread not my wild haunts again.” He has “disturb(ed) the peace that was mine” when “love tremor(ed) in (his) sigh” as he “gazed into the twilight of my eyes.”
“On your Coming,” a poem written also in 1927, can describe the manner in which America took over the country: “Like a shadow you entered my portals” while “my pathway still slumbered/ In mists of the dawn.” The insidious gentleness with which America came and presented the ‘gifts’ of liberalism and humanism is also likened to “the hush of the moonrise/ That pales in a dream.”
The fascination with which the “beautiful stranger” is received is awe combined with fear. In “Yellow Moon” (1927), America is like the “great yellow moon” who “frighten(s) me so.” Past encounters with America have been “flirt(ations)”: “you were a dainty whiteness/ That kissed my brow then,/ A gentle, pale flutter/ That touched my aching breast.” However, “behold(ing)” the full moon now, it appears “ghastly,” “spectral,” and there is fear that if “I … take you into my hand/ And press you against my cheek/ (I would) feel how cold you are.” Similarly, in “Barrio Moonlight” (1940) the effect of American presence on the beholder is like a magical spell: “The way in whiteness drawn,/ What magic rumor blown/ With sorcerer’s design/ Now casts…/ A spell of crystal night?” However, there is still the tug of reality in the last line: this enchantment is “against the heart’s despite.”
“But the Western Stars” (1928), dismissed by Shannon in 1929 for its “quaint desire for misty hazy shores,” refers to the imperative of having to go “over the waves to the western stars” and land on unknown shores. New directions have been set by the West (America) which “whisper(s) across the sea” and the line of approach is submission rather than resistance: ”I must away to a misty shore/ That calls through the dark to me.” In “Tropical Heritage” (1934), the price of submission is “the heart, disowned forever” which “wander(s)” in “the poverty of winter.” In “Apology” (1935), it is the closing of “my doors (to) the carnival of life.”
While “Soledad” (1935) can possibly be descriptive of the “one insane/ (historical) Moment” with America, more importantly, it speaks of the consequences of sleeping with the enemy: “he left her aureoled in flame” until “nothing but her blackened spires” remained. In “Querida” (1940), playing mistress to America has gained nothing but the “emptiness of night.”
“The Debt” (1940) tells of how a near-death experience can be liberating. In an experience that is “so near to Death” like submission or total subjugation, reality is put to the test and finally given true perspective: “When my first terror slipped away,/ it rolled the lid from off my night/ And burned my coffin into day.” “Wisdom” (1940) can also refer to this realization: “It took me ten years of wisdom/ To find my world, alas,/ Circumferenced with lucre/ Within a coin of brass.” America came bearing gifts of gold, but as it turns out, these were only “lucre” and “brass.”
However, the greater realization is that America is not a kind benefactor after all. In “On the Bicol Express” (1940), the train, like America, is finally seen as “an intruder, sheathed in steely indifference.”
As a result, “Revolt from Hymen” (1940), considered “immoral” in 1940, is a longing to “be alone at last,” to break “free” from the bondage of an uneven relationship where America as the male partner remains “a stark omnipotence” (“Ten Years After,” 1940) who “marks the flesh no better than a whore’s.” In addition, there is the wish for peace, “to sleep at last/ As infants sleep within the womb of rest.”
It is unfortunate that Manalang Gloria stopped writing after “Old Maid Walking on a City Street” (1950), for here, she finally presents a way of protest. Blind allegiance to America has been taken to be “a scandal (that) never died” (“Soledad”). However, the poem indicates that there too had been a refusal to compromise regardless of the cost:
She had a way of walking through concupiscence
And past the graces her fingers never twirled:
Because her mind refused the heavy burden,
Her broad feet shovelled up the world.
Manalang Gloria’s importance as one of the first poets in English should not be overlooked. A study of prosody in her poetry indicates a way of connection to the various traditions that exist in Philippine writing. Rather than cause disruptions, these contrary traditions can account for the richness and depth not only of her poetry but of poetry in English as a whole. Finally, it is her use of metaphor that allows her poetry to speak of the convolutions of a nation in a voice that is our own.
- In a note to Manalang Gloria, Shannon commented on the “excellent mastery of verse, fine sense of verbal harmony and an ability to make words do what you want them to do.” It also showed “a good deal of experience with life, and a meditation upon life’s experiences” (qtd. in Literary Matriarchs 1996, 79).
- Cf. Gemino H. Abad, introduction to Man of Earth 1989; Elmer A. Ordonez, The Other View 20, and Edna Z. Manlapaz, introduction to Complete Poems 1993.
- Teofilo del Castillo considered early poetry in English as “crude and labored” (A Brief History of Philippine Literature 1937, 354). Lucilla V. Hosillos described them as “a fitful struggle to master English grammar and idiom … a groping for technique, style and form” (Philippine-American Literary Relations 1969, 49).
- In 1931, Inglis Moore revised his opinion and aknowledged that there were poets on the local scene who had “matured enough to have developed a ‘style of marked individuality.’ These poets included Manalang Gloria whom he described as “our Sara Teasdale—sweet without being sickly, melodious and charming” (qtd. in Manlapaz, Literary Matriarchs 1996, 51).
Abad, Gemino H. and Edna Z. Manlapaz, eds. 1989. Man of Earth: An Anthology of Filipino Poetry and Verse from English, 1905 to the Mid-50s. Quezon City: Ateneo University Press.
Fosdick, Carolyn E. and Trinidad Tarrosa Subido, eds. 1954. Literature for Philippine High Schools, Third Year.New York: Macmillan.
Hosillos, Lucilla V. 1969. Philippine-American Literary Relations, 1898-1941. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.
Lumbera, Bienvenido L. 1986. Tagalog Poetry, 1570-1898: Tradition and Influences in its Development. Quezon City: Ateneo University Press.
Manlapaz, Edna Zapanta, ed. 1993. The Complete Poems of Angela Manalang Gloria. Quezon City: Ateneo University Press.
Manlapaz, Edna Zapanta. 1996. Our Literary Matriarchs, 1925-1953: Angela Manalang Gloria, Paz M. Latorena, Loreto Paras Sulit and Paz Marquez Benitez. Quezon City: Ateneo University Press.
The Government of the Philippine Islands. 1925. Course of Study for Intermediate Grades. Manila: Bureau of Printing.
The Government of the Philippine Islands. 1933. Course of Study in Literature for Secondary Schools. Manila.