WritingsArticles & SpeechesSocial and Cultural Themes in Filipino Poetry (Part II...

Social and Cultural Themes in Filipino Poetry (Part II of II)


Jose Maria Sison
Philippine Collegian
January 5, 1962

On the whole, Hufana distinguishes himself as the ethnic poet of the Philippines. His volume of “a first decade”, Sickle Season, published in 1959, issues a native concern even as he displays a wide range of anthropological knowledge. This concern oftentimes becomes barbed with cynicism, but anyhow, there are the beautiful lines burrowing through rough ground. No Filipino poet has yet fully dealt with the Filipino cultural condition, inspite of Viray’s or Dominador Ilio’s expose of the somnambulist which is nothing but a shifted copy of the Western Wasteland, but Hufana has gone farthest among Filipino poets to define that condition. He shows definitely an indigenous vision, and this is to be deeply and broadly appreciated.

Out of so many poems that have come from his prolific capability, I shall make quotations from a long poem, “Blood for Blood”. This one is relatively unmarked by a syntactical disjointment; but it is not for this reason that special attention is paid on it. It is beautiful, yes, as a poem should be– in fact, I consider it as one of the best-mannered poems in the Philippine writing; but the present interest here is in the statement—the social sense. Through Hufana’s cultural preoccupation, this sense signifies itself. Undoubtedly, he is the master of the incisive statement, submerged under the feeling-sheet when he is most poetical.

He describe the position of the artist in a profit-preoccupied society with its resultant profit-propped culture:

So he who can sweat out a verse more livingly than most,
who gouge their crystal set of comedies
And tragedies all like a costly ware
Out of an inkwell, is fast exiled to
Communion with himself where others do
Their commerce and forget there’s anything
Before their profit takes effect at large
Among the merchants doing patronage
To perpetuate their public decencies
The peddled culture, thus, is helped and bought
More for its patronage than for its sake;

The hawk-eyed hoarder staved the keen demand
Until his market introductions sell
Much over—tinkling on production costs—
The very stuff so introduced. The blood
Is branching to the meshes of the flesh
Price-tagged so everybody can afford
His slice according to his pocketbook.

The principle of symbiosis works out. As much as the artists is used for effective public relations, he gets payment and learns to set the proper price. So, the peddled culture thrives. It even goes to the blood.

When the Stonehills, the Palancas, big corporations like Caltex, Shell, Meralco, etc. did not yet make doles and were four centuries far.

It happened once the versing of the sweat
Of folks, and verse and sweating were at once
In utter truth and blood for blood they flushed
And never guilty of exploit.

Now, Hufana commits into a conscious statement, the fact that the Filipino artist has aligned himself with the direct exploiters. He is now guilty of exploit. But there was a time of primitive innocence which Ricaredo Dematillio in La via also claimed and for which he was accused of mendacity unfairly. The simple point is that there have been changes of relations from tribal simplicity to the sooty confusion and obnoxious ritualism of the present when “The pews are sterilized, the heretic/ Meets his confessor and they strike a fad/ Of walking to a distance, and more fad/ climbing mountains then proclaim all sins/ Expiated.

Hufana denies again the idealist lie but at the same time he becomes positive in the only way he can be in the following:

There is no higher love that is not based
On earth so flagrant of epiphany
A seed in every cleft of Filipino dust
The Daedalus filament that beckons me.
I quarry round the hill for covering
Or for a rooted landmark as the peasant kneels
To resurrection and to life that knit
The mosaic of the fields through which the sun
In its compulsion to be rich flares up
And in inspired chrome-scale serrates wide
The utter view of things and their release
The appetite is unbegotten that
Does not cling to the eddy of the brawn
Of men and women happening despite
Vindictive soil that makes their route abrupt
At well-deep pagan graves eddy on
Till they break on the lease of work expiring.
The landlord and the clod are consequence
Of lurid need and lurid largesses seized
Right of the shabby effort of the land.

Hufana sees very clearly the basis of quality. Here is the Filipino sensibility in all its keenness. Here is a good grasp of objective reality, a grasp of soil without a metaphysical one of soul which has nothing at all to do with necessity.

Here is hit the feudal foothold of

. . . the people strange who are
More lovely than land and taller than
Expected while they dance with stoutest ribs
Around their genius who is but a boy
That fancies angel-hood. . .

What a way “Gaybriel” graced the society pages! And the same symbiotic relationship exists before the grand altar of profit motive.

The social conscious poems of Manuel Viray and Bienvenido Santos show a refinement through an inly dramatic tension. There is the balance between the community of cells ad that of men, or more precisely, there is a more personal relation between the environment and the speaker in the poem.
In “Private Speech”, Viray asks;

Where’s refuge from misery
From the tyrannic vision
Of half-starved children of aping and mimicry,
Of decadent vanity?

At this very juncture,
engagement is inevitable and
it is immediate as it is personal. So
if you light this street
I can’t retreat.
There is the garbage can lost like youth; lost like truth.
A cluster of dead blood, filaments of hair.
Crumbs of bread pieces; pieces of pencil lead.

The details are well-chosen, and he makes an exhortation through “the angered clay”. “Coin a vivid mortal phrase/ Before Death readies her grace!”

Viray is capable of social revulsion, but he also seems to be too much of an idealist. There is the danger that he becomes a somnambulist by thinking too much within and of himself in “Night Balance Upon These Eyelids”, he asks

Night, rest upon these uneasy
eyelids a little peace
For I am tired having written the
dangerous dreams
Of the intelligent and the apostles
of truth.

Is this conscious statement as “Coin a vivid, mortal phrase/ Before Death readies her grace”? This is withdrawal and funnily at the point of fruition. He has no strength at all as he concludes in
“Night Balance Upon These Eyelid”,

O night, weigh your peaceful kiss upon these eyes.
The shadows of discontent appears
I hear the crazy timber of cries

Bienvenido Santos is very much like Viray, they are gifted with artistic polish and both are extremely subject to Christian masochism. There is one distinction between them though; Santos has the wider capability of presenting the very concrete as a universal as in “Opening Night”, “Dreams”, “Footnote to Wisdom”, “Sermons to the Free” and as many others. In this respect he has an edge over Viray. Obviously, he has the capability of transforming the particularity of Lanot’s verses, for instance, into quick, flowing lines where socio-historical content fuses perfectly with images saturated with the genotypical instincts of man. But, Santos stops at a point short of becoming a poet of the tradition of revolt. Most of the time, he is satisfied with being a circular Christian masochist.

In “Brotherhood”, he concludes characteristically:

As I lay dying all voices had been stilled
Within, without, oh, everywhere
The gaping emptiness deepest in the heart
The only promise, the promise in despair.

In “Epilogue to Betrayal”, the same epilogue occurs

Even now the betrayal goes on and on
In summer gardens, where young April fill.
Their graves with yesteryear’s passion rehearsals
For the final act of shame upon another hill.

The “pattern of sacrifice” must be filled accordingly. In “Sulucan”, there is the same individual acceptance of what can be made out regardless of the insistent “winds”. “Father makes reply:/ Look at the rosebud by my door.” I wish more people can feel and make this articulation, especially those who live in cardboard boxes in places like Sulucan INSPITE. . .Bienvenido Santos is acceptably an isolated instance.

R. Vinzons Asis also has a soulful indeterminateness in “Credenda”. But, what is the silence of God if it is not acquiescence to the will of the hungry?

I remember God and I came
asking bread, became
tearfully insistent, heard
only ringing hunger: no word,
so I left, cursing
but the thunder of my words
were as raindrops falling
saw God in my hunger
heard his voice ringing
in my ears, saw the beauty
of his silence.

Fidel de Castro may show more sense of human direction in “Rain Must Fall”

Rain must fall into a man’s life
While Hunger and Faith grope in the dark
For a voice, a blueprint and an answer.
It has to rain in Nanking sometimes
To spout the virtues back to life again.

Rain is cleansing. He has more direction in at least bringing us to the question: What is the rain or the raindrops? Words?

Bernardo Stuart asks the Lord in “Psalm I” to “remember”

. . . to give me words to endure the centuries
Know that my enemies have fattened
And line their pockets against me;

Here, poetry seems to become compensation. Compensation through poetry! It is indeed the eternal concession.

If there is any tone of derision here, its Compensation through poetry! It is indeed by the succeeding lines:

Deny me not the weapons that I may slay
My first horde of ten thousands:

By the specification of “first horde of then thousands” is there any degree of progression indicated? If so, words therefore are really “weapons” and in that sense they do not fall right back to the idealistic notion that it is enough for the poet to keep on feeding ambrosia to physiological introversion.

In the Philippines, nevertheless, reactionary forces are not wanting poems like “Itches in the Brain” and “Carnage in the North”. These two poems were written by Greg Ra. Puruganan—understandably the son of a landlord and a winner of Roxas instituted Republic awards. They appeared in 1951 in the Literary Apprentice and they represent very well the quizzical position of the intelligentsia which has only prolonged the struggle, contributed to its temporary retreat and just about insured its nearing resurgence.

In these poems, the violence of the revolution is blamed relentlessly by the poet on the people rather than the on preconditioning principle and actualized process of forces and exploitation that sustain the existent social system. Both the cognitive and the affective fields of these poems bear out this statement very clearly. The revolution is denounced in the following terms: “itches in the brain”, “octopus-like”, “venomous”, “offers pieces of heaven”, “squeezes time-honoured concepts out of the punctured brain”, “courteous and thief”, “imaginary lines”, “clay defying the ultimate and final reason”, “the price is paid by souls”, and so on and so forth.

There are three further observation that can easily be made from these coupled poems. The first is that “the speaker is contemptuous of temporal cure” and by defensive references to “time-honoured concepts”. “God’s original handiwork,” “the ultimate and final reason”, “souls”, he contra-poses the immaterial with material life. From this point, he thrusts the implication that in the face of a life after this in which reward are made for pertinence the attempt of the hungry to seek better economic environment is negligible. The poet definitely has a feudal mentality. Instead of the divine right of the rich to rule that is being implicitly held up, including its religious crusades and witch-hunts. Time-honored concepts! No benefit of a doubt can be given to Puruganan. Grant that what he is only against is violence as such—he is routed by this question: should you prefer more murderous but slow and quiet and passive starvation and ignorance, that multiply on themselves among the people to a revolution which takes the shortest time possible (because revolutionaries will always have no intention of making unnecessary sacrifices)? Of course, with this question, I am presupposing that Puruganan has been fully aware of the internal and world-scale factors that affect and constrict a semi-colonial country like the Philippines. And decidedly, if Puruganan must write poems like these, he should know ways of dealing with these supposed factors that have been supposedly underlying the Philippine condition. Without making explication of these in his poems, a real grasps of them should become implicit or indicated.

The second observation picks up the political implications of the first. Puruganan is definitely committed to the offensive of the Right. The following lines, for instance, show clearly their commitment:

The tempting call is clear as it contends for the hearts
That it must win and later reduce to their final doom.

What is meant by “final doom” here? Of course, Puruganan is entitled to his view. But, the right kind of revolution is re-birth as it has already been successfully done in half of the world.

The third observation has something to do with terminating line, “If all are vanquished, where is then the victor”. In the last socialist revolution which Puruganan tried to reflect, the comprador-landlord bourgeoisie and its foreign friends were certainly the “victor”. The troops they used and subjected to direct peril were yanked out from the ranks of the masses. Money did everything and ninety percent of the people were vanquished as the bourgeoisie is face with the illusion of peace and contentment. The third observation is that Puruganan’s confident last line is a boomerang. In the very first place, he has to face the logic of what he denounce.

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