31 May 2013

Of God and devil, trigger and weapon

The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by João Guimarães Rosa, translated by James L. Taylor and Harriet de Onís (Knopf, 1963)

"The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors," wrote Borges in an essay on Kafka. "His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future." Borges the literary critic just defined his own exploratory style of literary criticism. For how can someone be entirely sure which particular authors and books a certain writer has read or was influenced by? A reader could know, for example, that the writings of Author A was influenced by Author B in terms of aspect X. Yet he might not be aware that Author B was influenced by Author C on that same aspect X. And there's really no way to fully know the web of influences because there are now just about infinite books written by infinite authors and containing infinite aspects. It's very likely that the anxiety of influence was felt both by readers and writers. At most, readers could only rely on gut feel and guesswork, just like Borges: "After frequenting [Kafka's] pages a bit, I came to think I could recognize his voice, or his practices, in texts from diverse literatures and periods." The text then is the thing. "If Kafka had never written a line, we would not perceive this quality [his idiosyncrasy]; in other words, it would not exist."

Because João Guimarães Rosa had written some good lines in Grande Sertão: Veredas, and because the novel was translated in various languages, then we can freely write about it. One could make, for example, an observation that Cormac McCarthy created a precursor in the Brazilian writer, he of Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West. Blood Meridian was of course that horrific ballet of blood and viscera and violence, featuring two unforgettable characters: the kid and the Judge. It was the Judge—extra-large, hairless, and enthusiastic peeler of human scalps—who cut a really nasty figure, the embodiment of the devil to pay in the wild west. The Judge was malignity itself, the author of genocides, disembowelments, and infanticides. What in Guimarães Rosa's "Matraga" story was described as "something God doesn't order and the devil doesn't do". The lawlessness and evil-doings in Guimarães Rosa could not compare to the graphic descriptions of McCarthy. But we get the idea when the narrator said, "You know, sir, the sertão is where the strong and the shrewd call the tune. God himself, when he comes here, had better come armed!"

Two characters in The Devil to Pay in the Backlands resembled the Judge in Blood Meridian. The clownish Zé Bebelo, himself formidable and talkative like the Judge, was a bandit leader who never sleeps—"Work hard to sleep well," he would say. With relish: "After I'm dead, you can rest." Then laughing: "But I'm not going to die [76]." The Judge also never slept. Right after a blood-curdling scene at the end of the book, the Judge was triumphant and hyper: "He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die."

The figure that was closer to the Judge's temperament, however, was Hermógenes, the arch-enemy of the narrator Riobaldo's band of jagunços. Hermógenes betrayed the brave Joca Ramiro, upright chief of the jagunços. He was believed to have a pact with the devil. Luck seemed to be always on his side as it was hard to catch him. And Hermógenes's cruelty, like the Judge, knew no bounds. There was a scene where a victim was tied and left for him to torture and kill slowly while he relished the man's suffering.

The novel was a haphazard record of Riobaldo's tale of his adventures as a member of a jagunço outfit under different leaders. He was speaking to an unnamed man, a learned person, almost certainly a writer who was interviewing the retired bandit in order to write about his exploits. The tale was told out of order, following the unpredictable courses of winding rivers, branching out into various tributaries. Characters crossed and re-crossed each other. The sertão contained a world, and that world was small. The tableau of scenes made for a jumbled telling but the compositional choices—the details and images, the succession of surprises one after another, the reappearances of characters—were calibrated, perfectly timed, in a narrative that was seemingly without letup in its spontaneous flow.

The elegiac tone of the narration was a hymn to a vanishing land; that is, Brazil in the first half of nineteenth century, at a time when the government was starting to compartmentalize the region by building roads. The bandit wars in the sertão region of Brazil were being fought by private armies funded by the landed class (owners of fazendas) against government troops who were harassing them. We caught the story during during the heydays of vigilante fighting when different factions of armed militias went at cross purposes and even fought each other. Food rations, weapons, and horses were sourced out by exacting tributes from fazendeiros.

The breakdown of law led to more groups being formed to "impose justice" and bring order to the world. They had “taken up arms in the cause of justice and honest government” and to protect friends (their benefactors) who were persecuted by government soldiers. It's not really that different to some regions today which are at war or in conflict or to the most violent cities in the world. Then, as now, warlords and their armies ruled the world.

War strategies and the politics of warfare figured prominently in the novel. They were tempered by the melancholic voice of Riobaldo who was recounting his violent past, sweet loves, and disappointments. Reflecting on the several successions of leadership in his jagunço army, Riobaldo was able to examine his own peripatetic life and give a glimpse of the personal and public lives of jagunços in peace and war.

The imposition of "order and justice" in the sertão was best exemplified by a key scene in the book. It was during the trial of Zé Bebelo, who made war in the pay of government against Joca Ramiro's group, that the ideas for the dispensation of justice were explored. Parliamentary procedures were carefully observed during the trial. It made for a riveting courtroom drama, in fact. It turned out that in a world of chaos and war, jagunços could still be bound by certain codes of conduct.

The prisoner's rights were protected, along with the right to defend himself in a court of war. The "fair" trial demonstrated some ethical considerations in pursuing the rules of war. Human rights, against torture and against death, were safeguarded. In context—and here we find an important "precursor" document—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, eight years before the publication of the novel. Being a senior member of the Brazilian diplomatic community, Guimarães Rosa must have been familiar with the discussions on human rights prior to their international adoption.

But the novel was not just a platform for philosophical meditation on human rights. It also explored ideas about the individual as a free agency of good and evil, equipped with human feelings and human reason. The individual has seemingly unlimited capacity to change, to reform his ways, from one station in life to another, from one type of person to another. This individual political will to change was closely tied to Riobaldo’s metaphysical discussions on God and the devil, on saints, reincarnation, and the afterlife. Does the devil exist or not? Does God exist to thwart the devil's plans? How free are we to make a choice between good and evil? What is a "just" war? What compels a man to transform himself from good to bad and the other way round?

It was significant that Riobaldo had a special ability. He was an expert marksman. He held the life of his target enemy on his trigger finger. The latter's hearbeat depended on Riobaldo's error, but Riobaldo never made any. Choosing whom to mark out for death and whom to spare—was not that the same as playing God? How easily are we swayed by our own appetite for murder and destruction?

Those fellows there were really a gang of kind friends who helped each other at every turn, and who did not balk at sacrifices to that end. But the fact remained that, in support of some political feud, they would not hesitate to shoot up a village of helpless people, people like ourselves, with mothers and godmothers. And they found it quite natural to go out and do the same thing for the sake of health and exercise. I was horror-stricken—you know what I mean? I was afraid of the race of men. [332]

In several instances in the novel, Riobaldo was faced with a decision to choose between what he perceived as right and what he knew to be wrong. A single word from him could decide the fate of an innocent young woman. A single bullet could pass judgement on the life of a man or a horse or a dog. Every day, in battle or outside them, a jagunço may have to decide, one way or another, on things whose outcome may haunt him forever. "Living is a dangerous business", our apologetic narrator repeated many times, too many for one's comfort. When Riobaldo pulled the plug on someone, he knew his entire being decided it, not just his hand: "I tell you, this right hand of mine had fired almost by itself. What I know is, it returned Adam to dust. That's just my way of talking. [452]"

It didn’t help that Riobaldo often courted unreliability. In many instances he denied the existence of the devil, in others he subscribed wholly to the concept and was even willing to make a pact with the "dark side". The power to do good and evil resides in any one of us, but it is regulated not only by the societal rules and legal frameworks governing our actions, but by the God of our chosen religion. But in the sertão, where God has to come armed, the situation was not simple. "It is man who exists," Riobaldo reflected at one point. Are devil and God then mere labels for acts of men?

God exists, yes, slowly or suddenly. He acts, all right—but almost wholly through the medium of persons, good and bad. The awesome things of this world! The backlands are a powerful weapon. Is God a trigger? [283]

In Riobaldo's puzzlement we see the same conflict faced by Augusto Matraga. But the question was probably beyond good and evil, or their relativism.

If I wanted to make another pact, with God himself—I wonder if I can?—would this not wipe out everything that went before? ... What is needed is for God to have greater reality for people, and for the devil to amuse us with his own non-existence. One thing is sure, one alone, even though it differs for every person, and that is: God waits for each of us to act. In this world, there are all degrees of bad and good persons. But suppose everybody were bad; would not then everybody be good? Ah, it is only for the sake of pleasure and happiness that we seek to know everything, to develop a soul, to have a conscience. To suffer, none of this is needed. Animals suffer pain, and they suffer without knowing the reason. I tell you, sir: everything is a pact. Every road is slippery. [259]

Everything in the book could be seen as a setup for one final revelation. Rereading it revealed that hints were carefully dropped along the way. My next post is a look into Diadorim's character and more precursors of the novel—eastern, as opposed to western, writers.


27 May 2013

Matraga is not Matraga

"Augusto Matraga's Hour and Turn" by João Guimarães Rosa, in Sagarana, translated by Harriet de Onís (Knopf, 1966)

Sagarana was João Guimarães Rosa's first book, a nine-story cycle published in 1946, a decade before the appearance of his back-to-back masterpieces: the novel Grande Sertão: Veredas and the seven interlinked novellas in the two-volume Corpo de Baile. The title, as noted by Franklin de Oliveira in the introduction to the translation, is an amalgam of "Saga, an Old Norse root, a verbal creation at the service of the epic, and the Tupi suffix rana (in the manner of)." In the manner of a saga, the stories explored the poignant, comic, and earthy territory of the backlands of Minas Gerais, Brazil.

The last story in the cycle—"Augusto Matraga's Hour and Turn"—was significant for anticipating the concerns of Grande Sertão: Veredas. After an almost fatal and life-changing experience, the titular character underwent a radical self-invention after making a pact with—who would have guessed it—no less than God. This was an almost anti-Faustian tale, a fine complement to the novel that succeeded it.

But "Matraga is not Matraga, or anything", announced the first sentence of the story.

Matraga is Estêves. Augusto Estêves, the son of Colonel Afonsão Estêves, of Pindaíbas and Saco-da-Embira. Or Mr. Augusto, Nhô Augusto—the man—on that evening of a novena, at an auction behind the church in the village of Our-Lady-of-Sorrows-of-the-Creek-of-Muricí.

In the rest of the story, the name "Matraga" was no longer mentioned, a conspicuous absence that says something about the validity of names as determinant of a person's identity. Aren't the various salutations and configurations of the names (as Estêves, as Nhô Augusto, as Augusto Matraga) preconditions for one's changing status in life?

Nhô Augusto was a rich, patrician and cruel hacendado about to fall on hard times due to his wanton lifestyle and mismanagement of assets. He was as evil as he was impulsive: he treated people like animals and was himself described like an animal—"hard, rough, and unbridled, like a huge beast of the forest"—so evil he was "worse than a poison snake, which whoever sees it is duty-bound to kill." We are squarely in the middle of Guimarães Rosa's territory, in the mêlée of maelstrom, the middle of the whirlwind. It is the territory of "permanent crisis" wherein the dichotomy of good and evil was ever shifting, playing out its many erratic manifestations.

When Augusto's wealth diminished, he was left by those close to him. It was but the beginning of his downfall: "with crushing debts, on the losing side politically, his credit gone, his lands neglected, his ranches mortgaged, and the outlook hopeless, all doors closed, like a blank wall". Dona Dionóra, his wife whom he had estranged with his unfaithfulness and plain badness, ran off with another man. His men, whom he had neglected, deserted him for better pay as henchmen of Major Consilva. The latter was the instrument to his destruction. He was left for dead by his own men at the behest of Major Consilva who later appropriated all his properties and consolidated the power he once enjoyed.

"Matraga" was also a close study of revenge, a feeling associated with savagery and inhumanity. Despite the biblical undertones and apparent seriousness, the story was told like a brooding musical, with characters suddenly breaking into singing solo or in chorus. The prose was epigrammatic and onomatopoeic—"In the distance a dog spelled out one single, meaningless name"—and with its self-questioning tone parodied its own artifice: "This is a made-up story and not something that happened, no indeed"; "And everything happened just like this because it had to, inasmuch as it did." The third person narrator was pedantic, just like Riobaldo, the indefatigable narrator of Grande Sertão.

Crushed and destroyed, Augusto was taken in by a black couple who revived him not only through traditional medicines and procedures but with unceasing prayers and religiosity. Consulting and confessing to a priest, the man was comforted by a single certainty that will dictate the rhythm of his revenge. The priest had given him a powerful code, what for him was a mantra or spell to be whispered in times of trials and temptations, akin to an amulet: words to deal with the blows of fate: "Everyone has his hour and his turn; and yours will come."

With the underlying themes of the use of religion to temper the inherent ugliness in man and the use of violence to enforce the idea of goodness and decency, "Matraga" was a classic case of human conversion and transformation, the spectacular metamorphosis of a sinner's worldview into that of someone "half mad and half saint". This renewal of life, the curbing of animal temper and invocation of goodness in daily life transactions, was sealed under ritual oath.

Nhô Augusto knelt in the middle of the road, opened his arms wide, and swore: "I am going to heaven, I really am, by fair means or foul. And my turn will come. To Heaven I am going, even if I have to use a club."

Nhô Augusto and his adoptive parents went away to live a new life, in a new place. He became true to his promise.

He lived trying to help others. He hoed for himself and for his neighbors out of the warmth of his heart, wishing to share, giving out of love what he possessed.

Even so, the animal instinct was branded in him. He was constantly gnawed by thoughts of consummating his vengeance, tempted every which way to go back to his old evil ways, to secure the power lost to him. Time passed and the charitable life and work he demonstrated did not give him peace of mind. What is the price of penance and penitence? What is the cost of atonement for sins if salvation and liberation call for an itching beyond human comprehension and control?

And it was only then that he realized how he was lashed to his penitence and understood that this business of signing up with religion and trying to snatch his soul from the mouth of the devil was the same as entering a swamp where going forward or backward or to the sides is always hard and always drags you deeper into the mire.

The idyll was broken when a band of jagunços passed the village. Its leader exuded power and violence his old life knew too well.

And the leader—the strongest and tallest of all, with a blue handkerchief rolled around his leather hat, his white teeth filed to sharp points, of commanding gaze and a hoarse voice, but with a pretty, gentle face of a maiden—was the most famous man in the two backlands of the river ... the stump-puller, the earth-shaker, the fire-eater, the boast-stopper, the measure-taker, the question-settler, the no-obstacle-brooker: Mr. Joãozinho Bem-Bem.

The charisma of the jagunço chief certainly contained shades of gallantry that only exemplary individuals possessed (and also shades of characters in his future novel). Joãozinho Bem-Bem was in fact so famous and mythical he was mentioned at least four times in the first half of The Devil to Pay in the Backlands. (Riobaldo called him the fiercest among all jagunços of old. Zé Bebelo wanted to follow his example. He considered the late chief as the only man-jagunço he could respect. Diadorim also made example of the "iron-clad rule of Joãozinho Bem-Bem, who never took a woman but was as brave as they come.")

At first sight, the two men—the repentant convert Nhô Augusto and the famous chieftain Joãozinho Bem-Bem—showed instant liking for each other. For Augusto, Bem-Bem's friendship represented a resurrection of a life of constant violence that once pumped in his lungs with unadulterated oxygen blood. The arrival of the bandits "equipped with an extravagance of arms—carbines, almost new; muzzle-loading pistols of one or two barrels; revolvers of good make; knives, daggers, pigstickers with carved handle, clubs and machetes—and wearing an excess of scapularies around their necks" was enough for him to once again smell the intoxicating blood in the air. He did not hesitate to offer hospitality to the leader and his troop. Joãozinho Bem-Bem awakened the possibility of finally avenging the death sentence pronounced on him by Major Consilva, along with the betrayal of his men and the treachery of his wife.

Joãozinho Bem-Bem saw through Augusto's old instincts, detecting the stain of his past. He liked the hospitable and friendly man so much he even offered him a job in his group, to be part of a band of warriors who will bring order to the whole sertão. What more, he offered him a favor he could exploit to his advantage: "If you need anything, if you have an unpleasant message to send to somebody ... If you have some frisky enemy anywhere, just you give me his name and address."

Both proposals Augusto refused, going against a part of his nature that cried for full-bloodied vengeance. He refused because the time is not yet ripe. Augusto was always, always waiting for the right time, the apocalyptic moment of his hour and his turn.

Harriet de Onís, the co-translator of Grande Sertão, translated the story with a sure touch although she confessed in the book's preface that the task "has not been easy".

I have been in constant communication with the author, and at times I have felt like a sick-bay steward delivering a baby by radioed instructions from a doctor on land. The author, incidentally, is a doctor, though at present attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil with the rank of Minister. ... It is abundantly clear that he is aware of all the literary trends and ferments in the world today and employs them in his own way, yet nobody could be more Brazilian.

In spite of the difficulties de Onís encountered, the stories in her rendering (I have read two from the cycle so far, the first and the last) exuded mysticism and grandeur that must be a part of the sense of place that gave birth to them. The odd registers and diction and unusual sentence constructions lent an authority to the text. For her work in Sagarana, she received the PEN Translation Prize in 1967.

"Matraga" had been twice adapted to the big screen, in 1965 and 2011. The more recent adaptation directed by Vinicius Coimbra was awarded Best Fiction Feature by both jury and audience in the Rio International Film Festival (here's the trailer).

05 May 2013

Music of fire in the forest of darkness

Himno ng Apoy sa Gubat ng Dilim by Arlan Camba, Pia Montalban, and MJ Rafal (Aklatang Batlaya Publishing Collective, 2011)

Three young poets met in a book launch and gradually became close friends. They found common grounds on political issues, proletarian causes, and advocacy for social justice. They eventually decided to collect their poems and publish them independently. They called it Himno ng Apoy sa Gubat ng Dilim (Music of Fire in the Forest of Darkness).

The music of the poets' lines were indeed set on fire. They were so intense they glowed, creating a wall of forest fire keeping out the wild animals of the night. Their voices were raised loud from deep within the tangle of vegetation, making readers feel not only the heat but the light of day.

I spent the better part of the first of May listening to the music of these poems. The occasion couldn't be more auspicious. The book is dedicated to "the tillers and toilers of our land" ("para sa mga magbubukid at manggagawa ng aming bayan").

The selection of poems here displayed an uncompromising stance against those in power who perpetuate oppression and human rights abuses. It essayed not only the harrowing condition of marginalized farm workers and ordinary people in a cruel capitalist society. More importantly, it boldly called for immediate action and social reforms to resist that untenable condition.

Some pages of the book were like downsized placards containing the sentiments and exclamations of protestors and demonstrators in the streets. Yet the raging voices were often tempered by compassion for human struggles.

Arlan Camba opened the book with an invitation to the collection's rhythmic, fiery singing. His poems usually began with lines and chants heard in street demonstrations. Some of these may already be familiar gripes, tired and overused, but at the end of his poems, the final lines realigned the familiar protestations into a literal call to arms. The poet was crafting his novel protest through the fortification of his previous litanies of disenfranchisement. By reconstructing the street protest in a poem, it enacted its own galvanizing protest. The electric atmosphere of his protest poems secured empowerment through the power of words.

Here's the final stanza of "Gusto Kong Tumula" (I Want to Recite a Poem). It consolidated the poet's plan of a violent revenge on the bourgeoisie:

Gusto kong tumula,
sapagkat gaano man kapurol
at padaskul-daskol ang pananalinghaga,
gaano man kapudpod
ang mga pananaludtod,   
sa tulad kong nagmamaka-makata
may sasarap pa ba sa pagpatay
gamit lamang ang salita?

         I want to recite a poem,
         however feckless
         and reckless the act of composition
         however clichéd
         the imperative to create
         to the likes of mepoetaster
         is there anything more satisfying         
         than to kill using words?

And here is the final stanza of Camba's "Saan Patungo ang mga Alitaptap?" (Where Are the Fireflies Going?):

saan patungo ang mga alitaptap?
makapangyarihan ang lagablab
ng apoy sa nagliliyab na kaluluwa; 
tutupukin ang 'sang uniberso
ng mga berso't talinghaga    
   ng pakikidigma...
hahalakhak ang makata,
luluha ng dugo ang mga salita,
lalatay ang hagupit ng mga taludtod 

sa isip, kaluluwa at katawan;
bantayan man sa magdamag
   ang mga alitaptap
walang pagsisidlan sa kasaysayan
ang katapusan ng lahat-lahat...

              where are the fireflies going?
              forceful the blaze
              of fire on combusting soul;
              it levels one universe
              of verses and the war's   
              the poet screams in joy,         
              words spill blood,
              the lash of lines reddens
              the mind, spirit and body;
              even if the flights of fireflies
                 are closely monitored
              the death of all
              has no place in history...

The direct target of the poems was the the ruling class who erected a "forest of darkness" to strangle the poor "weeds", robbing them of sustenance, depriving them of air and the light of sun. The images were necessarily violent as they explicitly dramatized an all out war against the oligarchs.

Pia Montalban, the second poet, continued to fan the flames of the fire that will guide the way for those languishing in the dark prisons of poverty and powerlessness. She did not shy away from depicting contemporary issues that bedevil the present national administration. Issues like agrarian reform and the displacement of the poor were explored through the introduction of female personae, perhaps the poet's own. Her identification with the national body politic, as "Pi(lipin)a" for instance, was an inventive way of communicating a personalized vision/version of reality at the mercy of capitalism. The latter was a threat to sustaining the things that make humans human, like love.

In "Tunay na Sining" (True Art), Montalban probably described the three poets' unified ars poetica, their collective aesthetics of resistance. Here's an excerpt:

Patay ang manunulat 
sa simulang maglakbay kanyang mga akda.      
Ni hindi ito makapagmumulto
sa bawat mailalathalang
misteryo, buhay, kathang-isip
o katotohanan
kaya't mawawalang silbi
mga hinabing salita
kung mensahe'y nakasulat
sa diyalektong wala nang nakauunawa.

Mahalaga sa tula ang tugma,
aliw-iw o daloy o alindog
pag-indak sa tyempo't kumpas
ng panitikang nakalipas,
metapora't talinhagang
magbibihis ng estetika
Ngunit aking igigiit
ito'y dapat na maging daluyan
ng nilalamang may kahulugan.

Nailuluwal ang sining
kapag ang salita'y nakapagpipinta
ng imaheng kumikintal
sa diwa ng mambabasa--
ngunit sining na walang saysay
kung imahe'y hiwa-hiwalay
at pagkakaugnay-ugnay
iilan lamang makapagbubulay-bulay

Lalo namang sining na walang buhay
sining na sa sarili lamang
at sa iilan iniaalay.

         The writer expires         
         the moment her works take flight.
         She will not be a specter
         haunting each posthumoous
         mystery, biography, fiction
         or truth
         and so words woven   
         become stale
         if the message is writ
         in a language no one understands.
         Rhyme in poetry is important,
         rhythm, pacing, charm
         dancing in time to the beat 
         of literatures of the past,
         metaphors and figures
         putting on an aesthetic
         But I shall insist
         it must be a conduit
         of words of substance. 

         Art is birthed
         when words illustrate
         images that last
         in the minds of readers--
         art is worthless
         when the images are disjointed
         and coherence
         only a few anticipates 

         More so the art that's lifeless
         art that is offered 
         only to self, or a mere few.

The poet argued for simple art, grounded in reality and abhorring the fireworks of obscurity. If resistance art is to speak, then it has to speak with the legibility of black letters on white paper. It has to be meaningful to the large segment of society, those who are many but vulnerable.

MJ Rafal, the final featured poet, was the most experimental of the three. His poems were diverse narratives of playful forms and subjects. He showed a gift for storytelling and a mastery in the deployment of particularized details, as with the daily struggles of low income workers. If I make him sound like a writer of fiction, that was only because his poems here had an engrossing plot and action.

Below is one poem by Rafal, a sample of the anthemic output of this talented poet. It was dedicated to the memory of Alexander Martin Remollino (1977-2010): the poet, journalist, and activist who was an acknowledged influence and inspiration to many poems in the collection.


kung isa ka nang hangin ngayon 

ihip kang nagpapaalab ng mga sulo
ng pakikibaka't pakikitalad
ihip kang nagpapaindak sa mga palay at tubo
ihip kang tumutuyo sa pawis
ng mga manggagawa't magsasaka
kung isa ka nang hamog ngayon

nakayakap ka sa mga talahib at dahon
doon sa kabundukan at nagmamasid
sa mga kasamang namamahinga't kasiping
ng gabi
butil ka ng hamog na kumikislap sa pagtama
ng liwanag ng buwan sa munti mong katawan

kung isa ka nang ulan ngayon
hinahaplos ng masisinsin mong patak
mga buhok at pisngi ng iniwang mga kasama't kaibigan
nagpapaunawa na ika'y hindi nawawala
at nananatili sa puso at dugo ng masa
na iyong pinag-alayan ng buhay at musa

kung isa ka nang apoy ngayon
tinutupok mo ang mga tanikala
ng pananamantala't inaabo ang inhustisya
sinusunog mo ang mga barong at saya
ng mga hunyango't elitista
lalagi kang tanglaw sa mga tahanang kaniig
ang isang pirasong kandila

at kung isa ka nang lupa ngayon
hayaan mong tumindig kami sa dibdib mo
bigyan mo kami ng tuntungan
na di matitibag ng mga medalya't trono
hayaan mong magtanim kami sa dibdib mo
ng mga binhi ng ganap na paglaya
na aanihin namin, natin sa nalalapit na panahon     


if you're now turned into air
you're the gust that flares up the torches
of resistance and defiance
the gust that sways the stalks of cane and rice  
the gust that dries the sweat  
of tillers and toilers of the land
if you're now turned into dew
clasping the cogon grass and leaves        
in the mountain and observing
the people resting and enfolding
the night 
a piece of dew that shines when
the light of moon grazes your tiny body

if you're now turned into rain
your too fine drops will stroke
the hair and cheeks of friends and dear ones left behind
telling them you are present, abiding
in the heart and blood of the common mass
to whom you offered your life and muse

if you're now turned into fire
you raze the shackles
of abuses, turn iniquity into ash
burn down the suits and skirts
of elitists and pretenders
you are ever the light of homes holding
a sole candle in their midst

and if you're now turned into earth
let us stand tall on your chest
give us a steady foothold
that can withstand medals and thrones
let us sow on your chest
seeds of sustainable freedom
that we will, shall reap in the days to come
The three poets of Himno ng Apoy are rock stars in their own right. One after the other, one catharsis after another, the poems were building into a concert for an important cause: the fight for a just moral order. The music was enough to see us through the night. Hardcore.

Thanks to K.D. for the book. Translations above are mine.