Al héroe olvidado: a response to ‘Mi Ultimo Adios’

rizal_execution_fb_sharingWhat if we see “patria adorada” not as an abstract Mother Land, but as a concrete, flesh-and-blood creature that is you and me? What if it is we Filipinos whom Rizal is talking to? Would it change the way we read the poem? 

Al héroe olvidado

Al héroe olvidado y perdido
Que murió sin ver el antedia
Cuyos esperanzas y sueños nunca se realizaron,
Nos arrodillamos ante a tu memoria
Ofreciéndote la humilde flor,
Y dándote la honor.

En esta noche de la muerte
En los dias oscuros
Vierte tu sangre otra vez
Y que esta ofrenda sagrada
Colore el dia esperado,
De la vida nueva a tu pátria
Que sufre mucho, sufre sin fin, sin falta

No pierdas la esperanza, nuestro héroe
Porque la hora vendrá
Cuando volaremos como el ave sobre tu sepulcro
Cuando proclamaremos el dia
Que esperamos hace años incontados!

Levantad, las ceñizas de la muerte sagrada,
Levantad desde la tierra
Formad la alfombra
Donde por fin nos acostaremos en alegria y paz,
Donde no tendremos que morir para descansar!
Dejad también que el fuego vuelva a incendiar
Tu fuego que brilló valientemente en la oscuridad!

Los muertos no velan solos nunca mas, nuestro héroe
Porque te oimos, te oimos!
Oimos el salterio, la cítara
La música de cien años tambien
Y deja que combinen con nuestras voces,
Las voces que cantarán el cántico de salvacion y paz
Que volverá a dar la vida nueva
A nuestra pátria adorada!

– Nov 2004

To a forgotten hero

Who died without seeing the dawn
Whose hopes and dreams never came true
We kneel before your memory
Offering you a the humble flower
And giving you honor

In this night of death
In these darkest of days
Shed your blood once more
And may this sacred offering
Paint the long-awaited day
The new life of your nation
Which suffers much, without fail, without end

Do not lose hope, our hero
Because the hour will come
When we will fly like the bird upon your grave
When we will announce the day
Which we have waited for so long

Rise, ashes of sacred death
Rise from the land and form the carpet
Where at last we will lie down in joy and peace
Where we do not have to die in order to rest
Let the fire burn once again
The fire that shone bravely in the darkness

The dead will no longer keep their vigil, our hero
Because we hear you, we hear you
We hear the psalter, the zither
The music of a hundred years
And let them combine with our voices
The voices that will sing the canticle of salvation and peace
That will bring life anew to our beloved land

– November 2004
– January 2008

Reading Mi Ultimo Adios inspired me to write this response to Rizal. As I read and re-read his last poem, I came to realize that Rizal wasn’t really talking to an abstract, Mother-figure Philippines to which he wrote the Noli’s dedication, but to a real, concrete Philippines, embodied by you and me. Whatever people may say, whether he was a reformist, a reactionary, or simply not too leftist enough for the Marxist-inclined, he had a contribution to Philippine society, a contribution that transcends yet doesn’t exclude class & political lines.

Behind the glorious imagery of Mi Ultimo Adios, there is undoubtedly a sense of frustration, misery, and failure. Rizal knew that he wouldn’t live long enough to see the dream of a free Philippines come to reality. Though he was glad to have served his country, it must have been frustrating for him who had given his life for a cause whose success would outlive him. (In fact, we’re still waiting for that) Or in a more fundamental sense, he was afraid that his contribution would be unacknowledged, much less appreciated. This is why there are so many images of merging with the country in Mi Ultimo Adios, not to mention a sad image of an unrecognized grave.

Following this line of thought, Rizal wrote his last poem not only to say goodbye but to keep his hopes & dreams alive. And he sought to do that by stating that even in death, he would still be serving his country (his blood coloring the dawn, his ashes carpeting the land). More significantly, he sought to preserve his dreams by asking his country – us – to hear his call and to recognize his death in various ways. And this poem is my way of doing that.)

– 15 July 2006


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