(August is the Month of the National Language in the Philippines, and I usually celebrate it by making translations from and to Filipino. To kick off this year’s month, I translated my favorite Rilke poem to Filipino. I must confess I am not proficient in German. Instead, I made use of an English Translation while scrutinizing the original German using Google Translate. I am confident that my Filipino translation is loyal to the original’s meaning, but I have taken the liberty to incorporate rhyme in it.)
Rainer Maria Rilke
Die Einsamkeit ist wie ein Regen.
Sie steigt vom Meer den Abenden entgegen;
von Ebenen, die fern sind und entlegen,
geht sie zum Himmel, der sie immer hat.
Und erst vom Himmel fällt sie auf die Stadt.
Regnet hernieder in den Zwitterstunden,
wenn sich nach Morgen wenden alle Gassen
und wenn die Leiber, welche nichts gefunden,
enttäuscht und traurig von einander lassen;
und wenn die Menschen, die einander hassen,
in einem Bett zusammen schlafen müssen:
dann geht die Einsamkeit mit den Flüssen…
Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
Loneliness is like the rain.
It rises from the sea toward evening
and from distant plains moves into sky
where it ever belongs.
And from the sky it falls upon us in the city.
It rains here below in the twilight hours
when alleyways wind toward morning
and when lovers, finding nothing,
leave the failure of each other’s arms,
and when two who loathe each other
must share the same bed:
Then loneliness flows with the rivers…
Ang Kalungkutan, parang ulan.
Hahayaw ito tungo sa gabi mula sa karagatan;
Mula sa mga malalawak na kapatagan,
Susubang sa kanyang nararapat na kalangitan.
At mula doon, maaalindahaw sa mga bayan.
Tuwing sa mga alanganing oras uulan,
kumakatay tungo sa umaga ang mga daan,
Sa pagkapalaw ng mga nag-iibigan,
ang isa’t isa ay kanilang bibiyaan;
at sa tuwing ang dalawa na kapwa nagsisimuhian
ay mapipilitang dumulog sa iisang higaan:
Sabay sa ilog ang agos ng Kalungkutan…
Sir Steven P. C. Fernandez asked me if he could use extracts from my review of his one act play Ming Ming as blurb for a performance of the play. I was honoured of course. But perhaps the greatest reward would be to finally get to see the play performed!
(The following poem appeared in the Bisaya Magasin on 11 July 2012. An English translation appears for the first time here on this blog)
Didto’s bukid, ang uwan
sa mga gitisok natong humay,
tagaan ta’g katuyoan
nga mamaylo’g asoy ug kalingawan
Sa sawog sa atong mga lag-kaw –
tagaan ko’g kahigayonan
nga mosip-ig nimo
sa silong sa gunit mong
dahon sa gabi.
Dinhi’s lungsod, ang uwan
ang gimason kong semento,
pulihan ra ang signal sa antena
ug wa’y TVing kalaay –
pahinumdomon ra ko
nga nabiyaan nato ang matag-usa:
ikaw, didto’s bukid sa akong nabiyaang kagahapon;
ako, ania, ginahandom
ang gibilin mong dahon sa gabi,
nga sa di magdugay malaya ra
sama sa akong paglaom.
Back in the farmlands, the rain
would bring a freshness
to the rice we sowed on the fields,
it would give us a reason
to exchange stories and amusement
on the floors of our huts –
it would give me a reason
to cuddle with you
beneath the taro leaf you hold
Here in the city, the rain
will just wash away
the cement poured on the road,
it will just replace the antenna’s signal
with TV-less ennui –
it will just remind me
that we had left one another:
you, there, in the farmlands of my left behind yesterday
I, here, reminiscing
the taro leaf you left behind
that, soon hereafter will just wilt away
like my hopes
(Another image poem)
this fragile endlessness
like life, a thread between sea and sky –
(something I wrote as a requirement while I was still a college student, to make up for this week’s quota of review. It doesn’t encompass all my impressions on the film, which I personally adored. Thank you to Jude Lastimosa for making me bring this up.)
The most obvious Shinto element that could be found in Hayao Miyazaki’s Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away in the English release) is the belief in a vast pantheon of kami, which could be more accurately called Divine spirits rather than gods. These kami are often associated with particular objects in nature, something also shown in the animated movie (example include the Daikon-kami, the river god and Haku). In Shinto mythological hierarchy, the kami occupy the top tier, with everything else just beneath them. This is very much evident in the anime’s kami – bathhouse scenario, where they are treated as costumers (Miyazaki also deserves to be commended for taking advantage of the Japanese dedication to serving costumers). Particulars of Shinto divinity are also shown, such as the distinction between kami and mortals, and how they are not supposed to even eat one another’s food.
Being in the bathhouse, another distinctly Shinto concept is revealed, that of kiyome (purity) and kegare (impurity). On the most graphic level we see this in the scenes concerning the river god, who enters the bathhouse filthy and being the object of all the other characters’ disgust. The viewer sees this god’s transition from that state to the state of purity in a most cathartic way.
In this graphic representation of these concepts, the efficacious symbol of water plays a prominent role. Many of the characters (all of whom are kami) are related to water, and all of them are agents of purification. The very nature of the bathhouse shows the archetype of water as an agent of purification, an archetype maid most evident in the contrast between water and the river god’s sludge.
But the contrast between the two states thereby portrayed is not the only facet shown. It needs be noted that impurity in Shinto is not a negative presence of something bad but a negative absence of something good, a belief which is converse to the western conception of the purity-impurity dichotomy. This theme is most evident in that ubiquitous symbol of water, which, as purity, is present and tangible and not merely the absence of filth. The difference of the dichotomy’s understanding in the Shinto sense to that of the western is seen in the growth of the giant baby, who is kept “clean” in the western sense of the idea (and who is even cloistered in a European themed room) but who is in character quite “unclean,” lacking any sympathy. “Purity” therefore is not removing something negative, not merely “sterility,” but gaining something positive, in the baby’s case, experience.
But perhaps most importantly, Spirited Away’s most distinctly Shinto element is its main theme, the harmonious co-existence between nature (personified in the spirit of the kami) and man. The two need one another, nature to help man gain kiyome, man to help nature maintain it. For the first case, we see this in Chihiro’s and Haku’s interactions, most evidently when Haku (a kami) feeds Chihiro a piece of the kami’s food (which, being of the world of kami, is pure). By eating the food, Chihiro “gains” presence. On a more subtle level, her growth as a character is greatly influenced by the kami around her: she develops politeness because of the Daikon-kami, thoughtfulness and commitment to duty because of the River God, and courage because of Haku. Her achievement of the virtue of purity is such that, when we see her hold on to her mother as they come of the passage at the end of the movie (a seen we also see in the beginning) we realize that the act has gained a more positive meaning: far from cowering behind them, she is now wary of protecting her loved ones. The second case is evident in how Chihiro (during the time she is known as Sen) helps the kami in the bathhouse. She helps the river god purify himself (again, the most graphic portrayal of the theme), she helps no-face acquire friends, she helps Haku remember his name (this time, kegare as incompleteness displayed) and she helps the giant baby gain experience.
In Spirited Away we now see that spirituality in the Shinto sense of the term involves an intimate connection with nature. The movie’s message that spiritual development is key to addressing environmental crises therefore would necessarily make sense. If this was the universal definition of spirituality, then I would be more proactive in living a spiritual life!
Kapitbahay lang natin ang mga sinasamba nating diyos: A translation to Filipino of “The gods we worship live next door” by Bienvenido SantosPosted: July 13, 2012
(This translation was made some time ago and first appeared on my Facebook account. It is a creative translation, which means at some points I took the liberty in meaning to match rhyme, but I took care to keep the poem’s original thought.)
The gods we worship live next door
The gods we worship live next door. They’re brown
and how easily they catch cold sneezing
too late into their sleeves and brandishing
their arms in air. Fear grips us when they frown
as they walk past our grim deformities
dragging with them the secret scent of love
bought by the ounce from gilded shops above
the rotunda of the bright cities.
In the cold months of fog and heavy rains
our gods die one by one and caskets golden
are borne on the hard pavements at even
down roads named after them, across the plains
where all gods go. Oh, we outlive them all,
but there are junior gods fast growing tall.
Kapitbahay lang natin ang mga sinasamba nating diyos
Kapitbahay lang natin ang mga sinasamba nating diyos. Maiitim
At kay dali nilang sipunin
Huli nang bumabahing
sa mga manggas na mamahalin,
At iwinawagayway ang mga kamay sa hangin.
Nababalot tayo ng takot
Kapag sila’y napasisimangot
Ang ating malalagim na karimlan,
kaladkad nila ang alindog
Ng mga maluluhong pabangong handog
Ng mga kay sosyal na tindahan, doon
Sa mga rotunda ng nagliliwanagang nayon
Sa malalamig na mga buwan ng ulan at gabon
Isa-isang namamatay ‘tong mga diyos, kinakahon
sa mga maliligdong na kabaong, at magagarbong porlon
ang nagpaparada sa kanila sa mga daananan
– na sa kanila rin (o sa ninuno) pinangalan-
Tungo doon, lagpas pa sa hacienda, kung saan
Lahat ng diyos ay mamamahinga.
A! Mas magtatagal tayo sa kanila
Ngunit ayan, may mga umuudlot na namang diyos, mas bata!
After giving a lecture organized by the Society of Ateneo Literature and English Majors (SALEM) in 2010 (then under the leadership of Glyd Arañes), fictionist Dominique Cimafranca looked for me among the participating students. I and sir Dom (he was a teacher and I was a student) were still not acquainted then, but I had several works published in Dagmay already, and we thus had a regular email correspondence about how my submissions could be improved. He called for “Karlo,” but at that time there were two Karlo’s in SALEM, and both I and Karlo Casas responded.
“Oh, I mean the Lefthanded snake” sir Dom said, referring to my email address. As I approached him, I realized how distinct my nom de plume was.
I came up with “Lefthanded snake” when I was 16, while in fourth year High School. It was a year before that, while in third year, that I decided to make writing a central part of my life. The stories I wrote were ripe with the mushy romance anyone would set on ink if they were that age, but they still reflected that deviant idiosyncrasy that is so ingrained in me. But if one were to observe in retrospect these stories in chronological order, a gradual shift to the macabre and the hopeless is observable, for the deviant idiosyncrasy had, for much of my third year in High School, alienated me from my peers and pushed me towards involuntary isolation, and writing became an outlet for the brewing depression.
On the summer before fourth year high school, I fancied drowning away the angst by reading. This fed my store of knowledge, and by the time classes were about to begin, classmates found, in the place of the recluse weirdo they knew, an absurdist, social darwinist and atheist who was not afraid to be antagonistic to the outdated hypocrisies of the Catholic private school.
And this new found polemic erudition also brought about a change in my writing. One will observe, from stories of gory disembowelment, a sudden shift to stories (and mostly essays) glorifying the inequality of society, mocking the hypocrisy of religious people, satirizing the favoritism of teachers, decrying the inhumanity in bullying, pointing out the pointlessness of life. I was a full fledged polemicist, and the Powers of that World (a term I often used back then) where unsettled, because I was also an honour student.
Like anyone opposing established ideas, I suffered ostracism and ridicule. I was labeled, among other things, bitter, arrogant, freak, evil and antichrist. “My opinions are wrong,” I was told. Von Quezon found it an amusing habit to ask me if I still believed there was no god whenever I passed him by.
It was understandably a horrible experience. But in a strange, almost perverted way it was also gratifying, to be condemned as a heretic. Far more than higher resolution to defend freedom of expression, Courage, to some extent, springs from the primal delight at being victim to an aberration of justice.
And because this gratified courage is largely subconscious, it was also subconsciously that I came up with a moniker to encapsulate my unpopular polemics. This was not the first time I was criticized for a part of my identity: for as long as I could remember I was mocked for my poor penmanship, caused by this lefthandedness that prioritized jotting down thought over making pretty periods. Also, when people began demonizing me for my disquieting ideas, the image of the snake – always a negative image in this land where “Mucalinda” sounds like a dance and “Naga” is all about Bicol and has nothing to do with bodhi – came to mind. Those who are lefthanded are considered deviant, I thought, and snakes are culturally despised. What could be worse than a Lefthanded snake!
And I would wear the name like a medal for pissing people off for the next five years.
I would not realize the post-structuralist implications of the name until college. “Lefthanded snake,” I realized, is logically impossible: snakes do not have hands, how can they be lefthanded? But strangely enough, that does not prevent one from perceiving the singular negative connotation surrounding the name. This is because the component concepts of lefthandedness and the snake both play negative roles in a closed system where value is assigned relationally and to some extent arbitrarily. True to my mission of pointing out the senselessness of believing in value, the nom de plume demonstrates how the negativity of lefthandedness and snakes – and consequently the negativity of things in general – are mere figments of the human imagination. There is nothing negative about a “lefthanded snake,” just as there is nothing negative about my ideas.
I first used the name on my email address (Lefthandedsnake@yahoo.com). Later, I began using it online as an account name. I ended up keeping it, largely out of sheer fondness, and partly because of the lack of an alternative. The email address was what I used to submit entries to Dagmay, and it was the email address sir Dom first came to know me by . It was the clear choice for pseudonym when I was accepted as fellow to the Iyas Creative Writing Workshop in 2011. Earlier this year, I created this blog, with the nom as its title. It will be five years this year since I first used it, and I have no intention of abandoning it.
I have been, and continue to be, the Lefthanded Snake!