“ako ang daigdig” by Alejandro Abadilla: An Analysis

My translation of Alejandro Abadilla’s poem “ako ang daigdig” has proven to be the most popular post in my blog thus far. Many of the search items that led people to the post indicate that an analysis was being sought. This consequently gave me the idea of making an analysis of my own.

Here, I will make a close reading of the poem. I will proceed by using English, but will focus on the original Filipino text. Later I shall attempt to translate my analysis to Filipino as a contribution to Filipino Intellectual consciousness.

“Ako ang daigdig” comes in the form of a declaration spoken in the first person, with the persona describing him/herself. Among the descriptions the speaker attributes to him/herself are “daigdig” (“the world”) and “tula” (“the poem” or “poetry”). We thus begin to see that the identity of the persona is open to interpretation, and from there we can say that two possibilities are at hand: the persona is a poem; or that the persona is a human being as a reader.

Taking the first possibility, we can begin by pointing out that the poem employs personification (attributing sentience to a poem). Next, it is necessary to mention that by being a personification in the form of self description, the poem becomes metatextual. The poem describes itself as “the world,” an idea which, we have to say, Derridan Post-structuralism would disagree with, what with the occurrence of différance. Then, it declares, “ako ang daigdig ng tula” (“I am the world of the poem”), which can be interpreted as saying the poem is the source of its own meaning, a hint at what Northrop Frye would call Centripetal Poetics. It is important to note that the exclusivity of meaning within the text is not only the foundation of Formalism, but the implication of restriction of meaning among all poetry within a “langue” is the most basic tenet of Structuralism.  But conversely, it declares “ako ang tula ng daigdig” (“I am the poem of the world”), reflecting another angle of how poems work: as a reflection of the reality of the world. This latter assumption does make the poem (in the general sense) ripe for historical, marxist and socially inclined theoretical reading. We are tempted to assume that Abadilla, who was  most likely influenced heavily by Jose Garcia Villa and the Veronicans, disagreed with this latter poetics, namely by demonstrating that the poem itself does not reflect any social relevance. If we are to succumb to this temptation, the declaration of being the “poem of the world” would thus be a mere manifestation of the poem’s own vanity! Then, the poem describes itself as “walang maliw na ako” (“the I which is unending”) and “walang kamatayang ako” (“the I which is undying”), hinting that immortality of words often described by poets of all ages (A Samoan hyperbolic proverb says “stones rot, but words live forever,” while Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 concludes “So long as man could breathe or eyes could see, so long lives this…”), but also continuing to contribute to our interpretation of a vain poem. Then the poem describes itself as being “matapat sa sarili” (“honest to myself”),  which may be interpreted as an echo of the famous last lines of Archibald Mcleish’s “Ars Poetica,” “a poem must not mean but be,” a call for poetry not to provide interpretations but solidity of specification, in other words the truth in its most concrete. The declaration itself however fails to reveal solidity of specification, and we can only assume that this is further added to the conceit of the speaking poem. We can thus say that thereby, the poem not only mentions the importance of poetic clarity, it has even demonstrated how poems feigning poetic clarity are only being pretentious! Abadilla reminds the reader of the closed nature of poetic meaning by adding “sa aking daigdig ng tula,” (“in my world of the poem”), once again reflecting a structuralist bias. Then, the poem describes itself as “ang damdaming malaya” (the feeling that is free”), “ang larawang buhay” (“the image that lives”), the importance of feeling and the living power of poetry being basic premises of Literary Romanticism, and “ang buhay na walang hanggan” (the life without end”), again a hint of the immortality in words. The third section ends: “damdamin/larawan/buhay/tula/ako” (“feeling/image/life/poem/I”), which we can interpret as a movement of reduction and expansion, from feelings to image (solidity of specification), from image to life (which is to say the image becomes representative of life), from life to poem (the structuralist eschewing of the external world’s influence in meaning), ending with the insistent”I,” which we can interpret in two ways: that the poem’s feelings, images and life are all expressed by the poem’s mere being (again, MacLeish); or, continuing that interpretation of the vain poem, the poem’s insistence to mean (and consequently its insistence to declare its being a poem) ruins the feelings, images, life, and what little poetry there is in the text (instead of being a piece of expression, of image or a reflection of life, the text betrays its attempt too much that the attempt distracts the reader from the message).

If we interpret the poem to be a declaration by the human being as a reader, however, the elements of the poem take on different meanings. The persona’s description of him/herself as “the world of the poem” reflect the reader-response theory of literary reading: the meaning of texts comes entirely from the reader, who ascribes meaning unto the signs presented to him/her.  The declaration “I am the world” thus reflects to an extreme sense Nietzsche’s maxim “man finds in things nothing but what he imports into them.”  Seeking the world, the person only finds the person, and he/she also finds but him/herself in the poem. But then, the persona declares “I am the poem of the world,” and we once again enter Structuralism. To be specific, Structural Marxism: the individual, like a poem, reflects the greater humanity in its individualism as well. In the individual person we find all humankind. On that note, the persona goes on to declare that he/she is deathless and undying, which is particularly true now that we say that he is all mankind: mankind being itself deathless as opposed to the mortality of individuals. We must therefore say that poetry in this line of interpretation means both the text as interpreted, and as a metonym of representation in general. Thus, when the persona declares that he/she is “true to him/herself to his/her world of the poem,” he/she is honestly finding meaning which he/she believes is external to him/herself, and the ascribing of meaning is unwitting. When the persona describes him/herself as “the feeling which is free,” in the context of reading we can say that feelings play a key role in the free ascribing of meaning, often influencing how meaning is ascribed. We can venture into reading hermeneutics in “the image which lives:” the reader not only reads the text and perceives the images, but lives it in real life. And again, there is a reiteration of the immortality of selfhood in the context of identity as manifestation of the collective, here connected to the collective which reads (the persona is deathless because when he lives the image of the text, his life will be the life of generations before him and generations after who have and will read the same text). The conclusion of the third section also acquires a different meaning: the reader feels something, he/she ascribes meaning upon images and perceives this image, he/she lives the meaning drawn from the same image, he/she becomes the “poem” (or the representation, the parole) of all mankind who likewise feels, perceives images and lives, but ultimately (and here the poem veers slightly away from our Structuralist Marxist reading) the individual becomes him/herself, an identity far more than a mere representation.

It is obvious that my analysis at some points becomes too fanciful, but this is the delight of poetry, to freely interpret the given text! Abadilla, with this deceptively simple text, sparks the imaginative reader to draw multiple meanings from it. But is not art, as Roland Barthes would put it, “the crossroad of meaning and interpretation between context, reader and artist?”


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