Pliant is the bamboo;
I am man of earth;
They say that from the bamboo
We had our first birth.
Am I of the body,
Or of the green leaf?
Do I have to whisper
My every sin and grief?
If the wind passes by,
Must I stoop and try
To measure fully
I might have been the bamboo,
But I will be a man.
Bend me then, O Lord,
Bend me if you can.
First impression: On my first reading, I had the impression that the speaker in the poem totally submits to the folk legend of Malakas and Maganda coming out whole from a bamboo afloat at sea and pecked open by a huge bird, as our possible origin of life. And because of that, the speaker is convinces us that we should emulate the flexibility and resilience of the bamboo that gave birth to our race no matter what tragedies may come our way. God is with us anyway.
But after several thinking and re-thinking of the poem’s point, I’ve got second thoughts.
I remember Prof. de Veyra telling us of “unpacking the ideas in the poem by looking at its details and images as closely as possible.” True.
Now, I speculate. What does these first two lines in the opening stanza: “Pliant is the bamboo;/ I am man of earth;/” really suggest? How about lines 5-6: “Am I of the body,/Or of the green leaf?/” And what does the really saying in the last stanza when he writes, “I might have been the bamboo,/ But I will be a man./ Bend me then, O Lord,/ Bend me if you can.//” Is the speaker challenging an established notion (or unconsciously accepted notion) of something? Is he really protesting of something that was already there but shouldn’t really be there in the first place? It’s getting really abstract now. But the thing here is, the lines gives us a hint of something hidden. The challenge is to look at it closely by examining its possible point or significance.
Pliant is the bamboo;/ I am man of earth; <-- The speaker compares himself to the resiliency and flexibility of the bamboo but submits to no pre-established notion other than his own sense of “world.”
They say that from the bamboo/ We had our first birth. <-- The legend tells us that we came whole from a bamboo afloat at sea and pecked open by a huge bird.
Am I of the body,/ Or of the green leaf? <-- The speaker asks these after putting himself over against the notion of our “first birth.”
Do I have to whisper/ My every sin and grief? <-- He is somewhat in strong disapproval of the people’s submissive attitude towards this belief of their possible origin. The poem casts a challenging judgment upon our possible nature as a people, from the image and mythology of our bamboo origin.
If the wind passes by, /Must I stoop, <-- Here, he speaks of his already fixed cry of protest against the colonizers that brought change in his native ground. Must he indeed submit to their foreign impositions? Huh~
and try/ To measure fully/ My flexibility? <-- Must he stoop and take pride of his resiliency like that of a bamboo?
I might have been the bamboo,/ But I will be a man. <-- Here, the speaker admits that he and his people have for a long time been like the bamboo. They have stooped long enough. But should now take a bold stand for what they deemed righteous for their native ground, even at the expense of another change to come along the way.
Bend me then, O Lord, / Bend me if you can. <-- This line affirms the speaker’s cry of protest. God may be the Almighty One who will, in the end of time, judge our sins, but here, the speaker’s bold decision is fixed and final. He defies God. He also asserts that he would no longer be submissive or obedient to any foreign ruling or imposition for it has modified his native ground. I think, the speaker here is a pagan of some sort.
(I really don't know. I think I'm just over-reading things.)
After discussion: The poem looks specifically to the Philippine culture.
*A bamboo is a grass that is hollow inside that's why is bends with the wind. It is a symbol of melancholy. The bamboo is the central image in the poem. Hence, it becomes the base of argument.
*Filipinos are known to be a resilient race. We are like the bamboo. When we fall, we immediately get up as if nothing happens. We even laugh at our problems. And we seldom worry because we are happy people and worrying is not part of our cultural constitution. That why many foreigners took advantage of this. We easily bend to foreign powers. And through time, we have never learned our lessons.
*The male speaker in the poem compares himself with the different parts and characteristic of the bamboo: body, leaf, sighing of the bamboo, the bending of the bamboo. But in the end, the speaker is asserts an idea that "NO. WE ARE NOT ANYMORE THE RESILIENT BAMBOO YOU ARE THINKING OF"
A PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH WRITES A LETTER
I tell you, Len Casper, I can talk now
Gullibly and even write you this letter.
Hard though English meanings be, I blow
My hands-- and it will no longer matter.
My heart feeling still with the young, the keel
of its passion will be toughened by time,
And I have moved wills; modern steel
I can fashion earnestly for my ancient rhyme.
So I talk of my students---or to them?
Ah, that's the "rub." they understand
What might be got, if they would hem
In a thought or two, but will they hand
In their homework? They guiltily smile,
Shy as caught lobsters, and say
They have bought no books, while
They go on thinking courses are kind of play.
So I patiently point to them each unseen meaning
Beyond their ken, say to them the future
Is not a wish but a leaning
Upon act, then shaped to the suture
Of separate parts: a relation of form.
And they look not even surprised; then
Someone rises and wriggles like a worm:
Sir, what's the use of struggling among men?
Answer that, I throw back to the class,
Only to witness surprised confusion. Aye--
It's good to look at eyes shining like glass,
At some attempts too shocked to answer why.
Challenge? The class bell rings. All suddenly
To sing the national anthem. The stillness gropes,
And one wonders if the sudden question of rice
Will drive them toward cold terrors of hope.
For what?I walk to the next room, the next
It's never finished---the struggle, the shame,
The guilt. Whose? Who of them shall ask
Himself?And,daily,it shall be the same.
First impression: Just another teacher ranting about his disappointments on his students.
*The poet has an affiliation with the scholar Lanard Casper. It was Casper who included the works of Daguio in his anthology.
*The speaker in the poem is an English professor writing a letter addressed to Len Casper. Daguio writes Casper a letter because he looks up to him. He tells him about the reality of teaching English to Filipino students. He is telling this in a half-serious-half-frivolous tone. Whereas he teaches them passionately, his students worry something else as if they don't really care about the lesson he is heartily prepared for them. But although it's a tiresome, he admits that at the end of the day, it could also be a fulfilling job.
BLOOM OF WATERS CALL
The tide bloom of waters wove
No words for my green book;
My knowledge was a sun-cry,
But fair cliffs were no answer.
So my young ache was made old,
And my heart toughened to leather,
Wrong eyes could not fence off
Oceans of clamoring geese.
Though the green isles called black,
Strange was the wake of my vessel,
In the night ice of this straight land
White ferns became my fingers.
But the long orchids called for violets,
The clean waters of clay jars gleamed,
My blood whispered: Wanderer, return
To yellow green aches of rice fields.
That is why in the dark, my heart
Finding no home, silence is bitter
The tide bloom of waters call,
I am listening to far bells.
*I like the lyrical quality of the poem. The poem is made up mellifluous lines.
*The poem is in five quatrains and in free verse.
*I think the poem speaks about being away from home. "My blood whispered: wanderer, return/ To yellow green aches of rice fields.// That is why in the dark, my heart/ Finding no home, silence is bitter/ knowledge.