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Rizal's Revolutionary Poem

Rizal's Revolutionary Poem

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Published by bcouttie
Rizal's poem known as 'Mi Ultimo Adios', although he gave it no name, is rarely read in the original Spanish and most translations range from appalling to bad. This interpretation of the first key verses draws on Rizal as a classically educated creative writer and formally trained artist using sources that range from Filipino legend to Jewish folklore and stories of the ancient world.
Rizal's poem known as 'Mi Ultimo Adios', although he gave it no name, is rarely read in the original Spanish and most translations range from appalling to bad. This interpretation of the first key verses draws on Rizal as a classically educated creative writer and formally trained artist using sources that range from Filipino legend to Jewish folklore and stories of the ancient world.

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Published by: bcouttie on Sep 10, 2010
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Last WordsOf a Revolutionary
Translating AndInterpreting Mi Ultimo Adios
Bob Couttie
 
Anyone who has taken an interest in Philippine history knows the story of Jose Rizal’s death poem,known today as Mi Ultimo Adios. The original bears no title or date or even Rizal’s signature,which are minor mysteries in themselves, and was written sometime before the evening of December 29 when he gave it to his sister hidden inside an oil heater he’d used for his food with thewhispered words in English or Visayan, depending on the source “There’s something inside”.Within days of his execution, Rizal’s poem, his last words, had been copied and were being passedaround a country in the throes of revolution. We do not know whether its words inspired therevolutionaries but his words can read as a mandate to fight.But was such a subterfuge, the smuggling out of the poem, really necessary? After all, Rizal hadspent his last days writing letters to friends like Ferdinand Blumentritt in which he protested hisinnocence so why smuggle out a poem that, on the surface, is merely an affectionate farewell to hiscountry with a sideswipe at the friars? True, the friars might have wanted to suppress it, but if Rizalhad thoroughly repudiated revolution then the Spanish authorities had little to fear. Or did they?During discussions on the RP-Rizal Yahoo group about various translations of Mi Ultimo Adios Italked of a particularly horrible English version and was forced to go back to the Spanish original tocheck on a term I wanted to use as an example. As I re-read the poem, even though my Spanish is atbest rudimentary, it seemed to me that at least some words in the original had layers of meaning thatdisappeared in translation.Rizal was an extremely nuanced writer. He chose his words and their presentation with precision.Words are containers for a multiplicity of meanings, some of which may not necessarily transferdirectly to another word in another language.As I checked the Spanish against the English it seemed that there was another, almost silent songrunning underneath it. One that Rizal hoped would reach the right ears.Is there a secret message in Mi Ultimo Adios? Is there ‘something inside’?I shall not attempt to translate the poem into a poem but to explore the original Spanish text verseby verse.
 
I shall not attempt to translate the poem into a poem but to explore the original Spanish text verseby verse.Verse 1¡Adiós, Patria adorada, región del sol querida,Perla del mar de oriente, nuestro perdido Edén!A darte voy alegre la triste mustia vida,Y fuera más brillante, más fresca, más florida,También por ti la diera, la diera por tu bien.The Derbyshire translation, the earliest but not necessarily, the most accurate has it:Farewell, dear Fatherland, clime of the sun caress’dPearl of the Orient seas, our Eden lost!,Gladly now I go to give thee this faded life’s best,And were it brighter, fresher, or more blestStill would I give it thee, nor count the cost (Derbyshire)The term ‘Fatherland’ is less popular today, bearing as it does association with the Nazis of WW2but ‘motherland’, as some translations indeed have it, is more correct because ‘Patria’ is a femininenoun. Some translations use ‘country’ which, while not incorrect does not have the overtones of Patria.Patria here is a holistic term involving more than physical location and borders, it is everythingwithin it that makes the nation and identifies its people and its values, all those things which areseen as unique to it. Patria is the mother-entity which bore us, gave us birth and nurtured and nursedus into being and to which we owe love and loyalty as we do our own mothers and our adoration,which goes beyond love.“región del sol querida”, introduces the male principle, the Sun, which sustains and loves the femaleprinciple, the Patria. Patria is the Sun’s beloved, its ‘querida’. This un can also be read as liwanag,the enlightenment that leads to redemption and liberty.Note the singularity of Patria and región. This Patria is not a mere aggregation of people and placesbut a single, unified whole inherently deserving our love and loyalty.“Perla del mar de oriente, nuestro perdido Edén!” translates easily enough: “Pearl of the Oriente(Eastern) Sea, our lost Eden!” A pearl has beauty and worth but it remains hidden and inaccessiblewithin its shell until we make the effort to seek it out, we must struggle to find it.The lost Eden harks back to Rizal’s vision of the untainted pre-Hispanic Philippines, an imaginarytime of purity and innocence. Yet there is more: in the biblical story, the serpent persuades Eve tosurrender her innocence and she then persuades Adam to surrender his and as a result God expelsthem from the Garden of Eden. The Serpent and Eve echo the famous Blood Compact of Sikatunaand a variety of treaties and alliances through which the Spanish ‘seduced’ the Filipinos and theFilipinos surrendered their innocence and thereby lost their Eden.Thus, the pearl, the thing of beauty and worth, the Eden, is shuttered and inaccessible within itsshell and we must struggle to find the pearl and make it ours.“A darte voy alegre la triste mustia vida,” here I have to proceed cautiously. The readings I have forthis line differ significantly from virtually every other translation: “I will give you happiness in yoursad life” rather than “Gladly now I go to give thee this faded life’s best” in the Derbyshiretranslation but most others seem to follow a similar line. Rizal now introduces himself as an actor inthe poem, one who is offering happiness to the Patria’s sad life.The penultimate line – “Y fuera más brillante, más fresca, más florida,” – is translated inDerbyshire, and in sense elsewhere, as “And were it brighter, fresher, or more blest…” Yet theSpanish has the clear sense of “Outside, it is brighter, fresher, more flowery (or, to coin a word

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