20 December 2008

Cirilo Bautista's "Pedagogic"

This is one of my favorite poems:

by Cirilo F. Bautista

I walked towards the falling woods
to teach the trees all that I could

of time and birth, the language of men,
the virtues of hate and loving.

They stood with their fingers flaming,
Listened to me with a serious mien:

I knew the footnotes, all the text,
my words were precise and correct—

I was sure that they were learning—
till one tree spoke, speaking in dolor,
to ask why I never changed color.

Bautista's first language is Tagalog. He started out writing short stories and poems in Tagalog and has written two novels in that language. He is also considered as the most important poet in English in the Philippines, having won practically all the available prizes in that field.

Notice, however, that the rhyme scheme fails if we pronounce "mien" the American or British way. To make the rhyme work, we have to pronounce "mien" the way Filipinos do (to rhyme with "men" with a hard E). Here is a clear case of literary critics having to take into account local linguistic conditions, instead of reading a text as though a "native speaker" had written it.


  1. Isn't "native speaker" suspect, full of racist overtones? Also, isn't there such a concept as "visual rhyme" to account for "men" and "mien"? And while the formalist is at it why not dismantle "woods" and "could"?