The Coffee Table

Fernando M. Maramag
             Analysis on Selected Poems

Moonlight on Manila Bay (1912)       

Maramag’s Moonlight on Manila Bay reflects the emotion of the persona who, as can be concluded in the first few lines of the poem, is most likely describing how the Manila Bay looks like during nighttime. Or perhaps, the persona is simply recalling the breathtaking seascape from memory and retelling it – either way, there is the concept of reminiscence and appreciation. However, one must also note the choice of words that the poet used in portraying the Manila Bay:

                 A light serene, ethereal glory, rests
                 Its beams effulgent on each cresting wave;
                 The silver touches of the moonlight lave
                 The deep’s bare bosom that the breeze molests;
                 While lingering whispers deepen as the wavy crests
                 Roll with weird rhythm, now gay, now gently grave;
                 And floods of lambent light appear the sea to pave--
                 All cast a spell that heeds not time’s behests.
                                                                                                         Not always such the scene: the din of fight
                                                                                                         Has swelled the murmur of the peaceful air;

From a personal interpretation, while I was reading the lines above, I felt a hint of transcendence as though the persona was pondering on something quite deep. True enough, in the following lines after the eighth one above, the tone changed from that of a praise of beauty to a subtle tone of the reminiscence of a painful memory. It is not necessary, however, that the persona was hurt while illustrating to the reader that particular scene in the Manila Bay. It depends entirely on how one chooses to view the emotions written with the descriptions. For me, I concluded with the tone of a person who is remembering a painful memory from his past because of my background knowledge on the Battle of the Manila Bay in 1898. Maramag was born on 1893 in Ilagan, Isabela; therefore, it is very likely that he had come to know of the battle that took place in the location of this sonnet’s main image.

                                                                            Here East and West have oft displayed their might;
                                                                            Dark battle clouds have dimmed this scene so fair;
                                                                                     Here bold Olympia, one historic night,
                                                                                    Presaging freedom, claimed a people’s care.

East and West refer to both the Spanish and the American forces who dueled for the Philippines’ freedom from the former. Meanwhile, Olympia, may have become a collective that Maramag used for describing the might of the American forces in freeing the Filipinos from Spanish rule. Perhaps the intention of Maramag in writing this poem about a particular event in the history of the Philippines is to remind the Filipinos not to forget such a glorious moment in the past. This intention is parallel to the sentiments of the first eight lines in which a breathtaking moonlight scene in the historical location of the Manila Bay is unforgettable and should not be forgotten at the very least.

Cagayano Peasant Songs (1912)

The Cagayano Peasant Songs is, from my own understanding, divided into three, separate stanzas in which they have an indirect relation with each other. The fact that the images used in the three songs seem like they were not observed in a city, but that of an urban scene, is perhaps the one common denominator that ties the stanzas together in the unity of one, single poem.

                Examples of images are set in bold font:
     In the shady woods I know
     Where the bashful jungle fowls are keeping
     Their helpless young. They are below
     The trees by which the rill is weeping.

         Beneath the rapid’s frown
         Where the white ripples madly run,
         There is where I have known
         Fair itubíi s courted by lurán

And if to me ‘twere only known
Where the heron’s eggs are laid
In the deep still river’s bed,
They were treasures rare to own.

The other common concept is the emotion(s) felt by a Cagayano peasant, as suggested by the poem’s title. Through the observations of a Cagayano peasant while out in the forest or fields, Maramag portrays to the reader the kind of lifestyle that he must have had experienced when he was in his youth. Maramag was not a peasant; in fact, he was born into a rich family owing it all to his parents who were wealthy land owners. It was most likely that Maramag wrote this poem as inspired by the fieldworkers who toiled in his family’s land – to feel how a Cagayano peasant would view the nature around him (the feeling of awe, wonder, and appreciation with a simple lifestyle), and to share these sentiments with his readers.

The Dreamer’s Heritage (1912)

In Maramag’s The Dreamer’s Heritage, the poem talks about a dreamer whose art (music and poetry) is thought of as a heritage which the speaker is happy to inherit. The dreamer’s art is a treasure for the persona that brings joy into his soul. Dulce et Utile can be considered as a main theme revolving in this poem. As implied by the speaker, truth is found in art and serves as inspirations which can influence an individual to perceive things in nature in a more profound way:

And heir am I to a sweet desire
                                To charm from out of all things
Truth’s essence that to the spirit yields
                                Themes for its murmurings:

Ah! not a rose with cankered leaves
                                But claims from me a sigh;
And not a maid with a lyric grace
                                But wakes a lyric cry.

Furthermore, in a stanza preceding the two stanzas above, the speaker shares his opinion of both science and philosophy as lesser than that of art because only art can reach into the depth and core of man’s soul:

                And less are science and philosophy
                                Than an immortal line
                Whose notes sublime in mortal man
                                May reach the man divine.

In the last stanza, Maramag reveals his intentions for writing the poem that a reader may conclude:

                Each feeling finds an echo
                                In ev’ry beauty that I see;
                The music of their form, their poetry--
                                A heritage for me.

The message underlying the last stanza and the whole poem itself is the appreciation for art that Maramag, as a poet, wants the people to have. Going back in history during the struggle for independence, the cry of the Philippines for a revolution was voiced out through poems, stories, and even songs. As S.P. Lopez said, “First, the pen was lifted in the air, then the sword.” It is because of our history and legacy intertwined with art that helped us become who we are today as a nation that Maramag urges the importance of art as an end and as a means of achieving an end.