Chairil Anwar and His Poems

Posted: July 28, 2007 in Chairil Anwar, Indonesian Poet, Poem, Poet

Chairil Anwar, the author of most of the poems in this section, lived only twenty-seven years yet is a major force in modern Indonesian poetry. His influence stems from two sources: one, his innovations in language, which stripped traditional ‘decorative’ and traditionally ‘poetic’ conventions from the Indonesian language, leaving what he called “the germinal word, the germinal image”; two, his short, perhaps tragic life (born in 1922, he fought as a guerrilla against the Dutch colonial rule and died of typhus, tuberculosis and syphilis in 1949, when he was only 27 years old) that coincides with a period of social and political unrest (the end of Japanese rule and the fight for independence from the Dutch) central to the making of modern Indonesia. These poems are translated by Burton Raffel and published in The Voice of the Night: Complete Poetry and Prose of Chairil Anwar (1993).

I cannot give you much information about the last two poems or their authors. The works are reprinted in The Poetry of the World, ed. Jeffrey Paine (New York: Harper Collins, 2000) but without any background or publication information. “Siapapak enghau” is by a contemporary Indonesian writer who appears to be influenced by Chairil Anwar; “My Message” is also a recent work, and apparently the author, a Malaysian poet with English connections [see his name] wrote it originally in English.

Chairil Anwar, “At The Mosque”

I shouted at Him
Until He came

We met face to face.

Afterwards He burned in my breast.
All my strength struggles to extinguish Him

My body, which won’t be driven, is naked with sweat

This room
Is the arena where we fight

Destroying each other
One hurling insults, the other gone mad.

Chairil Anwar, “Me”

When my time comes
No one’s going to cry for me,
And you won’t, either

The hell with all those tears!

I’m a wild beast
Driven out of the herd

Bullets may pierce my skin
But I’ll keep coming,

Carrying forward my wounds and my pain
Until suffering disappears

And I won’t give a damn

I want to live another thousand years

Chairil Anwar, “Heaven”

Like my mother, and my grandmother too,
plus seven generations before them,
I also seek admission to Heaven
which the Moslem party and the Mohammedan
Union say has rivers of milk
And thousands of houris all over.

But there’s a contemplative voice inside me,
stubbornly mocking: Do you really think
the blue sea will go dry
–and what about the sly temptations
waiting in every port?
Anyway, who can say for sure
that there really are houris there
with voices as rich and husky as Nina’s,
with eyes that flirt like Yati’s?

Chairil Anwar, “Willingness”

If you like I’ll take you back

With all my heart.

I’m still alone.

I know you’re not what you were,

Like a flower pulled into parts.

Don’t crawl! Stare at me bravely.

If you like I’ll take you back

For myself, but

I won’t share even with a mirror.

Chairil Anwar, “Twilight at Little Harbor”

This time no one’s lookng for love
down between the sheds, the old houses, among the twittering
masts and rigging. A boat, a prau that will never sail again
puffs and snorts, thinking there’s something it can catch

The drizzle brings darkness. An eagle’s wings flap,
brushing against the gloom; the day whispers, swimming silkily
away to meet harbor temptations yet to come. Nothing moves
and now the sand and the sea are asleep, the waves gone.

That’s all. I’m alone. Walking,
combing the cape, still choking back the hope
of getting to the end and, just once, saying the hell with it
from this fourth beach, embracing the last, the final sob.

Sapardi Djoko Damonno, “Siapapek engkau [Who are you]”

I am Adam
who ate the apple;
Adam suddenly aware of himself,
startled and ashamed,
I am Adam who realized
good and evil, passing
from one sin to another,
Adam continuously suspicious
of himself,
hiding his face.
I am Adam floundering
in the net of space and time,
with no help from reality:
paradise lost
because of my mistrust
of the Presence.
I am Adam
who heard God say
farewell, Adam.

Cecil Rajendra, “My Message”

And now you ask
what is my message
i say with Nabokov
i am a poet
not a postman
i have no message.

but i want the cadences
of my verse to crack
the carapace of indifference
prise open torpid eyelids
thick-coated with silver.

i want syllables
that will dance, pirouette
in the fanatasies of nymphets
i want vowels that float
into the dreams of old men.

i want my consonants
to project kaleidoscopic visions
on the screens of the blind
& on the eardrums of the deaf
i want pentameters that sing
like ten thousand mandolins.

i want such rhythms
as will shake pine
angsana, oak & meranti,
out of their pacific
slumber, uproot them-
selves, hurdle over
buzz-saw & bull-dozer
and rush to crush
with long heavy toes
merchants of defoliants.

i want every punctuation —
full-stop, comma & semi-colon
to turn into a grain of barley,
millet, maize, wheat or rice
in the mouths of our hungry;
i want each & every metaphor
to metamorphose into a rooftop
over the heads of our homeless.

i want the assonances
of my songs to put smiles
on the faces of the sick,
the destitute & the lonely,
pump adrenaline into the veins
of every farmer & worker
the battle-scarred & the weary.

and yes, yes, i want my poems
to leap out from the page
rip off the covers of my books
and march forthrightly to
that sea of somnolent humanity
lay bare the verbs, vowels
syllables, consonants . . . & say
“these are my sores, my wounds:
this is my distended belly:
here i went ragged and hungry:
in that place i bled, was tortured;
and on this electric cross i died.
Brothers, sisters, HERE I AM.”


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