Monday, August 30, 2021

Man of Earth: a Poem by Amador T. Daguio (Critical Analysis)

This is a critical analysis of the poem Man of Earth by Amador T. Daguio (1912-1966). Daguio penned this poem in 1932 when he was only 20 years old. It's one of Daguio's most well-known poems. It's been anthologized a good number of times and is a mainstay in literature subjects and courses in the country. 

Man of Earth
by Amador T. Daguio

Pliant is the bamboo;
I am a man of earth;
They say that from the bamboo
We had our first birth.

- Daguio states a fact in the first line. The bamboo is pliant in the sense that it can bend without breaking. In the third and fourth lines, Daguio alludes to the Filipino creation myth of the first man and woman emerging from a split bamboo. The two lines offer an explanation as to why we are pliant - we are sons and daughters of the pliant bamboo tree.

Substitute the word "Filipino" to the word "bamboo" in the first line and it would make things clearer. "Pliant is the Filipino; I am a man of earth."

Am I of the body,
Or of the green leaf?
Do I have to whisper
My every sin and grief?

- In this stanza, Daguio wrestles with a question. Is the Filipino comparable to the body of the bamboo tree or to its leaves? Is the Filipino like the body which is pliant? Or is he like the leaves who whisper and bicker among themselves? If you stand near a bamboo grove and there's a little bit of wind in the air, the rustle of the leaves sounds like whispers of "sin and grief".

If the wind passes by,
Must I stoop and try
To measure fully
My flexibility?

- Many readers would understand this stanza as referring to being resilient despite a challenge or challenges. I don't think this is Daguio's ultimate message. Again, he's wrestling with a question here. I think what he's saying is that if you are faced with a formidable challenge, are you going to stoop to the level of that challenge and follow it's lead? The way a bamboo tree tends to follow the lead of the incoming wind? Or would you rather defy the incursion of the wind?

I might have been the bamboo,
But I will be a man.
Bend me then, O Lord,
Bend me if you can.

- This stanza answers the question in the previous stanza. Daguio admits that the Filipino has been a bamboo in the past. But not anymore. From now on, the Filipino is going to be a man. He isn't going to follow the lead of the winds. He is going to defy them. This is why he is hurling a challenge at the Almighty - come and try to bend me...if you can. That's defiance. That's not the way of the bamboo. 

Closing Remarks

I think what Daguio is trying to say here is that being pliant like the bamboo is an obsolete way to describe the Filipino. Simply going with the motion of the winds isn't a good thing. It's time for the Filipino to be sturdy and brave. To stand against the wind. To not whisper his every sin and grief. Instead, he should shout these out against the wind.

One way of understanding a poem is to look at the time it was written. Man of Earth was written in 1932. There were a few important events occurring in the Philippines during this time. One such event was the convention between the United States of America and Great Britain delimiting the boundary between the Philippine archipelago and the State of North Borneo. It's possible that Daguio used "winds" in his poem as a substitute for the nations that took turns in colonizing the country.

(Another great story by Amador Daguio you should read is The Wedding Dance. This is a story set in the Cordillera region and featuring Igorot characters.)