Saturday, January 07, 2006


Chairil Anwar

Chairil Anwar ( 1922 - 1949) was an Indonesian poet who, although he died at an early age and produced fewer than 100 published poems, revolutionized Indonesian poetry by adopting the methods and manner of Western poets: plain, spare, direct language; the organic form of free verse; unflinching and uncompromising honesty in treating his subjects. "Aku" ("Me"), the poem for which he is best-known in his homeland, clearly demonstrates these qualities:


When my time come
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

(Translated by Burton Raffel)

The postwar years were years of enormous change in Indonesia and its culture; Anwar himself fought as a guerrilla against the Dutch attempt to reclaim Indonesia as a colony after the Japanese occupation was ended and witnessed the early stages of Indonesia's emergence into the modern world, with the consequent changes entailed. He saw and experienced the challenges to the dominant Islamic faith, as recounted in "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?

(Translated by Burton Raffel)

Not only religion but all traditional values, including love, are called into question:

"Tuti's Ice Cream"

Between present and future happiness the abyss gapes,
My girl is licking happily at her ice cream;
This afternoon you're my love, I adorn you with cake and Coca-Cola.
Oh wife-in-training, we've stopped the clocks ticking.

You kissed skillfully, the scratches still hurt
-- when we cycled I took you home --
Your blood was hot, oh you were a woman soon,
And the old man's dreams leaped at the moon.

Every day's whim invited you on, every day's whim was different.
Tomorrow we'll fight and turn our backs on each other:
Heaven is this minutes' game.

I'm like you, everything ran by,
Me and Tuti and Hreyt and Amoy . . . dilapidated hearts.
Love's a danger that quickly fades.

(Translated by Burton Raffel)

There are also moments of introspection that raise questions about the meaning of it all:

"Twilight at a Little Harbor"

This time no one's looking 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.

(Translated by Burton Raffel)

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