The Form, Language, and Speech of Philippine Poetry

Poetry in the Philippines is not different from its other counterparts around the world. In the early 1900s, Filipino poetry celebrated romanticism, and several poems about love flourished. Eventually, as the years went on, poetry became more formalist—the emphasis of the poetry is more on the form and language that the poet used, rather than the theme itself. Then, modern poetry sprouted, and nowadays, writers are more adventurous in their craft. Here are some elements of poetry that local writers use in their poems.

Senses and images are used by the writer to describe their impressions of their topic or object of writing. The writer uses carefully chosen and phrased words to create imagery that the reader can see through his or her senses. The kinds of sense impressions in poetry are categorized in mainly the following: visual imagery (what the writer wants you to see); olfactory imagery (what the writer wants you to smell); gustatory imagery (what the writer wants you to taste); tactile imagery (what the writer wants you to feel); and auditory imagery (what the writer wants you to hear).

Diction is another important element in Filipino poetry. In fact, Filipino writers are very careful of the way they write and the words they use to form their poems. Diction is the denotative and connotative meaning of the words in a sentence, phrase, paragraph, or poem.

Rhyme scheme is the way the author arranges words, meters, lines, and stanzas to create a coherent sound when the poem is read out loud. It may be formal or informal, depending on the way the poem was written by the poet.

Senses, imagery, diction, and rhyme scheme are emphasized in this canonical poem, “Gabu,” one of the most widely read local poems in English by Carlos Angeles. Carlos Angeles was born on 25 May 1921 in Tacloban, Leyte. He finished his undergraduate degree in the University of the Philippines and his work has been included in poetry anthologies in the United States. His poetry collection, Stun of Jewels, won the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in Literature back in 1964; he also won the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in Poetry in the same year. He is an active member of many Filipino-American press clubs in the US, where he currently resides. His poem, “Gabu,” is said to be one of the most well-loved Filipino poems written in English.

The poem is about a coastline in Ilocos that has been weathered away by the battering of the restless sea. Somehow, the persona of the poem is able to relate it with one’s situation in life: The line, “It is the sea pursues a habit of shores,” has many possible interpretations. Can you discuss with your partner a possible interpretation that you have for that last line?

Now, can you guess the rhyming scheme of the poem? The poem has four quatrains, with the last one offset by only one line that concludes the poem quite well. Which lines rhyme with each other? How does this rhyming scheme add to the beauty of the poem?

Another element of poetry used frequently is the idea of a speaker. The speaker in the poem is the voice that talks to the reader. Sometimes, it refers to itself as “I” or “me” or, sometimes, in the third person (she, he, his, her). You should also note that the speaker is not necessarily the poet. The poet may have a different persona in mind while writing the poem and may have not taken the situations in the poem from his or her life experiences.

The structure of the poem is the arrangement of words and lines, either together or apart. It also refers to the way the interdependent parts of it are organized to form a whole poem.

Word order is either the natural or the unnatural arrangement of words in a poem. A poet may use a word grammatically or not—often called as poetic license—and may invent words, too. Sometimes, as is common in Filipino writers who write in English, Filipino poets use local words to add more locality to a given poem. If the Filipino word also does not have a direct English translation, then the poet may use the Filipino word and italicize it for emphasis.

Filipino poetry, although greatly influenced by the previous colonizers of the country, stands on its own when it comes to its unique elements. There is a certain voice that Filipino poetry offers – one which a fellow Filipino like you can relate to, especially when you apply these in real-life situations.