Decoding Mi Ultimo Adios – Verse 3

Yo muero cuando veo que el cielo se colora

Y al fin anuncia el día tras lóbrego capuz;

si grana necesitas para teñir tu aurora,

Vierte la sangre mía, derrámala en buen hora

Y dórela un reflejo de su naciente luz.

I die just when I see the dawn break,

Through the gloom of night, to herald the day;

And if color is lacking my blood thou shalt take,

Pour’d out at need for thy dear sake,

To dye with its crimson the waking ray. (Derbyshire)

It was line four of this verse that first brought home the inadequacy of most translations. Rizal talks of his blood being shed “en buen hora”, or, in a literal English translation, at ‘the good hour”. Derbyshire has this as “Pour’d out at need”, a version by Frank Hilario has it as “pour at such beneficial hour,” while Victor Elazio has it a “at a good hour”. A version used in the Sound and Light Presentation in Intramuros has it as ‘in good hour’.

In fact, en buen hora is a term that has equivalents in several Latinate languages, in French it is la bonne heure, but no real equivalent in English and the literal translation “the good hour” does not really represent the same meaning. Thus the Derbyshire, Hilario and Elazio translations (The Intramuros translation is nonsensical) give it the sense of shedding Rizal’s blood at an appropriate time.

The term refers to early dawn, at, and shortly, after sunrise when the air is fresh and clear and the day is new, the precise time, in fact, when he was executed. It’s hardly likely that Rizal would be offering to shed his blood at an opportune moment, as suggested in the translations, if he was already dead, whatever his belief might be in the afterlife, he has already shed it.

The message here is that our lack of familiarity with Rizal’s language necessarily separates us from its meaning. This should be a matter of concern. Verse 3, and its various translations demonstrate why.

Just a verse 2 relates to verse 1 through sacrifice for the redemption of the Patria, verse 3 builds on verse 2 – for Rizal, he is to die as the moment of redemption is at hand.

Here are three translations from those mentioned earlier:

I die just when I see the dawn break,

Through the gloom of night, to herald the day; (Derbyshire)

I die as I see the sky flushes with color
And announces day at last, after a dark night; (Hilario)

And at last, the day breaks clad in a mournful cape (Elazio)

What Rizal actually writes is:

Yo muero cuando veo que el cielo se colora

Y al fin anuncia el día tras lóbrego capuz;

While Elizio concatenates the first two lines he retains an significant word which he translates as ‘cloak’ but which can also translate as ‘cowl’ – capuz. Hilario wisely retains the reference to colour which is lost in the Derbyshire translation. Another translation has the phrase “as dawn unfurls its colours’. The significant word is colora but the most significant image is of dawn.

Dawn appears frequently in Rizal’s writings in the context of liberation. In a letter left with a friend in Hong Kong to be published after his death he writes: “I shall die blessing my country and wishing her the dawn of redemption”. Through Padre Florentino in El Filisterismo he says “When the people rise to this height, God provides the weapon, and the idols fall, the tyrants fall like a house of cards, and freedom shines in the first dawn.” (My italics).

That Rizal is using the same image reference in the third verse of Mi Ultimo Adios is certainly not speculation nor over-reading. “I die seeing the dawn colour”, or ‘become coloured’ or “as I see the colours of the dawn’, are not unreasonable paraphrases into English. The colour of dawn, in this imagery is red, the colour of blood, the colour of combat and he sees the dawn of freedom as something imminent.

Other layers of meaning are worth noting. The term ‘colour’ can also refer to a flag. When a ship, or a regiment, go into battle they ‘raise their colours’, their identifying symbol in combat. Rizal has already referred to this combat in verse 2.

When we get to “Y al fin anuncia el día tras lóbrego capuz;” Elazio is way off mark except for the reference to the cape. Here the dawn announces or heralds ‘el dia’ through, or beneath, the cowl of gloom or darkness. ‘El dia’ is the day of freedom, the dawn of which has just broken. Implicit in this imagery is the presence of the sun, light, liwanag, against which darkness cannot prevail.

The capuz, cowl or cape, is without question a reference to the friars whom he had criticized, not always fairly, throughout his writings. Hatred of the friars was far from universal outside the Tagalog provinces and Rizal had, as the Brits say, a bone to pick with the Dominicans whom he felt had unfairly evicted the Mercado family, his family, from their property.

Nevertheless, through the 19th century, as Spain lost the power to administer its colonies it came more and more to depend on the friar orders to impose some form of control. In effect the friars acted as an autonomous arm of government in a form of symbiosis with the Spanish administration. It was not always a comfortable relationship since the friars inevitably represented conservative attitudes that were challenged by Spain’s periodic shift to anti-clerical liberal government. Whatever liberalizing winds came from the peninsular, however, were well-minimised by the time they reached the archipelago.

As independent agents of Spain with tremendous moral force in the Philippines the friars stood in the way of independence. As agents for the conservative mindset they stood in the way of liberalizing the lot of the Filipino.

One should, however, be wary of accepting these perceptions as representing the actual situation, at least outside the Tagalog provinces. In the Cordilleras, and elsewhere, the friars became the protectors of the hillsmen against the depredations of Spanish military personnel, a problem which, when resolved, usually resulted in the hillsmen requesting the removal of the friars in a cycle of dialogue that shows the hillsmen knew well how to work the system.

In Samar, where there were no friar lands, the friars led defensive and offensive against slave raiders with such success that creating an export industry in hemp and coconut oil became viable, whereupon the friars proceeded to provide the wherewithal to develop such industries for the progress of the island.

Till, to Rizal it was the gloomy capuz of the friar orders that prevented progress and liberty.

In the third line and fourth line, Rizal offers his blood to the Patria if she needs it more red for the colours of the day, that she should take it en buen hora, the good hour, the hour of his execution, to match/reflect/dye the naciente luz.

The naciente luz, returns us to the sun as liwanag, the light that leads to that state of grace implied by kalayaan, a state of ease, where there are no slaves or tyrants. This is not merely a physically rising sun but Father Florentino’s first dawn in which the light of freedom shines reflected in Rizal’s blood.

Verse 4 >

10 thoughts on “Decoding Mi Ultimo Adios – Verse 3

  1. Can u explain the 1st and 2nd stanza??
    up to 150-200 words is needed.. can u make it??

    Farewell, my adored Land, region of the sun caressed,
    Pearl of the Orient Sea, our Eden lost,
    With gladness I give you my Life, sad and repressed;
    And were it more brilliant, more fresh and at its best,
    I would still give it to you for your welfare at most.

    On the fields of battle, in the fury of fight,
    Others give you their lives without pain or hesitancy,
    The place does not matter: cypress laurel, lily white,
    Scaffold, open field, conflict or martyrdom’s site,
    It is the same if asked by home and Country.

    I need it by tomorrow.. thankz in advance 🙂
    Just Send the answer to my email:
    Answer is really appreciated

    1. First, both stanzas are adequately covered in both the relevant posts and the final version which is on scrbd.
      Second, I’m a professional writer. If you wish me to write for you then we have to talk about money.
      Third, where there is no sweat there is no learning.

    1. Verses 1 to 11 are covered. The remaining verses are simply goodbyes to family and Josephine Bracken, which are the least important in terms of understanding his thinking.

  2. Again, praiseworthy, but I am unconvinced by your reading of “en buen hora.” The first meaning in Spanish (and French, for that matter) seems always to be “at the right time” or “at the appropriate moment,” with early morning being a secondary meaning.

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