Decoding Mi Ultimo Adios, verse 2

Verse II

En campos de batalla, luchando con delirio,

Otros te dan sus vidas sin dudas, sin pesar;

El sitio nada importa, ciprés, laurel o lirio,

Cadalso o campo abierto, combate o cruel martirio,

Lo mismo es si lo piden la patria y el hogar.

On the field of battle, ‘mid the frenzy of fight,

Others have given their lives, without doubt or heed;

The place matters not—cypress or laurel or lily white

Scaffold or open plain, combat or martyrdom’s plight,

‘Tis ever the same, to serve our home and country’s need. (Derbyshire)

Verse 1 left us with Rizal addressing the reader/Patria from his prison cell and a natural order would have been to follow with Verse 3 as he is taken to his execution to be followed by what is now verse 2. Here, however, he leaps outwards with a broadbrush to encompass past and current struggles rather than bringing focus on his own sacrifice then opening out to include the sacrifice of others. Why?

What Rizal is doing is to give us the foundation to understand the imagery of the third verse and place his death in the context of the ongoing struggle for national liberation. In Verse 1 he describes the Patria he and others are fighting for, in Verse 3 he defines who is being fought against. In Verse 2 he tells us that it doesn’t matter how one struggles, that all struggles, all deaths, are worth it if it is for the good of the country, the nation, the Patria to release that hidden pearl of the Orient from its shell.

This verse also shows that Constantino is in error when he assumes that in repudiating Bonifacio’s uprising Rizal is repudiating the massa who were fighting for liberty. Quite the opposite, Rizal honors them and includes them in the struggle.

While the Derbyshire translation and others generally translate the meaning of the verse correctly it nevertheless raises questions, in particular the use of ‘delirio’ and the imagery of “ciprés, laurel o lirio”.

Rizal uses ‘delirio’ in the first line, which Derbyshire translate as ‘frenzy’ while others have preserved the word, i.e. “deliriously fighting”. It seems a strange word to use, bearing as is does, negative psychiatric overtones of confusion and madness. While it can also mean a frenzied excitement, surely Rizal could have used another Spanish word with a more positive feel than delirium?

Delirium is a condition of the mind and Rizal was familiar with the emerging medical specialty of psychiatry. Indeed, he wrote a treatise on the mangkukulam and psychologically induced illnesses. In his era it was popularly believed that such conditions were due to bewitchment or possession by spirits, a belief not entirely eradicated today, and delirium would have been seen as a condition of bewitchment or possession by an outside force.

Familiar phrases such as ‘deliriously happy’ present a more positive feel but retain the sense of a disconnection of rational thought. It is, perhaps, this usage that Rizal intends but may not be the only intention. As his manifesto, and data for his defense, reveal, there were many fighting in the belief, falsely promoted by Bonifacio, that they had his explicit support. There was, therefore, a disconnect between the reality and their belief, even so, in Rizal’s poem, they were sacrificing for the patria.

The first line references those who were fighting at the time Rizal wrote the poem. The second line, ‘Otros te dan sus vidas sin dudas, sin pesar” encompasses those who have, in various ways, selflessly sacrificed their lives in the past. Together, these lines link Rizal’s future sacrifice with the sacrifice of the revolutionaries then ongoing and the sacrifices of the past.

Now Rizal challenges us: “El sitio nada importa, ciprés, laurel o lirio,”. The place is not important, he tells us, then gives what seem to be symbols of three places that could mean forest, bush and garden, yet the Cypress is not a particularly Filipino image, laurel, or Bay, is a common herb in cooking, and the lily is usually thought of as a cultivated garden plant. Why not balete, banahaw or Sampaguita?

In mythology, the cypress is associated with Hades, the god of the underworld who, along with others, overthrew the Titans who ruled the universe just as Filipinos were seeking to overthrow the rulers of the Philippines. Rizal was also familiar with Jewish writings, indeed he learnt Hebrew so that he could read them in the original language and may well have been aware of the Jewish concept of an underworld, the place whether the dead were equal. No matter what station or wealth they attained while living, all must each dirt while awaiting redemption.

Might cypress, then, be a reference to the common man, the tao, the masa, who’s heart and minds were as much a place of battle as the fields of Luzon?

Laurel is a cooking ingredient but, more than that, wreaths of laurel were awarded by the Greeks to victors in battles, in sports, in literature, a laurel wreath was the sign of the elite. If cypress represents the common man, then laurel here represents that other battle space for hearts and minds, the elite and the ilustrados.

And the lily, I would suggest, refers to women who are also able to struggle and who themselves are part of the battlespace.

Note that these definitions do not replace the concept of different terrains but are in addition to them, another layer of meaning. Cypress, Laurel and Lily can also be identified with courage, honor and purity, all necessary elements for the redemption of the Filipino and the Patria. Again, these are not mutually excluive identifications and symbols but additional to them.

“Cadalso o campo abierto, combate o cruel martirio,” Derbyshire translates cadalso as ‘scaffold’, a structure upon which executions are performed. Others have translated it with more literal correctness as ‘plank’. When someone is to be garroted they are placed astride a plank to with is attached a back-rest through with a large screw passes which is turned by a large crosspiece to snap the victims neck. Performed properly it was a swift death and perhaps seen as ‘humane’. The French guillotine and today’s death by drugs are other examples of the hopeless chase for ‘humane’ executions.

The most famous martyrs were the three priests executed in 1872 following an uprising at the Cavite arsenal in which it was claimed they were complicit. The three, Gomez, Burgos and Zamora had worked for the filipinization of the country’s parishes. Burgos was a friend of Rizal and his brother Paciano and the man whom Rizal credited with opening his eyes and lighting the spark of nationalism. It is not unreasonable to suggest that Rizal’s reference to ‘cruel martyrdom’ is intended to remind the reader of the three priests who deaths were the first stepping stone towards the revolution of 1896.

By the time of Rizal’s execution the garotte had been largely replaced by the firing squad, possibly because the numbers requiring execution were too great to satisfy with the relatively slow method of the garotte.

‘campo abierto’ is self explanatory, the open field of battle. Rizal then inverts the sense order in the last half of the sentence – in combat or cruel martyrdom. Death in battle and death at the hands of the firing squad or by the garotte were equal worthwhile sacrifices when, as his last line says, it serves the Patria and her needs.

Rizal sees the struggle for national liberation as one that can be served on the battlefield, through revolution, or by loving sacrifice for the motherland. It is a struggle in which each person, each individual, has a role to play, man or woman, peasant and elite. The struggle is a continuum for past to present, from Gomes, Burgos and Zamora to the 13 Martyrs and Rizal himself.

More than that, this verse is a call to arms, to sacrifice oneself for the Patria, at a time when Rizal believed that the moment of redemption was at hand, as we shall see in the third verse.

Most importantly, Rizal presents the key to redemption – selfless sacrifice for the Patria.

In verse 1 he has presented the past, verse 2, is the present condition to which the past has led. Verse 3 deals with the immediate future, at least Rizal’s hope for that future.

Verse 3>

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