Jose Garcia Villa & Hilario S. Francia18 April 2009 at 5:09 AM | Posted in News | 3 Comments
When Hilario S. Francia translated some of the poems of Jose Garcia Villa into Tagalog, we got a clue to the way a multilingual critic could approach Villa’s work. (For those not familiar with Villa: Villa is considered a minor American poet and a major Philippine poet – minor defined the way American literary historians define the term, namely, in terms of quantity, not quality, and major defined the way Philippine literary historians define the term, namely, in terms of quality, not quantity. Villa lived most of his life in New York. He was considered by his contemporaries, such as Marianne Moore and E. E. Cummings, as equal to if not better than them.)
Here are two lines from one of Villa’s poems:
In my desire to be Nude
I clothed myself in fire:-
Here is Francia’s Tagalog translation:
Sa aking paghangad na maging Hubad
Dinamitan Ko ang aking sarili sa apoy:-
The translation works as a translation, but what is interesting to me is to speculate on what Villa was thinking as he was writing the poem. In Tagalog, the thought would have gone this way:
Nais kong maghubad
Kaya ako nasunog.
Literally, that means “I wanted to be naked so (1) I burned myself because society does not approve of me being naked, and/or (2) I was burning with the desire to be naked.” The ambiguity (I use the word the way the New Critics used it, namely, as a poetic virtue) is inherent in the Tagalog. What Villa managed to do was to say the same thing, more or less, in English. What the English adds are the rhyme (desire / fire) and the second line’s iambic meter, which situate the reader solidly in poetic tradition. These attributes based on the sounds of English might explain the power of Villa’s lines.