Through a Glass, Darkly, 1949
by Francisco Arcellana
ALEJANDRO G. ABADILLA is a poet-critic in Tagalog who is unique in that he is perhaps one of the few vernacular writers who is at all in touch with writing in English, local and overseas. This position gives him an enviable distinction: he is able to, by virtue of it, suggest leads and direction to emacular writers.
He is primarily a poet whose Tagalog verses are a complete and absolute departure from the conventional Tagalog poem: his verses in Tagalog bear the same relation to other Tagalog verses that perhaps the poems in Leaves of Grass have to contemporaneous poems written and published in America. He is also a critic of both the Tagalog poems and the Tagalog short story whose influence has been to keep these forms open to the revitalizing effects of experimentation in the same forms in English that have seen performance in the past generation.
Before the war, along with Clodualdo del Mundo, another avant-garde writer in the vernacular, he used to select the best poems and the best short stories of each year. Roughly he was doing the same service for writing in Tagalog that Jose Garcia Villa was doing for writing in English: he was setting up strict standards of achievement based not on the local resources available but on the world of writing as a whole; was evaluating writing not in terms of the local tradition but of the world’s; he was regarding Tagalog writing as possibly belonging to the mainstream of the art of writing. Needless to say, his work was more than salutary: if anything, it made the Tagalog writers more conscious as artists and craftsmen. It can be said that mainly through his efforts emerged a new generation of Tagalog writers who were in touch with the most recent trends in writing.
After the war, he decided to move from the more or less impermanent form of the annual selection to the more or less imperishable form of the book collection.
He put together what he believed were the finest Tagalog short stories written over a definite period of time and published them in a book called Mga Piling Katha. It was not the first book of its kind. Other anthologies of the Tagalog short story had been published before it; other collections were going to be attempted after it. But it had the advantage of being edited by him who had always both by word and gesture signified his sympathy and attachment to what is exploratory and experimental in writing.
Only recently he put together Parnasong Tagalog, published by the Panitikan Publishing Company. This book is regarded by experts and specialists as indeed the first of its kind: for the first time between book covers are gathered what may be regarded as the choicest flowers of Filipino poetry in Tagalog. The book is not only happy for being the first of its kind but also for filling a real need: for a long time now a book like this has been contemplated and the need for it made vocal but not until Alejandro G. Abadilla and the Panitikan Publishing Company achieved it was there any talk of its performance ever.
Parnasong Tagalog is not along unique for being the first book of its kind?a collection of the best poems in Tagalog from its earliest beginnings to the present?but also for the fact that it carries an introduction in which also for the first time is made an attempt to evaluate Filipino poetry in the vernacular in terms of the great stream of world poetry and its technique. And considering how difficult and inaccessible poetics can be even when rendered in the language in which it was originally expressed, it is indeed remarkable how much it seems to me this poet-critic has succeeded in conveying to Tagalog readers and his fellow poets the deep and real need for breaking insularity and thinking in terms of the poetic impulse everywhere
September 18, 1949
Through a Glass, Darkly, 1949