The Grandeur Of Our Own Literary Voice

One of the positive developments in the aftermath of the Philippine-American War is the official adoption of English as medium of instruction in the public schools. After the hostilities, Filipino and American educators got together and agreed that a common language is essential in unifying a nation divided by a plethora of dialects. Jose P. Laurel, in his classic essay The Glorification Of A Common Inheritance, pointed out that although a national tongue alone does not constitute racial identity, “Unity of language is unquestionably a binding force of utmost importance.” Salvador P. Lopez, in The Future Of Filipino Literature In English, wrote: “We shall have more contact with the rest of the world. During this period we shall negotiate for trade, for security, for a neighborly living with the rest of mankind. At the same time, we shall be expressed more fully to the currents of universal culture. And as we continue to absorb the elements of this culture, we shall be better be able to contribute to the stream.” A New Generation Philippine essays developed side by side with Philippine journalism. The introduction of the language ushered in a new generation of English speaking readers and thus, a growing demand for materials in that language. American publications eventually gave way to Filipino-owned magazines and newspapers. Campus organs served as the spring-boards for the growth of Philippine literature in English. It was instrumental as well in exposing the younger generations to the rudiments of the new lingo. Some of the noteworthy school publications were the Literary Apprentice and the College Folio of U.P. and the Quill and Argonaut of U.S.T. After college, the works of these students graduated to the Sunday magazines of the metro dailies and other magazines. Publishers and editors saw how literary sections generate interest and consequently increase circulation. Prominence and Professionalism In the same way that British and American essays matured through such magazines as Spectator and the Courant, so has Philippine essay gained prominence and professionalism in several pre-War publications. Among them are Herald Midweek, Expression, Dear Devices and Philippine Magazine, an influential monthly edited by A.V.H. Hartendorp, which featured essays, fiction and poetry of the highest order. In 1939, the Commonwealth Literary Contests, the first state-sponsored literary award, was established. And during the Occupation, the Japanese sponsored Review and Pillars solicited censored literary works. Some writers were forced to conform to the accepted political thought and thus, freedom of expression, which is a fundamental concept of good writing, was tortured to submission. Mastery of the Language It was after the Liberation when Philippine literature in English in general and Philippine essay in English in particular achieved a rennaissance, showing a mastery of the language that was uncanny. In the words of Leon Ma.Guerrero, in his essay What Are Filipino Like?: “Our adaptability, or imitativeness, like our family system, is largely self protective.” It was during this time when the Philippine American came out with some of the finest literary talents in the country. Another welcome development in it’s wake is the payment of the then staggering amount of one hundred pesos for each article. The incentive fueled the growth of professional writing. Unfortunately, the magazine folded up after a year. The year 1951 saw the birth of the Philippine Quarterly, a government sponsored publication issued by the Philippine Information Council. It was accepted without question as the best quality magazine in the country in points of writing, editing and printing. It was circulated mostly abroad. However appropriations were stopped and it ceased publication after the sixth issue. Poignant and Timeless The classics have an unsurpassed lyrically melodious quality, like Godofredo Rivera’s Thanks My Lord: “And so I built myself a shed of green leaves at the edge of a brook. Days I filled my little heart with joy. Nights I filled my little heart in the gossamer of peace…Each night an augury. Each day a reality. How wonderful is life.” Convict’s Twilight by Arturo B. Rotor is a tapestry of the finest silk in the hands of a master weaver: “The forest…now assumes that calm that is more breathless and awesome than silence…One must pray here, if only to relieve the terrifying solitude, to stay the gathering darkness.” Fernando Maramag paints an unforgettable ode to Fernando Ma. Guerrero: “Poet and patriot of the first order, he has touched the life of his people.” And Jose A. Lansang’s Stirrings is both poignant and timeless: “Life is a placid lake of unsounded depths in a quiet valley…A fallen leaf…creases the smooth surface…Then it reverts back to it’s clear smoothness, to mirror again the pageantry of the clouds by dawn and the glorious stars by night.” The First Test of Literature In summing up, let us borrow once more the words of Lopez: “If the first test of literature is the test of continued growth and development, then it may safely be said that no literature written in any other language can pass this test successfully as English. Filipino writers in English have exhibited an enormous capacity for rapid growth and development and have produced a body of writing that is both competent and distinguished.” Jose P. Laurel photo courtesy of PhilippineHistory.org. This story originally appeared in Philippine Panorama, April 1, 2007 Your comments and links are welcome

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