Rizal, the intellectual genius
Almost everybody has said his piece about our national hero. This is a belated tribute. But I’ll take up what has not been taken up by others, his intellectual genius.
I am lucky to have been born also on June 19. When people hear of Rizal’s birthday, they remember mine too.
Having been born on the same date, I feel a sense of affinity with him and, in my early years, I already read all his works.
You will find his intellectual genius in his writings. His forte was poetry and even at an early age in high school at the Ateneo, his poems were excellent that impressed even the Jesuit priests. The first poem he wrote was “My First Inspiration” dedicated to his mother Teodora Alonso on her birthday and who was just release from prison, suspected of aiding the rebels. Rizal was only 14 years old then.
Listen to his last stanza. “While the crystalline murmurs glisten,/ Hear ye the accents strong,/ Struck from my lyre listen/ To my love’s first song.”
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He was only 15 when he wrote a poem that was stirred by patriotic fervor, “To The Filipino Youth.” The first stanza “Hold high the brow serene/ O youth where you now stand,/ Let the bright sheen/ Of your grace be seen,/ Hope of the Fatherland.”
Seldom can we find one at 15 already fired by patriotism.
This poem was a winning entry in a literature contest and was acclaimed even by the Spanish authorities as a classic written by a young native. And for the first time, it gave the Indios the pride that the Philippines is the fatherland of Filipinos.
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In 1880, the Artistic-Literary Lyceum opened a literary contest to commemorate the fourth centennial of the death of Miguel Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, “Spain’s glorified man-of-letters.”
For the first time, this was opened to Spaniards and Filipinos alike. Rizal, at 19, and a medical student at the University of Santo Tomas participated.
He submitted his entry in prose, “El Consejo de los Dioses” (The Council of the Gods.) The work was an allegory, a literary masterpiece based on the classics. Being a wide reader with terrific memory, Rizal was good in classical history and literature.
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The gods in that council discussed and argued the merits of three great authors, Homer, Virgil, and Cervantes.
In the end, the gods decided to give the trumpet to Homer, the lyre to Virgil, and the laurel to Cervantes.
Rizal’s knowledge of mythical characters was also good that the allegory ended with naiads, nymphs, satyrs, and other mythological characters dancing and giving myrrh and laurel to Cervantes.
The judges to the literary contest were all Spaniards. After a long and critical appraisal the judges couldn’t help but give the first prize to Rizal.
Those who participated in the contest were writers, priests, newspapermen, scholars, and professors of the University of Santo Tomas.
The Spanish community in Manila, spearheaded by the Spanish press, howled in protest that a 19-year old Indio would win the contest, beating the best Spanish writers. But, he won because his entry was far superior compared with other entries.
Rizal’s poems expressed patriotic feelings, his thoughts on his oppressed native land. In his “To The Flowers of Heidelberg,” he wrote, “Go to my native land, go, foreign flowers,/ Sown by the traveler on the way,/ And there beneath its azure sky,/ Where all my affections lie…” to spread your fragrance that we may breathe free.”
In Brussels, bothered by family disasters at home, he wrote “To My Muse” expressing sorrow for his countrymen being oppressed.
His last stanza says, “But, before thou leavest me, speak/ Tell me with thy voice sublime,/ Thou couldst ever from me seek/ A song of sorrow for the weak,/ Defiant to the tyrant’s crime.”
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Of course, Rizal’s “My Last Farewell” climaxes his patriotic thoughts. It has been very well written about and discussed. Its picturesque imagery is incomparable.
I pick out a few stanzas, not discussed by others. “If ever someday thou seest grow/ In the grassy sod, a humble flower/ Draw it to thy lips and kiss my soul so,/ While I feel in my brow in my cold tomb below/ The touch of your tenderness, your breath’s warm power.”
“Let the moonbeam over me soft and serene/ Let the dawn shed over me its radiant flashes,/ Let the wind with the sad lament over me keen,/ And if in my cross a bird should be seen/ Let it trill there the hymn of peace to my ashes.”
And there he shows his love for his country.
“Pray for all those that hapless have died,/ For all who suffered the unmeasured pain;/ For our mothers that bitterly their woes have cried,/ For widows and orphans, for captives by torture tried,/ And then for thyself that redemption thou may gain.”
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The great lesson of history, tyrants make heroes.*
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