Explanation of the poem by stanza
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Hold high the brow serene,
O youth, where now you stand;
Let the bright sheen
Of your grace be seen,
Fair hope of my fatherland!
In the beginning stanza, Rizal encourages the youth, by telling them to hold their heads high for they possess talents and skills and abilities that would make their country proud.
Come now, thou genius grand,
And bring down inspiration;
With thy mighty hand,
Swifter than the wind’s violation,
Raise the eager mind to higher station.
The second verse can be rearranged in contemporary English to say: “Oh genius great, soar high; and fill their mind with noble thoughts. May their virgin mind fly and find the honor’s glorious seat more rapidly than the wind.” Here, Rizal calls to genious to fill young minds with noble thoughts and hopes that as they release their thinking from the chains that bind, they may be able to soar swiftly high where the joy of honor is.
Come down with pleasing light
Of art and science to the fight,
O youth, and there untie
The chains that heavy lie,
Your spirit free to bright.
Contrary to the second verse, which talked about ascending and soaring to the heights, this third stanza now talks about descent, and a downward motion of the great genius to fill the earthly strokes of art and science with their magnificent ideas. Again, Rizal calls them to break the chains that bind their intellect. “Poetic genius” here does not necessarily pertain to the talent of writing poetry. Instead, the term “poetic” is simply an adjective to describe genius, meaning that it is deep and mystifying and heavy with meaning.
See how in flaming zone
Amid the shadows thrown,
The Spaniard’a holy hand
A crown’s resplendent band
Proffers to this Indian land.
Rizal challenges the youth, that in their pursuit of knowledge and wisdom they may humble the hand of Spain, whose proud chin did not look kindly upon the people whom they labelled as “Indios” and whom they treated with contempt. He dreams that in their journey to intellectual greatness they may humble even the proudest nations that look down on them and rightfully deserve “a crown that shines, even where shadows stand.”
Thou, who now wouldst rise
On wings of rich emprise,
Seeking from Olympian skies
Songs of sweetest strain,
Softer than ambrosial rain;
Thou, whose voice divine
Rivals Philomel’s refrain
And with varied line
Through the night benign
Frees mortality from pain;
In these two stanzas, Rizal calls the youth to seek the beauty of poetry and music, which he himself values greatly as essentials in every manner of life. He claims that poetry is “more sweet than divine honey,” and that music can “dissipate man’s sorrow’s blight.”
Thou, who by sharp strife
Wakest thy mind to life ;
And the memory bright
Of thy genius’ light
Makest immortal in its strength ;
Speaking to the youth, Rizal says that by the very impulse of their mind, they are capable of bringing to life or animating even someting as lifeless and unmoving as a hard rock. He continues to say that the youth is able, to immortalize their thoughts and their words through the help of great genius (as he has done himself. This stanza can be arranged in a more contemporary English structure as follows: “You can animate the hard rock at the impulse of your mind; and transform, with the great power of your mind, the pure memory of great genius into immortality.”
And thou, in accents clear
Of Phoebus, to Apelles dear ;
Or by the brush’s magic art
Takest from nature’s store a part,
To fig it on the simple canvas’ length ;
Rizal here addresses the youth, comparing their abilities to a magic brush that can capture even the most majestic views and the most glorious charms on a blank canvas.
Go forth, and then the sacred fire
Of thy genius to the laurel may aspire ;
To spread around the fame,
And in victory acclaim,
Through wider spheres the human name.
Day, O happy day,
Fair Filipinas, for thy land!
So bless the Power to-day
That places in thy way
This favor and this fortune grand.
The last stanzas are a charge, urging the youth to run, for a glorious crown awaits them. The “sphere” here pertains to the world, showing that Rizal believed the Filipino youth is as brilliant as those in any other nation, and is able to contend with even the strongest powers if they only set their mind to making most of what they already have.