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“Gabu” by Carlos Angeles

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Carlos A. Angeles was born in Tacloban City, Leyte on May 25, 1921. He finished high school in Rizal High during the year 1938 and proceeded to college, going to various universities such as Ateneo de Manila, University of the Philippines (where he became a member of the UP Writers’ Club), and Central Luzon Colleges. He, however, stopped and did not return to school after World War II. Despite this, he had a notable career, working at various institutions. He first worked at the Philippine Bureau of International News Service from 1950 to 1958. He went on as a guest of the US State Department on a Smith-Mund¬t leader grant. He also worked as a press assistant under the Garcia administration and as a Public Relations Manager of PanAm Airlines. All these were from 1958 to 1980. He later on also served in the Board of Directors of the Philippine Chapter of International PEN.

During 1964, when poetry was, for the first time, included in the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, Angeles’ A Stun of Jewels, which was a collection of 47 poems he wrote, mainly dedicated to his wife, received first prize in this esteemed contest. The collection also won the Republic Cultural Heritage Award for Literature.

He has been residing in the United States of America since 1978. Married to Concepcion Reynoso, he has seven children and eighteen grandchildren, all of which are also residing in the United States of America.

“Gabu” is an actual place along the coastline of Ilocos Norte, located in the northern parts of the Philippines. The Philippines is known to the world as one of the most dangerous places to live in due to the fact that the country plays host to multiple typhoons every year. The coast of Gabu is no exception to these catastrophes. It is one of those areas which are frequently visited by the said typhoons. Every time a typhoon hits, most of the local flora and fauna gets ravaged. Perhaps this is the reason why the poem has a general tone of sadness, brought about by the “havocs” of Mother Earth. This will be discussed further on as we move through the new critical / formalist reading of the poem.

Now that the general background information about the poem and its author has been established, it is perhaps best to move on to the analysis and the reading of the poem itself. The poem will be read in a manner which presents various ironies, paradoxes, tensions and ambiguities. These pressures in a poem are the marks of a new critical / formalist reading, tensions that when read closely, actually account for the poem’s stability, and not necessarily for its destruction.

The poem starts off on the first stanza with a general attitude towards describing the devastations brought about by the “battering restlessness of the sea”. The sea, as we know it, is a common imagery of life. However, it is represented as something that “insists a tidal fury upon the beach”. Words such as “sea”, and “beach”, denote life, and happiness, and a general tone of positivity. When one thinks of the sea, and the beach, normally, it is accompanied by thoughts about the beautiful sunset, while we’re peacefully reading a book or drinking wine with a loved one, having meaningful conversations that give us some time off from the cruel realities of life. However, all those lovely thoughts about the sea and the beach are totally reversed by the poem right from the beginning.

The persona talked about a “wasteland”, most probably referring to a filthy shore. Perhaps the shore that the persona is talking about in this poem is not something which resembles lovely beaches like Boracay. Perhaps, it is a shore full of garbage that people have thrown, along with all the dirt and grime accumulated by the waves, mixed up with all the moss. According to the poem, this wasteland is being “havocked”. Another notable irony present in the first stanza is the apparent restlessness of the sea while at the same time having a pure consistency. Although the sea restlessly batters and wreaks havoc on the shore, it at the same time has a pure consistency which perhaps refers to its endless and continuous tides towards the wasteland.

Moving on to the second stanza, we still see the same tone. The sea is still furious, as its hearts “bashes” “brutally” for a daylong. It is described to be bashing against the seascape – again, an imagery of something beautiful being ravaged by the sea. Lines 7 and 8 introduce us to a new kind of feeling and sensation. Whereas the preceding lines talk mostly about brutalities and destruction, these two lines give us the sensations, feelings, and emotions that are associated with and brought about by such atrocities. It describes rock-stones parting because of the never-ending desolation of the sea. The persona here paints a picture of rocks breaking, falling apart as the sea hits them continuously with massive amounts of force. They then fall into the “elemental wound”. By this, he refers to the deep depths of the seas where the rock fragments eventually settle. What have been standing durable and robust (the rocks) for a very long time have been wrecked by the seas, causing them to fall slowly, and slowly be forgotten into the deep depths of the oceans. This sort of imagery makes the reader feel an emotion of sadness and despair.

These emotions of sadness linger as we progress through the stanzas. On the third stanza, the persona begins by talking about “waste of centuries grey and dead”. Remember that in the first stanza, he refers to the shore as a “wasteland”. Now in line 9, when he talks about the “waste of the centuries”, he must be referring to the centuries of the sea’s cycle of washing off its “brine” and “spilt salt” against the shore. We see here an allusion to the past. It was said that the sea becomes “neutral” as it reaches the shore. This gives the reader an imagery about remembering past memories whenever one looks at the shore. However, this imagery of the past is depicted in a manner which is similar to the first two stanzas, a feeling of sadness. Just as the sea has been ravaging the shore for a very long time now, centuries worth of waste has been washed off to the sea where they lie “grey” and “dead”. Grey is a color which usually represents sorrow and sadness. It is a color usually associated with depression and emptiness. On the shore, it is mentioned that the “spilt salt”, which represents memories from the past washed away on the shore, lie spread among the “dark habiliments of Time”.

“Habiliment” is synonymous to clothing, garb, or dress. Line 12 is trying to send a message that all the memories of the past have been passed on and on from the sea to the shore, in its continuous cycle. Time has served as a clothing to encompass all these memories that have been washed away towards the shore. However, just as these imageries and allusions to the past seem to be represented in a sorrowful manner, there is also something beautiful, something relaxing in the way they are told. Up until this point, the poem has presented an everlasting relationship between the sea and the shore – a relationship that although harsh, is also beautiful and eternal. The first few stanzas, as mentioned earlier, give imageries about the brutal waves annihilating everything on the beach. It dwells on the power of the sea and its potential of ravaging anything on the “wasteland” shore. Despite this, there is also some beauty in the waves. Just as the waves take away, and just as they make almost everything on the shore disappear, the memory of the past still lingers on the shore. When the “sea has beached its brine”, it becomes “neutral”.

Aside from this being an allusion to the past as mentioned earlier, it can also give an imagery of the sea calming down (becoming neutral) after it has ravaged the shore. The beaching of its brine gives an imagery of the waves slowly rustling away from the shore after it has given it a powerful beating. Despite being a frightening force of nature, it can also caress the shore with its soft waves. The third stanza provides words such as “grey”, “dead”, and “neutral”. These words represent imageries of the shore that has lost its past magnificence. This has been carried on to the fourth stanza. In the fourth stanza, it is explicitly stated how the “vital splendor misses”. The “vital splendor”, which refers to the past glory that was once on the beach, is now gone. “All things forfeited are most loved and dear.” Again, this talks about the sea’s power to take away the things that we love the most. This presents to us a paradox of destroying something that is loved. Everything that has ever been most loved and dear has been and will be taken away by the ravaging sea. The poem goes on to state the reason for this – “the ageless tide” which “recurs”. This describes the behavior of the sea and the shore, something as old as time.

It being “ageless”, the persona states that it has been going ever since the very old times, and it is still going on until now, and would probably go on for a much longer period of time in the future. This imagery goes on to the last line of the poem where it has been stated that “it is the sea pursues a habit of shores”. Again, this talks about the timelessness and never ending cycle of wrath and calm. These two sides to a coin represented in the sea and the shore strengthens even more the beauty of its relationship. It follows the relationship of the shore and the sea as a never-ending cycle of roughness and gentleness. This shows us that the calamities are never-ending. However, just as never-ending as the calamities, are the calm caresses of the waves towards the shore that represents something relaxing and beautiful. Thus, the poem concludes with the sea pursuing a habit of shores. An allusion to human life, we see how the waves keep on moving and moving until it finally reaches the shore. Similarly, life would keep on moving and moving until it reaches its end (death). The persona talks about a habit, something continuously done, again referring to the timelessness of the cycle of the catastrophes brought by the sea, followed by the calm. Life too, though bounded by time, imitates this cycle. What we all desire is an eternal ending when we would finally rest in peace. Although life presents many problems and harsh moments, just as the sea finds its calm and stability once it reaches the shore, so can we.

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