poetry, review

Aku Ini Binatang Jalang

Chairil Anwar is no doubt the most outstanding poet, if I may say so, in Indonesian contemporary literature. His works have been recited, quoted, and used by so many people and even translated into foreign languages. I do not enjoy poems as a general rule, though I frivolously express my feelings in poems as well sometimes, but reading Aku Ini Binatang Jalang: Koleksi Sajak 1942-1949 was a wonderful experience to me. The book was first published in 1986, containing Anwar’s collected poems from 1942 to 1949, and has been reprinted many times through the years.

This book seems to have been compiled in an attempt to put together Anwar’s own poems (not his translation nor adaptation) scattered in several books. Those books had apparently had different versions of Anwar’s poems, making them questionable in their originality, hence the need for collecting those different versions into one book and putting them side by side. I understand that the editor didn’t mean to show which one is the original, but he might have, as stated in his “Editor’s Note”, wanted the reader to choose which one is the better and worth recitation or being quoted. All those poems are sorted in chronological order, so that the reader can follow Anwar’s progress in creating poetry.

There are more or less 74 poems in all, with some of them presented in two versions, plus several Anwar’s letters to H.B. Jassin. I found Anwar’s works pretty hard to comprehend (or maybe I just don’t understand poetry), but his words are so miraculously beautiful. The first two lines of the first stanza of Pemberian Tahu (1946) are particularly striking:

“Bukan maksudku mau berbagi nasib

   nasib adalah kesunyian masing-masing.”

Aside from the true meaning of the whole poem, I found those lines so mind-blowing like a punch to the head. I don’t dare to interpret them, as I used to try, but it’s as though those sentences express a strong desire for untangling ourselves not only from other people, but “outer world” as well. They are clearly stating that we are living our own life, our own destiny. We should not bind ourselves to anything or anyone.

Reading the entire book, I dare say that Anwar was never a poet trying to be romantic. Yet his words roar out despair and feelings more than anything.

“Cinta adalah bahaya yang lekas jadi pudar.”

No words could describe the impermanence of love better than those written by Anwar above. Once again, I may not fully understand the meaning of the whole Tuti Artic poem, but that particular line has a blowing effect on me. I think this is why Anwar’s words and lines have been quoted so often and very much popular (like “Aku ini binatang jalang”). His words, whatever their meanings are, have certain effect on everyone that they would be always stuck in their mind.

I would say that Aku Ini Binatang Jalang is a worth-reading poetry book. In addition to having a chance to read all Chairil Anwar’s ever poems, readers, I believe, will cherish his stunning talent in creating them.

Rating: 3.5/5

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