The King of the New Poets

March 2, 2011 at 1:35 am | Posted in katarsis, kebudayaan, sastra | 4 Comments
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Really. I’m going to say this again: the only way not to be lame and elapse without leaving any legacies (if you have one) is to die young; best at 27 like many depressed, drug-addicted rock stars did, or at 35 like Herr Mozart, or…like Amir Hamzah, the King of the New Poets (Raja Pujangga Baru), the prince of the Langkat Sultanate and the author of this haunting lyrics, “Sunyi Itu Duka/Sunyi Itu Kudus/Sunyi Itu Lupa/Sunyi Itu Lampus”. Amir was born to a royal family in Sumatera 100 years ago, on February 28, 1911, and died on March 19, 1946; in a time of Revolution — at the time Amir was no fan of colonialism. Nobody knows exactly how he died [it is said he was shot dead by the kumpeni, but there’s no evidence to corroborate this claim. NH Dini writes that, according to several testimonies from his alleged murderers, Amir was executed by the local freedom fighters who rebelled against the royal family in Langkat in a French-style revolution]. But many who knew him have spoken of how the poet had lived, as a man of letters living under colonial rule, when the educated mostly spoke and wrote in Dutch, for they thought using the oppressor’s language in every occasions was requisite to being “educated”. I didn’t get to write about this Pujangga Baru poet two days ago, on his birthday (what a shame!) I was busy, but happily busy. 🙂 Let’s say I didn’t have enough solitude to do a sort of a reflective piece on a poet whose works can only be read, understood and appreciated in the wee hours of morning, when you have no one to talk to but that soundless, distant-yet-so-near voice inside you; when you’re feeling lonely, and melancholy. It’s indeed a mystery why I feel kind of compelled to write about him. Why not Chairil Anwar? Or Sapardi Djoko Damono? Or Abdul Hadi W.M? I don’t know.

Tengku Busu atau Amir Hamzah

What is it about poetry that makes you want to read it again and again? What is it about the life of a poet whose works profoundly inspire you? Disclaimer: Certainly I’m no certified literary critic. I will just write about my impression of this great poet Amir Hamzah; the reflection of me in him, his printed biography, his poetry.

Amir Hamzah: the Mystic, the Lover?

The problem with reading a poem is that it often leaves you addled; you just have no idea what it’s all about; no worry, nobody does, not even the poet himself, the person who wrote that bloody poetry! A poem of dead chickens, or purple spiders, or the postman who has a gecko tattoo on his back, for example, can be interpreted in, let’s just say, seven hundred thousands ways; the possibility is, I believe, infinite. All kinds of interpretation are equally valid, or — if you’re somehow too cynical and skeptical to accept that proposition — equally false. This isn’t logic or math. The result of an interpretation, as you know, is determined not by what the text being interpreted is trying to convey, or what is hidden beneath it, but by the peculiarities of each individual interpreter; his biography, his mental-state, his education, his hometown, his upbringing, his taste in music, his friends, his girlfriend! And the list goes on. Truth, after all, is not what poetry try to attain, philosophers say. What is it, then? Is it the understanding? Beauty? Is it the emotion they evoke? Hard to say. Amir Hamzah is one of those poets who write cryptic poetry in words that sound Greek even to a poet like Chairil, whose poetry is no less confusing to the lay readers. In the words of Chairil, Amir’s poems are “duistere poezie” or “dark poems”. Why? Not because Amir was an erudite poet and pretentiously sought to flaunt his erudition in his poetry, but because, to quote the saying of Tempo essayist Goenawan Mohamad, the poet simply refused to “be part of the symbolic order’s politics of meaning, in which language is largely molded by the society’s drive for nothing but the truth.” So, if you wonder what lampus means or whether I know the answer, I will tell you that I didn’t know it until a few hours ago when I Googled it and found out that it’s a actually Javanese word for “death”. But even if I were still clueless of what lampus means, the poetry still works as poetry — it would still sound like poetry and would be as evocative as I first encountered it. I’m not sure why it is so. Can it be because I can feel what Amir felt when he wrote those lines? Is the poem capable of evoking the same emotion that inspired Amir to write it more than a century ago?

A Song of Solitude and the Poems of Heartbreak

In his essay, Puisi Sapardi: Sebuah Jagad Sunyi, Suminto A Sayuti argues that poetry is a universe of silence; of solitude. The poets are condemned to suffer from a suffocating loneliness, but at the same time blessed with a liberating, elating solitude. In Nyanyi Sunyi, like in Sapardi’s Dukamu Abadi, the Poet is alone; he hates being alone, yet he wants to be left alone. In a poem by Jalaludin Rumi, Amir is the “love dog” who howls in agony for an absent master, an absent beloved, an absent God. What is silence if not the sorrowful separation from the beloved? In “Padamu Jua”, Amir suffers from lovesickness:

Habis kikis/segala cintaku hilang terbang/pulang kembali aku padamu/seperti dahulu/Kaulah kandil kemerlap/pelita jendela di malam gelap/melambai pulang perlahan/sabar, setia selalu./Satu kekasihku/aku manusia/rindu rasa/rindu rupa./Di mana engkau/rupa tiada/suara sayup/hanya kata merangkai hati/Engkau cemburu/engkau ganas/mangsa aku dalam cakarmu/bertukar tangkap dengan lepas/Nanar aku, gila sasar/sayang berulang padamu jua/engkau pelik menarik ingin/serupa dara di balik tirai/Kasihmu sunyi/menunggu seorang diri/lalu waktu – bukan giliranku/mati hari – bukan kawanku…

In another poetry, “Hanyut Aku”, he cried:

Hanyut aku, kekasihku!Hanyut aku!/ulurkan tanganmu, tolong aku./sunyinya sekelilingku!/tiada suara kasihan, tiada angin mendingin hati,/tiada air menolak ngelak./Dahagakan kasihmu, hauskan bisikmu, mati aku/sebabkan diammu./Langit menyerkap, air berlepas tangan, aku tenggelam/Tenggelam dalam malam,/air di atas menindih keras/bumi di bawah menolak ke atas/mati aku, kekasihku, mati aku!

Lovesickness is perhaps a disease. According some psychogists, who might never fall in love or have their love unrequited, “those little actions that are normally seen as symptoms of the first flush of love – buying presents, waiting by the phone for a call or making a bit of an effort before a date – may actually be signs of deep-rooted problems to come.” Medical disorder, they call it. In Sufi poetry, all kinds of earthly love is a metaphor for the mystics’ pure, uncorrupted love for God — a wild, demanding and irrational love. This is what those psychologists called “mania”. This is unmistakably a form of insanity, or drunkenness; Amir longs for the presence of his beloved. The question would be: Who is she/he? Is it God? Rumi is said to have devoted his life and poetry to his master, Syamsudiin Tabriz. For Amir, according to N.H. Dini’s account, it was probably Ilik Sundari, the sweet girl from Solo whom he met at the School of Eastern Literature. Ilik was a daughter of a Javanese aristocrat and theosophist; Amir was a member of the royal family in the Langkat Sultanate. Their love affairs is Shakesperian. The spirit of nationalism was sweeping the whole Archipelago in the 1930s, but no parents at the rime were happy with the prospect of having their sons and daughters married to someone of different ethnicity, let alone different religion. It’s a shame, but, you know, this kind of thing persists until now! But are those poems inspired solely by Ilik? Is it Ilik or God? Can we dismiss Amir’s poems as — in the words of Seno Gumira Ajidarma — the Poems of Heartbreak? I’m not against N.H Dini. She’s done a marvelous job with her work, Amir Hamzah: Pangeran Dari Seberang. But Amir was first a human being, then a poet, a prince, an activist. In his own words, Satu kekasihku/aku manusia/rindu rasa/rindu rupa. It doesn’t matter who he was referring to, God or Ilik, since the agony, the loneliness, the sorrow of separation that he had to endure would be equally unbearable; he was drowned; in a cold night, and alone; “I’m dead, my Love, I’m so dead!”

Our Universe of Silence, Jagad Sunyi Kita

Silence is when you’re feeling apart from the one that you long for; and that’s what people feel when they’re feeling lost and lonely (usually followed by  deep, alien and inexplicable melancholy). We’re lost, just like Harry Heller in Hesse’s novel, Steppenwolf. We long for the absent; and that longing is thicker and deeper when we don’t really know who or what they are — our only guide is our lovesickness, or in Hermine’s words to Harry, our homesickness. Was it God or Ilik on Amir’s mind when he wrote, “Ada ketika dalam masa/Segala ini lupa semua/Rupamu silam beranjur sapur/Lukisan senyum sasap mata/…Engkau ada dalam semua/Dalam lagu mengedar dunia/Dalam cahaya cuaca cerah/Dalam sendu kalbuku ragu.”? We would never know, and we don’t need to know! As I said, there are seven hundred thousands ways of reading a poem. All is right, all is false.


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  1. terimakaasih karen engkau telah memberi banyak informasi dari posting anda ini

  2. sunyi dalam arti sunyi = ketiadaan suara,pengindraan telinga;
    atau sunyi dalam arti hening?
    Hening itu a state of mind. Dalam kesepian suara tidak lalu otomatis akan berujung hening, seperti pengakuanmu sendiri saat lonceng bergeser lewat tengah malam malah berkicau risau sendirian.
    Hening di lain pihak bisa di mana saja, kapan saja. Kematian sendiri bukan jaminan akan mendapat keheningan, bisa jadi gentayangan.
    Maka banyak pejalan spiritual jatuh bangun susah payah berurai keringat dan air mata, mencari keheningan. Atau tepatnya menemukan kembali keheningan.
    Hening itu, priceless.

  3. kayaknya ini sunyi yang berisik. sunyi yang bisa buat penyair menulis banyak-banyak. bukan sunyi petapa yang diam saja.

  4. ^ Kukira begitu jua.

    Sunyi dalam kehidupan Amir Hamzah, bukan sunyi macam orang-orang sok seniman yang cuma karena terkurung hujan dan betinanya sedang jauh di lain nusa *lirik kaca lemari* belaka. Sunyi karena dia merasa terasing dari apa yang dilihat dan apa yang diraba, apa yang diingat dan apa yang dirasa, dari apa yang diungkap dan apa yang diharap.

    Hidupnya boleh jadi tak sesunyi malam-malam para blogger macam awak yang kebanyakan mikir tapi merasa sunyi, merasa sunyi di tengah deru hujan atau karena mendengar simfoni Mozart yang diaransemen macam simfoni kesurupan oleh kesedihan, tapi karena rasa.

    Dan rasa, cuma tiap diri tahu-kenal, tapi belum tentu tahu memberi kata, memberi definisi “apa”.

    Sedikit-banyak, tiap manusia ada merasa macam Amir Hamzah, cuma sikap denial saja menolak fatwa ini.

    Hanya, dia tahu menuliskan, macam puisi itu wahyu belaka. Wahyu dari kelengangan yang lahir dalam benak dan hatinya sendiri.

    Tak butuh jadi petapa untuk menjadi hening. Bahkan saat berpisah dengan orang yang kita suka, kita harapkan, semesta bisa tiba-tiba oh-bedebahnya-terasa-hampa.

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