An excerpt of the poem written by Jose Garcia Villa (1908-1997):*
When, I, was, no, bigger, than, a, huge,
Star, in, my, self, I, began, to, write,
Of, rose, and,
Tiger: till, I, burned, with, their
Pure, and, Rage. Then, was, I, Wrath-
Dark, and, yet, most, Lit: in, me, an,
Eye, there, grew: springing, Vision,
Its, wars. Then,
I, knew, the, Lord, was, not, my, Creator!
–Not, He, the, Unbegotten—but, I, saw,
I, began, to, Die, and, I, began, to, Grow.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION
This poem “When I Was No Bigger Than A Huge” written by Jose Garcia Villa is probably the strangest poem I have ever seen. His over-use of punctuations specifically commas made the poem so disturbing yet I find beauty and intertextuality to it.
On a formalist point of view, I would say the poem revolves around the author’s inquiry on metaphysical questions, not necessarily questions but a quest to find what is real as a matter of fact, such as God’s existence or the reality of a ‘supreme and divine Being.’ This assertion of mine arises from the word ‘theology’ which he stated in the fourth line in the beginning as well as what the latter part of the poem implies. Then, he proceeded with ‘rose and tiger’ then ‘pure and rage,’ ‘wrathful and most gentle’, so on and so forth, which we can immediately notice that these are opposites. His theology vis-à-vis these opposites – his search or quest for existential questions I suppose, was ruined by doubt and uncertainty (most dark and yet most lit). His use of commas after every word gives emphasis for each word in the poem; connoting the significance of each of their meanings. On the other hand, the lines containing one to three words serve as the transitional part for each stanza. After these opposites, the author then proceeded in relation to the preceding term: ‘in me an eye there grew: springing vision,’ and ‘its gold and its wars’ from where I have formed in my mind this idea of “hope” and “supreme vision”, this idea of gold, shining, light, something precious and certain, that may refer to the answers to his doubts and uncertainty which he initially made. However, there he said not only its gold [certainty] but also its wars, immediately followed by ‘I knew the Lord was not my Creator!’ which I believe the latter refers to the wars that still darkens his certainty despite of already having his supreme vision. Consecutively, he used en dash and went on to further claim that He [the Unbegotten] was not really the Creator, supporting the former line. His use of punctuations in this part of the poem was very much important. Thus, em dashes followed containing the lines ‘but I saw the Creator was I’ which means he made a strong break in the structure of the thought and made the continuation of his idea of knowing the Lord is not the Creator with ‘and I began to die and I began to grow.’ From this, I therefore interpret that the wars referring to his negation about God’s supremacy despite of having the vision for certainty, were cleared upon him seeing the Creator himself. The latter could also refer to the springing vision he was talking about, its golds. Hence, he ended with a conclusion that after all his search for truth about God’s reality he himself find God [his Creator] to be real and existential. Thus, made him to end and clear all his doubts (I began to die) and began with certainty (to grow). On the contrary, the Lord and Creator in a Marxist point of view can be taken as referring to the struggle of society: the lower class dominated by the upper ruling classes.
In addition, by merely looking at the structure of the poem and aside from the author’s frequent use of commas, some words were written in capital letters excluding those at the beginning of the lines which I guess another way of giving emphasis to the words themselves. But some words he used in the poem are kind of familiar which leads me to archetypically interpret the poem: Theology by Ted Hughes, Tiger [Tyger] of William Blake and “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas from his use of Gentle. Villa’s use of collage with these poems can be interpreted as his way of relating his idea to other literary works to create an objective point; and other capitalized words or adjectives are related to these poems.
The title, the first and second line connote the life of a star, from his shining to dimming moment (the end), which I assert, he wrote this poem in the latter part of his life when he was already shaped by all his experiences. He as a star was not bigger as compared to the universe, as he being a single individual raising metaphysical inquiry until he finds an answer through his dying moment yet the beginning of his certainty (the life, death, and rebirth of a star).
* Jose Garcia Villa was a Filipino poet, artist, lecturer and short story writer well-known for his use of punctuation specifically commas in his literary works including the poem he wrote below. Hence, he was called the “Comma Poet”. Villa was awarded as the National Artist of the Year for Literature in 1973. He also gained prestige and several awards in New York City, USA including Guggenheim Fellowship for creative writing and outstanding work in American literature (Valeros & Valeros-Gruenberg, 1987 via Pinoy Lit).
NOTE: This paper was submitted to the publisher’s Humanities Class 1 under Ms. Rachel Pitlongay (Instructor in English, Department of Language, Literature and the Arts – University of the Philippines Baguio).