Mengecilkan Cinta: Puisi “Bonsai” oleh Edith Tiempo dalam Bahasa Indonesia

Terkadang, bila kita memikirkan tentang cinta, kita menganggapnya seperti pohon: sebuah konsep raksasa yang sulit dipahami manusia. Tetapi, bagaimana jika kita mengecilkan ukuranya seperti membuat bonsai? Apakah cinta menjadi kurang bermakna?

Dalam puisi “Bonsai“, cinta dianggap sebagai hal yang dapat ditemukan bahkan dalam hal-hal terkecil. Bahwa cinta dapat dipegang oleh tangan. Bahwa itu bisa terjadi di hari-hari biasa.

Puisi ini awalnya ditulis oleh Edith Tiempo (1919-2011) dalam Bahasa Inggris. Tiempo adalah seorang penyair, penulis fiksi, guru, dan seorang kritikus sastra dari Filipina.

Dalam tulisan ini, saya menerjemahkan karya beliau ke Bahasa Indonesia karena saya merasa tak seorang penulis pun pernah menggunakan bonsai sebagai metafora untuk cinta.

Berikut adalah versi asli puisi tersebut, diikuti dengan versi Indonesianya. Karena saya percaya bahwa versi yang saya tulis masih bisa disempurnakan, mohon memberikan komentar dibawah post ini. 🙂

By Edith Tiempo

All that I love

I fold over once

And once again

And keep in a box

Or a slit in a hollow post

Or in my shoe.

All that I love?

Why, yes, but for the moment-

And for all time, both.

Something that folds and keeps easy,

Son’s note or Dad’s one gaudy tie,

A roto picture of a queen,

A blue Indian shawl, even

A money bill.

It’s utter sublimation,

A feat, this heart’s control

Moment to moment

To scale all love down

To a cupped hand’s size

Till seashells are broken pieces

From God’s own bright teeth,

And life and love are real

Things you can run and

Breathless hand over

To the merest child.

Oleh Edith Tiempo

Semua yang ku cintai

Aku melipatnya dua kali

Dan sekali lagi

Untuk disimpan dalam sebuah kardus

Atau menyelipkan dalam sebuah kotak pos yang hampa

Atau dalam sepatu ku.

Semua yang ku cintai?

Mengapa, iya, namun untuk sementara-

Dan untuk semua waktu, dua-duanya,

Sesuatu yang dapat dilipat dan mudah disimpan:

Catatan anak atau dasi seorang ayah,

Sebuah gambar seorang ratu,

Sepotong selendang India berwarna biru,

Bahkan selembar uang kertas

Ini adalah sebuah sublimasi

Suatu prestasi: kemampuan hati, bahwa

Saat demi saat, sanggup

Menyingkat semua kasih sayang

Sampai ukuran nya dapat digenggam

Dengan tangan.

Sampai kerang-kerang itu

Menjadi pecahan kecil

Dari gigi cerah Tuhan sendiri

Dan hidup dan cinta adalah

Hal-hal nyata yang dapat

Kau serahkan kepada

Anak semata wayang.

Public domain photo taken here.

Noy Narciso’s “Sinulid Gikan sa Langit” in Bahasa Indonesia

Sinulid Gikan sa Langit is a song written by Noy Narciso, an artist from the Philippine southern city of Davao, where he also teaches Narciso teaches film, theatre and arts.

The song’s title is a mixture of Tagalog (sinulid = thread) and Cebuano words (gikan sa langit = from the sky). As to the reason why Narciso chose to name the song in such fashion is something I do not know. However, I feel that the writer intended to code-switch as, having lived in Davao myself, we are known to code-switch in conversations. Karlo David wrote an enlightening post on the same topic in this post.
I came across Sinulid Gikan sa Langit sometime in 2012 when I was organising Davao’s first TEDx conference. Narciso became part of the line of speakers as we thought his thesis on soul making was an idea worth spreading. The day he first played Sinulid in one of the conference’s rehearsals, the song immediately got me. Its unusual chord progression (Broken C – Fmaj 7 / Bm7 – C#M7 / Am – D – C – Fmaj 7) is a respite from formulaic pop (I should be crucified for even pointing this out). And the lyrics represents Narciso’s meditative, beyond the bustle thoughts, something we at the Humanities and Letters Department would always love to hear and read, may it be during conversations at the faculty office, or in his performances (remember Shift Happens?).
The song’s lyrics is written in Filipino, which took me time to understand (I am not fluent in the said language). But since I’m a ‘trying hard’ arts and literature appreciator, I eventually got the song’s message, thanks to the convenience this era provides: this and this.
The Philippines is celebrating its National Literature Month. As a contribution, I’ll do my best to translate some of my favourite works created by Filipino artists (I previously translated Macario Tiu’s Bago Aplaya) to Bahasa Indonesia, the national language of my second home.
Sinulid Gikan Sa Langit
By Noy Narciso
Mga sinulid mula sa kalangitan

Nagbuburda ng kumot sa kalupaan



Masisid ang lupang tigang

Iba’y sinaklong ng dahon

Iba’y sa hangin tinangay

Kumapit sa mga tangkay

Iba’y kumaripas sa damohan

Iba’y gumuhit ng ala-ala sa dalampasigan

Iba’y naging luha sa bangin ng iyong pisngi



Benang Dari Langit

Oleh Noy Narciso

Benang-benang ciptaan langit

Menganyam selimut demi bumi

Saling mendorong


Menukik ke tanah tandus

Ada yang tergenggam daun

Ada yang terbawa angin

Menggantung pada cabang

Ada yang melesat ke rumput

Ada yang melukis kenangan di pantai

Yang lain menjadi tetesan di pipimu

Photo courtesy of Donald Tong

Macario Tiu’s “Bago Aplaya” in Bahasa Indonesia

Thanks to Karlo David for the wonderful English translation of Macario Tiu’s Bago Aplaya, which I first read when I was in college.

It’s only now upon reading this translation that I am able to delve into the poem’s deeper meaning.

And as a gesture of gratitude, I have tried my best to translate the poem to Bahasa Indonesia.

Bago Aplaya
Oleh Macario Tiu

Betapa lembut ombak nya
Dan air pasang meninggi

Sang pendeta memberkati perahu;
Dan kita diperciki air suci
Bersama dengan para nelayan yang rendah hati.

Aku senang untuk kebahagiaan mereka, mendapatkan
Alat baru untuk memancing:
Inilah yang kita rayakan. Namun

Betapa lembut ombak nya
Dan air pasang meninggi.

Dan, seperti beberapa penyair tua
Ku merasakan kesedihan yang terus menerus melanda tanpa henti
Terdampar oleh ombak.

Tapi bukan karena aku mendengar
Manusia mendesah tanpa henti
Namun karena keadaan ku yang teramat menyedihkan

Esok, kau tinggalkanku sendiri selamanya
Sedangkan betapa lembut ombak nya
Dan air pasang meninggi.


Bago Aplaya
by Macario Tiu

Hinay ang tapya sa balod
Ug nagsugod na ang taob.

Namasbas ang pari sa bangkang de motor,
Ug lakip tang nawiskan sa bendita.
Uban sa mga gagmayng mananagat nga nanag-alirong.

Nalipay ako sa ilang kalipay
Nga nakaangkog himan sa panagat:
mao kana ang atong gisaulog.

Apan hinay ang tapya sa balod
Ug nagsugod na ang taob.

Ug sama sa karaang magbabalak,
Akong nabati ang walay kataposang kasubo
Nga dala sa balod.

Apan dili tungod sa pangagho sa katawhan
kondili sa akong kaugalingong kahimtang.
Ugma, mobiya ka na sa hangtod
Samtang hinay ang tapya sa balod
Ug magsugod na ang taob

Bago Aplaya

Gentle is the dashing of the waves
and the tide is rising.

The priest blesses the motor powered boat;
and we are sprinkled by holy water
along with the humble fishermen gathered.

I am happy for their happiness, gaining
a new tool for…

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There’s Another Kind of Poverty That Demands Our Attention

Our common definition of poverty is when people do not meet their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter, that’s when we start calling them poor. An estimated 896 million people or 12.7 of the world’s population fall under that definition, according to the World Bank. We have cut the poverty rate into half between 1990 and 2015. That’s something we should celebrate, something that should encourage us to strengthen our fight against global poverty.

But there is another form of poverty that we rarely talk about. There is no statistics that could tell how prevalent it is, but what I think is that it affects many of us.


Our Poverty of Words

In Indonesia, when one person declares that he’s depressed, it is easy for us to dismiss their state as something of less importance. We think that modern words like galau or baper is the best word to describe what they’re going through.

Galau, by definition, means kacau tidak keruan (pikiran). Many times, I have been told to have gone through kegalauan. Galau, because I don’t look the positive things in life. Galau, because I dwell on painful memories. Galau, because I refuse to move on.

I am impressed by how easy for many people to diagnose what I’m feeling, and I wonder what body of knowledge has turned them into experts in giving unsolicited advice to people suffering from kegalauan.

But of course, as many of you who have experienced kegalauan, galau is not as easy as imagined. In societies where our priority is to fulfil our material needs, there are things that are placed at the sidelines, such as depression, a condition often equated to galau.


My Struggle With Depression

I have been sporadically battling with depression since 2008, the beginning my tumultuous journey with life. Between that that year and 2015, I lost a college friend and a mentor, a colleague, an aunt, and encountered hundreds of families grieving for their loved ones washed away by natural calamities in Southern Philippines. The events happened at short intervals, just right after I thought I have recovered from each of them. In 2012, a month after I got the news that I was awarded a scholarship for a postgraduate study, I was informed by my employer that I have been accused of plagiarising a news report, an act that I denied but somehow people like spreading rumours that plagiarism became an inside joke among people I used to consider as friends. They weren’t.

Sure, I know that while the glass is half-empty, it is also half-full. I tried to look at the positive things of every problem, but depression is a selfish companion that thinks only for himself. There would be mornings where mustering the will to get up is a challenging task. Meeting people was a difficult task. You did not want to meet and talk with people. Your subconscious self refuses to talk. You lose vigour. You wish there wouldn’t be tomorrow so there’s no need to wake up next day.

In developing countries, treating depression does not have the same footing with treating common illnesses. It is understandable. After all, I do not expect much for people to see doctors when they feel they’re suffering from depression (as it may be costly). But, what’s not acceptable is when we try to silence depression, as if it weren’t there.

Depression is “the secret we share,” says American writer Andrew Solomon in his TED Talk. The thing keeping secrets is that it makes understanding even more difficult. Solomon discussed in his speech that people tend to confuse depression, grief, and sadness.

“Grief is explicitly reactive. If you have a loss and you feel incredibly unhappy, and then, six months later, you are deeply sad, but you’re functioning a little better, it’s probably grief, and it will probably ultimately resolve itself in some measure. If you experience a catastrophic loss, and you feel terrible, and six months later you can barely function at all, then it’s probably a depression that was triggered by the catastrophic circumstances.” — Andrew Solomon

Solomon went on to expound on the current state of depression treatment in the world, which he described as appalling. “They’re not very effective. They’re extremely costly. They come with innumerable side effects. They’re a disaster.”

He did not mean that people suffering from depression should not go see a specialist. “But I am so grateful that I live now and not 50 years ago, when there would have been almost nothing to be done.”

Such is true, and what we can also do is to treat depression by exploring such state through language.


‘Poverty’ and Poetry

In 2002, a research published for National Poetry Day said that England’s National Health Service could save nearly £200,000 a year using poems to help people with depression. The report based on 196 people with psychological problems found that 75% found writing poems as an emotional release. Two thirds found reading or listening to poetry helped them be able to relax and feel calm.

Historically, artists have conveyed depression through metaphors. Emily Dickson described it like “a Funeral, in my Brain.”  Bei Dao saw everything as “an endless beginning” and hope “hedged with doubt.”

But fast forward to the present, depression is simplified into galau.

Unlike economic poverty which is an important discourse globally, we do not talk about poverty of words. We might have different international lending institutions like the World Bank, but we do not have Word Bank, a multi-lateral organisation that aims to battle our word famine. That doesn’t mean, however, there is nothing we can do.

In the summer of 2014, I found myself applying for a literary fellowship, where I met some of the Philippines award-winning writers who gave me a deeper understanding of poetry.

For one week, we would listen to lectures, and in the afternoon, the works we submitted before the workshop would be critiqued by these esteemed writers.

The fellows came from different backgrounds. But what was strikingly common was that all of us were facing battles. We were needing a weapon, so when we come back to our normal lives, would have the ability to navigate the complexities of life.

The task of poetry, according to Filipino poet Mikael Co, is to never run out of words. Its task is to let those who battle the spectre of despair become victorious, in an age where people suffering deep inside continue to find the words that best describe their state of mind.

If some of you happen to be in the same predicament as mine, I invite you to enter the world of poetry, and discover what creative language can do for you, in dire situations where you think there is no more reason for you to live.

Because there is. And to support what I believe, let me leave you a poetry that I continue to read, especially when depression creeps.



Also All (in answer to Bei Dao’s “All”)

Not all trees are felled by storms.

Not every seed finds barren soil.

Not all the wings of dream are broken,

nor is all affection doomed

to wither in a desolate heart.

No, not all is as you say.

Not all flames consume themselves,

shedding no ling on other lives.

Not all starts announce the night

and never dawn. Not every song

will drift past every ear and heart.

No, not all is as you say.

Not every cry for help is silenced,

nor every loss beyond recall.

Not every chasm spells disaster.

Not only the weak will be brought to their knees,

nor every soul be trodden under.

It won’t all end in tears and blood.

Today is heavy with tomorrow—

the future was planted yesterday.

Hope is a burden all of us shoulder

though we might stumble under the load.



Photo courtesy of János Csongor Kerekes

My Advice to Young Indonesians Who Aspire to Write in English


As many of you might have known, I teach courses in writing at a university in Malang. Writing has been my profession for seven years, and since then the task of filling an empty space with words has been a blessing. Not only has it provided me food on the table, it has pushed me to constantly improve my communication skills through language. In a way, I think that if it weren’t for writing, there would be no reason to mount Durian Writer, my personal blog that brims of my ideas, most of them born from the fragments of thoughts I keep in my diary. Or, if it weren’t for writing, I would have shied away from joining Malang Toastmasters, where each speech project not only requires you to speak in public, but as well as to prepare for a speech that requires a process of crystallising the meat of your talk which shouldn’t go beyond 7 minutes.

I intentionally wrote this piece because there are many young Indonesian students who aspire to become writers in the English language. And to become one is a challenge. One huge factor is that English, like where I teach, is not the medium of instruction. What’s more, in this country, English is not the language for everyday conversation, nor the commonly-used language in mass media.

Of course, I do not mean to disparage Indonesia for this. What I’m concerned, however, is how the English language is taught in schools and how these institutions try to lure the students in enrolling into their programmes using Caucasians in their advertising materials.

There are many literary theories of writing. Therefore, in as much as I want you to read this with a willingness to learn, please do not take my advice as your lone guide to writing. I came up with this piece to share what I think many of the young Indonesian aspiring writers should put into mind.


Reading is the Religion of Writers

Just as a painter can’t become one without immersing himself to great works of art, a writer cannot succeed without making reading his religion. When I was practising journalism in the Philippines, my day begins and ends with reading the news to keep myself abreast to the current affairs. I also read newspapers and online reports because I needed to know how other journalists reported the news. One of the journalists that influenced my writing includes my dear friend Germelina. What I like the most in her reports is how she uses her creative writing skills which engage the reader. I had the chance to work with her sometime in 2013, when she was editing my journalism project.

Apart from her, I fell in love with the works of Jhoanna Cruz, a Palanca awardee and a literature professor at the University of the Philippines-Mindanao. Jhoanna happened to be one of the panellists of a writing fellowship I attended in the summer of 2014, where she and other award-winning writers generously critiqued my literary projects.

Other writers that informed my writing include Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), Laksmi Pamuntjak (The Question of Red), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Americanah), Adonis Durado (Not Everything that Falls Comes Down), Mikael de Lara Co (A Poem That Had Some Difficulty With The First Line).

If you want to become a writer and wish not to read, I say forget writing.


Writing Workshops Won’t Turn You into a Writer in One Day

Writing workshops nor your English lecturer won’t turn you into a good writer in a short span of time. And the same goes to, I’m sorry, language camps that promise you to become a fluent English speaker at the end of the programme. Enough of this craze. Improving your skill in writing is a lifetime process. Despite having been married to this profession for seven years, I still wake up everyday angry and ambitious. I have always been reluctant to give writing workshops because apart from feeling guilty of charging participants slash making money out of trainings, young aspiring writers should realise that they come to workshops only to gather inspiration to hold on to writing. Do not expect that you’ll soon be able to write a book after attending a workshop. My favourite writer took her more than a decade to publish her first book.


Write Everyday

Keep a diary and promise that you’ll fill it with words every day. Journals are a good exercise as it will help you get used to expressing yourself through the written language (in this case, the English language). In the beginning, writing each day could become a challenge. But hey, wake up. As the trite proverb says, practise makes perfect. Write down what goes in your mind. If a big idea suddenly appears, capture and find the words for it. Later, when you turn back the pages of your diary, you’ll be surprised of the things you were thinking about.


Grammar Matters

Once in 2012, a student quoted me as saying “grammar is dehumanising. It violates man’s freedom of expression.” First, I would like to clarify that when I said that, I was attempting to make the audience laugh. Seriously, grammar matters. Without it, our works would end up impossible to understand. (Also, I myself struggle with the English language grammar. And I thank my editors for saving me from humiliation!)

A lot of my students apologise for their terrible grammar before or after they submit their assignments to me. We all know how confusing the English language could get. But the constant asking for an apology does not make sense, most especially if they never take note of grammatical errors they’ve committed.

In Ayn Rand’s “The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers”, she said:

“Too many people today think: “I’m a creative genius, I’m above grammar.” But nobody who thinks or writes can be above grammar. It is like saying, I’m a creative genius, I’m above concepts” – which is the attitude of modern artists. If you are “above” grammar, you are “above” concepts; and if you are “above” concepts, you are “above” thought. The fact is that then you are not above, but far below, thought. Therefore, make a religion of grammar.

To the young Indonesians who wish to aspire to become writers in the English language, I wish you well. For those based in Malang, let’s meet! 🙂