The Poet and His Language

chairil anwar, poet, poetry


In general it can be said that the ordinary reader in this intuitive reading and understanding of a poem does not distinguish the various aspects which together make up the total message of the poem. In a scholarly analysis, however, we have to take due account of these various aspects. We need a thorough knowledge of the language used by the poet, its phonemic and grammatical structure, and its vocabulary; we have to be aware of the writing conventions of the language in question; and finally we have to take into account the specific conventions and characteristics of poetry written in this language.

Attempts to describe and analyse Bahasa Indonesia as used in poetry so far have been few in number and, moreover, not very successful. Although some studies, e.g. those by Slametmuljana (1951; 1954; 1956), Junus (1965; 1968; 1970), and Nababan (1966), may he mentioned in this respect most of them lack both the theoretical foundations and the thoroughness and scientific consistency necessary in dealing with the various aspects involved in the language of poetry (see e.g. Teeuw, 1953 and 1955, on Slametmuljana's 1951 and 1954, respectively).

The aim of the present study is to make a linguistic analysis of Chairil Anwar's poetry and to reveal the poet's specific treatment of his language. We have chosen Chairil Anwar for this study because he is generally acknowledged as the forerunner and most important representative of modern Indonesian poetry (Braasem, 1954:43; Jassin, 1968; Teeuw, 1967). By focusing the analysis on the linguistic aspects of his poetic language, this study aims to bring into prominence the characteristic qualities of both the poet and his poetry. It is hoped that this linguistic approach will provide a basis for further interpretation and evaluation of Chairil Anwar as a poet in particular, as well as presenting relevant material and opening up some new lines of inquiry for a further study of poetic usage in Bahasa Indonesia in general.

Chairil Anwar's poetry was originally published in three volumes: Deru Tjampur Debu (Noise Mixed with Dust, 1949), jointly published by Pembangunan and Djambatan; Kerikil Tadjam dan Jang Terampas dan Jang Putus (Sharp Gravel and The Ravaged and The Broken, 1949), i.e. two collections combined into one volume, published by Pustaka Rakjat; and Tiga Menguak Takdir, published by Balai Pustaka in 1950. In the last-mentioned, ten poems by Chairil Anwar appear together with poems by Asrul Sani and Rivai Apin. However, only one of them had not been published previously in either of the two earlier collections. In Jassin's excellent study, Chairil Anwar Pelopor Angkatan 45 (Chairil Anwar, A Pioneer of the Generation of 1945), published by Gunung Agung in 1956 (third edition 1968), a number of poems and prose writings that had either never appeared in print before, or were scattered throughout numerous magazines, have been brought together and published.

Burton Raffel's The Complete Poetry and Prose of Chairil Anwar, published by the State University of New Vork Press (1970), contains a complete edition of Chairil Anwar's poetry together with English translations which, however, are not always altogether exact (Teeuw, 1971b, and below). The poems selected for discussion in the present study (see Chapter I, Section 2) have been taken from one or other of the first four hooks mentioned above. Wherever any of these poems is available in more than one printed version, the particular source used here and the variant readings which are relevant for the analysis will be mentioned.

Further, Poerwadarminta's monolingual Indonesian dictionary Kamus Umum, first published in 1952, was used as the main reference work, both for lexicographical and morphological purposes, since it is 'a standard work, coming right at the beginning of the history of BI lexicography, and excelling in the large number of well chosen examples of the use of words' (Teeuw, 1961: 69); moreover, it is almost contemporaneous with Chairil Anwar's poetry in its data. Occasionally we also refer to the Indonesian-Dutch dictionary of Poerwadarminta and Teeuw (first published in 1950). In dealing with certain problems of Indonesian syntax we have consulted Poedjawijatna and Zoetmulder's Tatabahasa lndonesia Untuk Sekolah Landjutan Atas (Indonesian Grammar for High Schools), first published in 1955. The insufficiency of our reference material is obvious; however, at the present stage of Indonesian grammatical description and lexicography we are left with no better alternative.

In view of what has been said above about the scarcity of previous works in this field and also because Chairil Anwar's use of Bahasa Indonesia is so obviously different from the pre-war form of th at language that had become more or less standardized in Balai Pustaka Malay (see below) , we are of the opinion that the most appropriate method of approach to and analysis of this poetry as an example of linguistic use is that of induction and description. We furthermore feel that, since the book is being published for a predominantly non-Indonesian speaking public, this type of description (i.e. using the inductive method and the method of descriptive analysis ) will help to give the readers some idea of the problems involved in understanding (and/or translating) modern Indonesian poetry.

In order to make the reader acquainted with the framework in which our subject should be placed, a brief survey is given, by way of Introduction, of the situation as regards Indonesian language and literature during Chairil Anwar's lifetime, as well as an outline of the main biographical facts relevant to this study.

In order to make the reader acquainted at the outset with the kind of problems we face in dealing with Chairil Anwar's poetry we shall begin in Chapter I, intended as a kind of Prologue, with a detailed discussion of one of his shorter poems, which happens to be chronologically his first, and which even so is typical for his poetry in many ways. This poem will also give us an opportunity of making a few introductory remarks on some of the aspects of presentation of this poetry (such as titles, punctuation, etc.), as weIl as on the aesthetic qualities of Indonesian poetry and Chairil Anwar's attitude with regard to these.

Through this Prologue we mean to underline the inductive approach which we have chosen for this study. In the course of our study we have frequently observed that ambiguity, as occasioned by certain morphological and syntactic characteristics of Bahasa Indonesia, looms large among the problems we face in our analysis. In order to avoid unnecessary repetition we shall give a brief exposition of some of the syntactic and morphological characteristics which especially make for ambiguity in Chairil Anwar's poetry and which will therefore have to be referred to time and again in our discussion (Chapter I, Section 3).

The main body of the book is fonned by an analysis of thirteen poems, selected both for their literary value and relevance and because they all present, in one way or another, some of the typical problems we are facing when attempting to understand this poetry (Chapter 11). In our analysis we shall keep to the texts as they stand, including all the formal and semantic characteristics which are relevant for a linguistic analysis, but refraining as much as possible from making far-reaching interpretations (such as symbolic, allegoric, and other kinds) which are not strictly justified by the texts as such. It should be observed that the English translations following the discussions of the poems pretend to be no more than a more or less literal rendering summarizing the linguistic analyses. The reader should be warned not to expect anything approaching a poetically satisfying translation. It is hoped, however, that they will provide a basis for such translation as well as serving as a tool for further interpretation of Chairil Anwar as a poet.

In Chapter III we shall give a systematic summary of the results of our analyses. This Chapter ends with an Epilogue, which is intended as a pendant to the Prologue. It contains a detailed analysis of another one of Chairil Anwar's short poems, one which has so far defied all our attempts at satisfactory interpretation. This way the Epilogue underlines the limitations of a linguistic analysis. It shows how in the absence of sufficient situational information or an adequate frame of reference it is well-nigh impossible for us to arrive at a proper understanding of a poem, that is, to make the appropriate choice from the alternatives emerging from an analysis of the linguistic content of its message.

We have refrained from supplying an index as the key words we would like to list are for the most part so widely scattered throughout the entire book as to render an index virtually pointless anyway. To compensate for this omission we have furnished a detailed table of contents.

In conclusion a few words about the position of the author of the present book in respect of Bahasa Indonesia. She is a native of Djakarta, and has lived in that city all her life (apart from a recent four years' stay abroad). Hence the language she has used since childhood is Bahasa lndonesia as spoken in Djakarta. Her formal education also took place entirely in schools where Bahasa lndonesia was the medium of instruction. The language used in her immediate family circle, however, is mainly Javanese, as both parents are native speakers of Javanese. Therefore it has been necessary to refer time and again to standard lndonesian dictionaries and to check with other native speakers of Indonesian who happened to be near at hand in Leiden on the use and meanings of some of the words and expressions found in Chairil Anwar's poetry.


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