Nationality: Filipino. Born: Dumangas, Iloilo, 2 June 1920. Education: Silliman University, Dumaguete City, A.B. in English 1947; University of Iowa, Iowa City, M.F.A. in English and creative writing 1952. Family: Married Angelita Delariarte in 1944; four children. Career: Assistant professor, 1959–70, chairman of the Department of Humanities, 1961–62, associate professor, 1970–75, professor of humanities, 1975–85, and since 1986 professor emeritus, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. Awards: Rockefeller fellowship, 1952; University of the Philippines Golden Jubilee award; Philippines Republic Cultural Heritage award, 1968; Palanca award, for play, 1975; South-East Asia Writer's award, 1985; Writer's Union of the Philippines award, 1991. Address: 38 Bulacan Street, West Avenue, Quezon City, Philippines.
No Certain Weather. Quezon City, Guinhalinan Press, 1956.
La Via: A Spiritual Journey. Quezon City, Diliman Review, 1958.
Daedalus and Other Poems. Quezon City, Guinhalinan Press, 1961.
Barter in Panay. Quezon City, University of the Philippines Office of Research Coordination, 1961.
Masks and Signature. Quezon City, University of the Philippines Press, 1968.
The Scare-Crow Christ. Quezon City, Diliman Review, 1973.
The City and the Thread of Light and Other Poems. Quezon City, Diliman Review, 1974.
Lazarus, Troubadour. Quezon City, New Day, 1974.
Sun, Silhouettes, and Shadow, photographs by B. David Williams, Jr. Quezon City, New Day, 1975.
First and Last Fruits. Quezon City, New Day, 1989.
The Heart of Emptiness Is Black (produced Quezon City, 1973). Quezon City, University of the Philippines Press, 1975.
The Genesis of a Troubled Vision. Quezon City, University of the Philippines Press, 1976.
The Authentic Voice of Poetry. Quezon City, University of the Philippines Office of Research Coordination, 1962.
My Sumakwelan Works in the Context of Philippine Culture. Quezon City, University of the Philippines Press, 1976.
Major and Minor Keys. Quezon City, New Day, 1985.*
Critical Studies: "The Wounded Diamond," in Bookmark (Manila), 1964, and article in Solidarity Magazine (Manila), 1968, both by Leonard Casper; A Native Clearing edited by Germino H. Abad, Quezon City, University of the Philippines Press, 1993.
Ricaredo Demetillo comments:
(1970) My poetry has been much influenced by the New Criticism in America, but I do not belong to any school.
My poetry has been concerned with the following major themes: the rebellion of the young against the conventional values of an overly repressive society; the modern journey of the individual from lostness to wholeness and fullest creativity; the rise and fall of civilization, using the myth of Daedalus in ancient Crete to objectify and evoke the human condition; and the important position of the artists as the bearers and the creators of volumes necessary to the renewal of society. To project all these themes, I have used the lyric, the elegiac, the poetic essay, the epic, etc., with relatively good success. Always I have been concerned with the human condition and also celebrated the hierarchy of light. Strongest influences: Homer, Dante, Baudelaire, Dylan Thomas, W.B. Yeats, and Auden, not to mention myths of all sorts, including the Filipino ones.
(1974) My recent book The Scare-Crow Christ was written mostly during the troubled period of student activism in Manila and contains poems objectifying the poverty and the spiritual confusion of the time. One poem speaks of the indifference of the average man to the welfare of the "diminished, unfulfilled" man and asks, "Are you not Judas to his scare-crow Christ?" Still another one pays "tall tribute to the hardihood of man" that is able to survive the horrors of war in Vietnam and elsewhere.
But these new poems are evocations, not propagandistic statements.
My verse drama The Heart of Emptiness Is Black, really a sort of sequel to Barter in Panay, deals centrally with the conflict between tribalism and emergent individualism, which may have relevance to the present situation of the Philippines under martial law. I chose the drama as a form so that I can be heard by the public, for poetry locally is mostly unheard and unread, if not dead.
The City and Other Poems objectifies or evokes the lostness of man in the modern city and the poet's search for any available meaning in the human condition today.* * *
Ricaredo Demetillo's poetry, fiction, and criticism belong to a tradition that is both East and West, and his work is being recognized, though a bit slowly, as a distinct part of the world cultural heritage, a blending of oriental and occidental values. His writings offer a rich mine for the student and the science of culture.
Demetillo deals with a variety of themes: the revolt of youth against oppressive society, the rise and fall of civilizations, the spiritual bankruptcy of language that presages political violence and economic distress, the poet's Dantean/Faustian journey through the morass of living to the higher life. An important work, the poet himself says, "evokes and proclaims the life-forwarding sacrifices of the artists, the 'unstable men,' who are the harbinger of the truths—and values—that invigorate and renew society during critical epochs." Another critic has observed that his early La Via: A Spiritual Journey is the most sustained argument in verse in any language by a Filipino.
What many consider Demetillo's most ambitious work is the literary epic sequence he adapted from the ethnolinguistic legend popularly know as Maragtas. He has rewritten the story in three parts, each complete in itself. Barter in Panay, the first of the three, concerns the pseudohistorical settlement of the island of Panay, in central Philippines, by several boatloads of people from Borneo, not through armed conquest but peacefully through friendly barter (gold for land) with an earlier group of settlers. The story is transformed into a serious literary epic with the intention to project not crudely tribal values but rather national, even international, ideals about justice, liberty, racial harmony, democratic government, and the interrelationships of people whose leaders act only with the consent of the governed. The principles of freedom and democracy expressed in the traditional story of Barter in Panay remain applicable today.
In the second part of the sequence, The Heart of Emptiness Is Black, Demetillo dramatizes the tragic conflict between the lovers Kapinanga and Guronggurong, on the one hand, and the oppressive authority of the leader of the expedition, Datu Sumakwel, and the priest Bangutbanwa, on the other. Kapinanga's adultery with Guronggurong leads to his death and her exile, as decreed by her husband, Sumakwel. In the third part both Kapinanga and Sumakwel have been chastened by their experiences, which leads to reconciliation. What started out as a bucolic narrative and continued as high tragedy winds up as romantic melodrama.
One may discern in the lifework of Demetillo an eloquent argument for the integrity of the artist as both individual human being and as social person. José Garcia Villa, the other major Philippine poet of the twentieth century, may be patronizing toward Demetillo's social commitments, but Demetillo, while recognizing the superior quality of Villa's personal lyricism, is proud of his stand. Although both Villa and Demetillo accept the centrality of the formal, or aesthetic, values in a work of art, Villa stops there. Demetillo, however, goes further, looking for additional values that may enhance the beauty and significance of human life. As a poet Demetillo has attained a stature that in Philippine literature is hard to erode and difficult to surpass.
—Leopoldo Y. Yabes