José Rizal's "My Last Farewell"
José Rizal was not only a poet, but even today, he is also remembered and celebrated as the national hero of the Philippines.
Born 19 June 1861, José Rizal was the seventh child of eleven children of Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonzo Rizal. His father owned a sugar plantation, and his mother ran a small business, and she had studied at Manila College. Both parents were well-educated and came from distinguished families.
José learned the alphabet when he was two years old, and at age four, he could write sentences in Tagalog and Spanish; his skill at drawing amazed the adults in his life. He excelled in school, obtaining a bachelors degree by age 16. At age 23, he earned a medical license from the University of Madrid.
Rizal was a true renaissance man; he mastered 22 languages and was proficient as an architect, sculptor, businessman, teacher, historian, inventor, journalist, musician, ophthalmic surgeon, psychologist, farmer, theologian, and, of course, as a poet.
“My Last Farewell”
Rizal’s most important poem is “My Last Farewell.” It has 14 5-line rimed stanzas; each stanza has the rime scheme: ABAAB. Charles Derbyshire translated it from the Spanish; the Spanish title is "Mi Ultimo Adios.” Derbyshire kept the original rime scheme when he translated from the original Spanish to English.
“Farewell, dear Fatherland, clime of the sun caress'd”
José Rizal was in prison waiting to be executed when he wrote this poem as a final statement to his fellow Filipino countrymen. He had been involved in activity to secure his native country’s independence from Spain. In the first stanza, the patriot says his final farewell to his native land, describing it as “Pearl of the Orient seas, our Eden lost.” And he says that he is giving his “faded” life for his country, and even if he were younger, “brighter,” and more “blest” he would still be willing to give his life in this cause.
He says that others have given their lives for their countries in battle and in martyrdom, and it does not matter how they gave it; it just matters that they did. His dreams have always been for his country to experience a blessed, free life: “Dream of my life, my living and burning desire, / All hail ! cries the soul that is now to take flight; / All hail ! And sweet it is for thee to expire; / To die for thy sake, that thou mayst aspire; / And sleep in thy bosom eternity's long night.”
“Pray for all those that hapless have died”
As the poet dramatizes his exit from life, he asks his fellow citizens to remember and pray for all those who have suffered under domination at the hands of foreigners. He asserts that from beyond the grave he will sing a hymn to his fellow citizens.
The poet dramatizes that fact that he may be forgotten, and his grave not be marked with “a cross nor a stone.” But he will be satisfied to “Let the plow sweep through it, the spade turn it o'er / That my ashes may carpet earthly floor.” He will have no sorrows or worries but only peace that is body’s ashes may spread over his beloved homeland.
“In death there is rest”
In the final two stanzas, he assures “parents and kindred and friends” that he is going where no oppressor can kill his faith. He assures them that “God reigns e'er on high!” And he asks them to be grateful that he finally he can “rest from the wearisome day.”
Poem Read in U. S. House of Representatives
José Rizal died by firing squad on December 30, 1896. Six years later, when a bill was pending in the United States House of Representatives aimed at assisting the Filipino people in forming a democratic government, Republican Congressman Henry Cooper of Wisconsin read Rizal’s poem on the floor of the House in support of the Philippine Bill of 1902.
The Democrat members of Congress had argued that the Filipinos were too barbaric to govern themselves. Their party platform stated, “The Filipinos cannot be citizens without endangering our civilization.” But Congressman Cooper argued that a society that could produce a man of Rizal’s abilities was certainly capable of self-government. The bill passed.