RIP Sapardi Djoko Damono; His poems will be eternal

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Sapardi Djoko Damono. (Photo: Prive. Doc)

IO – The Indonesian literary world is grieving. Sapardi Djoko Damono died Sunday 19 July, at the age of 80, following admission to Eka Hospital, Tangerang, Banten. 

Sapardi passed away in July – not June, the title of one of his beautiful poems, “Hujan Bulan Juni” (A June Rain). This poem was also adapted as a novel. His work did not stop as poetry, but was also adapted into novels, comics, songs, and even motion pictures. 

Hujan di Bulan Juni is just one of Sapardi’s works. He has created beautiful, meaningful poems . One of these is “Aku Ingin” (I Want). Sapardi’s metaphor of love is so beautiful in this poem. 

Aku ingin mencintaimu dengan sederhana 

dengan kata yang tak sempat diucapkan 

kayu kepada api yang menjadikannya abu 

Aku ingin mencintaimu dengan sederhana 

dengan isyarat yang tak sempat disampaikan 

awan kepada hujan yang menjadikannya tiada 

I want to love you simply 

with words that never got said 

the wood to the fire which makes it ashes 

I want to love you simply 

with a signal that was not conveyed 

the clouds to the rain which makes them disappear 

Sapardi began writing poetry while still in high school in Surakarta. After his graduation, Sapardi moved to Yogyakarta to study at the English division of the Literature department at Gajah Mada University, and later completed his graduate studies in Indonesian literature. During this period he also became involved in radio broadcasting and the theater, as well as writing poetry. Sapardi’s literary career developed alongside his academic career. 

His first collection of poetry, “DukaMu Abadi” (Your Eternal Sorrow), was released in 1969. The focus of “DukaMu Abadi” is on the pain of the individual who questions existence, and unlike many of his literary peers of this time, Sapardi’s poetry focused more on the human condition rather than revolutionary and social ideas. 

In 1974, he published “Mata Pisau” (Knife) and “Akuarium” (Aquarium). These were followed by “Perahu Kertas” (Paper Boat) and “Sihir Hujan” (Rain Spell), and in 1986 he received the ASEAN-sponsored SEA-Write Award for poetry. 

In 1987, he was one of several prominent Indonesian figures (Goenawan Mohamad, Subagio Sastrowardoyo, Umar Kayam, and John H. McGlynn) involved in the establishment of the Lontar Foundation. To mark the foundation’s inauguration, a collection of Sapardi’s poems, entitled “Suddenly the Night” was released. 

In 1998/1999, Sapardi wrote about the social turbulence resulting from the fall of the New Order regime. This resulted in the book “Ayat-Ayat Api” (Verses of Fire), which received some negative criticism, largely due to the angry tone of the work which differed markedly from his normal style. 

Sapardi has also completed a number of translations of literary works from other countries into Indonesian. These include the literary works of T.S. Eliot, Khalil Gibran and Jalaludin Rumi; his translation of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” is considered among Indonesia’s best. 

Sapardi’s poems have also formed the inspiration behind several musical compositions, most notably by Indonesia’s international-acclaimed pianist Ananda Sukarlan. Several singers have also released albums using his poetry: “Hujan Bulan Juni” (1990), “Hujan Dalam Komposisi” (Rain in Composition) (1990), “Gadis Kecil” (Little Girl) (2006) and “Becoming Dew” (2007). In the realm of film, “Aku Ingin” has been rearranged into a soundtrack by musician Dwiki Dharmawan for Garin Nugroho’s 1991 film “Cinta dalam Sepotong Roti” (Love in A Slice of Bread). 

He was a professor at the University of Indonesia. Sapardi’s extensive and intensive involvement in the university has borne him the unofficial title Professor of Indonesian Poets. He was once elected Dean of the faculty. His poetry continues to enjoy wide popular appeal. A poetry recital, arranged to celebrate his 70th birthday in March 2010, was packed out with people of all ages and from all walks of life, queuing to enter the venue. 

He received a number of awards in recognition of his work. Included among these are: The Putera Poetry Award in 1983, The Jakarta Arts Council Literary Award in 1984, The SEA Write Award in 1986, The Achmad Bakrie Award for Literature in 2003, The Akademi Jakarta Award in 2012. 

Sapardi has gone but his works are eternal. Rest in peace Professor. (rp)