I love going to bookstores. Walking past rows and rows of books, hearing the quiet prowl of other book lovers in search of new worlds to devour. But not all books in bookstores are abrogated the lust for adventure and mystery deserving of its kind. There are dark corners; but none darker than the Filipiniana section. De facto: It is more difficult to find local books written by our talented artists than it is to find the latest New York Times Bestseller.
I can clearly remember the disappointment that my friends and I felt when we couldn’t find a copy of Cirilo Bautista’s The Trilogy of Saint Lazarus in any bookstore. Isn’t it such a shame when a literary classic is out of print? Modern epic poetry about the development of the Filipino soul intertwined with history might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the great skill and mastery that went into crafting this work of art is breathtaking. My classmates and I wracked our brains trying to peel back the symbolisms meticulously woven into the narrative and though we tried, it wasn’t enough to truly understand the gravity of his wit and intellect.
Even years after his retirement from De La Salle University’s Literature Department, stories of “Dr. Bau” are still passed on to succeeding generations of Literature majors. He was Dr. Bau, the literary giant whose figure casts a shadow larger than life, humanized by the stories my professors tell. He wasn’t just Cirilo Bautista, national artist for literature, he was Dr. Bau the masungit terror prof. He was the terror prof you loved, whose impossibly high standards pushed you towards greater heights and inspired you to keep going.
In a way, he was our professor too. To have a glance at the teacher behind the title through the memories of our professors is a blessing. How amazing must it be to have had Cirilo Bautista as a professor? To learn directly from one of our greatest writers, to have known him as he was, and not through his reputation is definitely a blessing.
One of my professors always remarked on how imposing Dr. Bau was in real life, how his demeanor was enough to make you listen and listen close. Another professor recounted a story to us once in class where she and our other professors would all go to his house to critique each other’s poetry. Having a National Artist for Literature critique your work sounds is definitely both an honor and a nightmare, but an experience worth treasuring indeed.
I don’t remember which of his poems I read last but I remember one that stayed with me longer than the rest. His last collection of poetry was launched in DLSU last term and it’s a beautiful collection. To write all your life and still have more left to say, it’s not often that geniuses are born.
Cirilo Bautista is and will always be one of my favorite poets. And I’m glad that I was given the opportunity to fall in love with his works; I wish that there would be more out there who might stumble upon his words and tuck them away in a pocket in their hearts for safekeeping.