The Indonesian poet Chairil Anwar (1922–49) appears to have known it all along: his poems, evoking loneliness and failed communication, written in a self-proclaimed new language, were to remain incomplete and unfinished. Incomplete because they were to be read again and again long after the Indonesian National Revolution had achieved its primary aim, political independence of the Republic of Indonesia, heir of the Dutch Empire; unfinished because they were to be published again and again, every printing and every reading creating other poems. The marble monuments of Indonesian culture of which Chairil was dreaming—polished and stable—never materialized. Perhaps only his last poem, in which a formally balanced description of the sociocultural life of the novel Republic was substituted for the evocations of loneliness and failure, seems to confirm his dream: it has rarely been published and became only a reluctant topic of Indonesian conversations in the new century, while the shadows of the Dutch empire and the revolution are fading, and the search for monuments remains incomplete.
In Search of Marble Monuments: The Wandering Poems of Chairil Anwar
Hendrik M. J. Maier is the Luce Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Riverside. He has published widely about Malay and colonial literature — among others We Are Playing Relatives: A Survey of Malay Writing (2004) — and has translated a number of Malay novels and short stories into Dutch.
Hendrik M. J. Maier; In Search of Marble Monuments: The Wandering Poems of Chairil Anwar. positions 1 February 2021; 29 (1): 141–162. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-8722823
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