VIA VITAE

by Luis G. Dato

This is the way we all will take
(Good heavens! it is near a lake!),
Way of all flesh, the way of life
Punctuated with incessant strife.
Behind the lake, the river winds
Its course until the sea it finds,
And far beyond — the sunset sea,
And God, and the world’s mystery.
On either side, no trees abound
(Save where some shepherd shade has found,
Sweet respite from the merciless sun,
From Morpheus’ arms brief slumber won),
But only wide expanse of plain
Which in due season bursts with grain,
The staff of life, the staple food,
Objective of our livelihood.

And here, alone, is groups, they go,
Afoot or their light boats to row,
The fisher folk, the gentry, too,
To which we may belong — and you,
Bound for the lake, sun-swept, to fish
Be this their trade or just their wish.

And farther up, the way lies still,
It starts below the green-grassed hill
And after bends and turns go down,
Past trees and boulders to the town,
The hub of life, the center of
What passes for terrestrial love,
Though what is love and what is death
Are mostly taken but on faith,
And what is man and what is life,
The times with speculations rife
Have not the answer turned at all
This many ages since the Fall.
Beyond the hill — the sunrise sea,
And God once more, and mystery.

And yet, the way from hill to lake,
We willingly do not forsake,
Whate’er the doubts, whate’er the fears,
The griefs, the pain that dog the years,
But when at last our way is done,
Our hopes still see a farther sun,
And we deny, a renegade,
What the sense knows of things that fade.
And whether lakeward or uphill,
One course, one motive bides us still —
The quest for shelter, raiment, food,
The substance of the earthly good,
Without which who would seek to live,
Or love, except it were to grieve?
And what is life? a pulse, a beat,
A gasp of air, a shuffle of feet
Upon a way that starts with roses
And with enigma turns and closes?
And what is love but life again,
With all its joys and all its pain,
And sex but the averted face
With which it perpetuate the race?
These satisfied we set our eyes
To higher sights, the uncharted skies,
Turn to the self, to find the soul
A mystery, too, its whence, its goal.

Gnarled ancient trees, dark primal woods,
Peace blessed these sylvan solitudes,
Where quiet reigns, disturbed alone
By call of bird, the monotone
Of crickets thinking day were night,
Or whir of wings in sudden flight,
Where flit with wings of gaudy dyes,
The black and silent butterflies,
Here in this fastness, cool and calm,
Sprawl lands of hemp and coco palm,
Mainstay of life, next but to rice,
In foreign markets precious prize,
In unaccountable decay,
Prostrate, to unknown ills a prey,
For some new blight of clime or soil
This vast resource would all despoil,
What’s wrong? the soil? a virus? worms?
The roots too jarred by frequent storms?
The prospect dark, our hands are bowed,
Unless somehow the cure were found.

The pristine forests have come down
Enriching but a few in town,
Plus the kaingin farmer, who
For present weal wrought coming woe —
For passing profits the old woods
Have fallen, bringing in the floods,
And desecrate, the solemn halls
For meagre crops the plowman tills,
No more a scenic bower green
To charm us with the sylvan scene,
Perennial wonder to behold,
As did our sires in days of old.

And nearby cross the railway tracks,
With beasts of steel, upon whose backs,
Come cargoes and the ceaseless fare
For all the ports of sea and air,
For the metropolis which stands
With welcoming hands to all the lands,
The blood of trade flows through each vein,
Lure of the sea, the thought of gain.

And nearby, too, the school, where Youth
Must come to grips for once with Truth,
As far as this were knowable
Through the five senses, if at all,
A second home where children find
A loving guide for heart and mind,
Much later as a group to stand
For home and God, a loyal band;
Though strange to tell, the truth may be
As varied as the mind is free,
For worth commands a changing price
Good could be evil, virtue, vice,
Whate’er the glass that fits our eyes,
Or what the flag above us flies.

And then the church, its door ajar
From dawn to dusk, in peace and war,
And up above, the trusty bell,
The town’s short chronicles to tell
Of births and weddings, feasts and prayer
And the sad, solemn funeral air,
When, wasted with the wearisome day,
Our tribute we to Nature pay.
Temple of God, the ark of faith,
But what is God and life and death?
Must we abide a time to die
To grope for God, we’re at a lose,
(Make then we all sign of the Cross!)
This creed of one God, Persons Three,
This is the central mystery.
The others? the immaculate birth
Of God made man to save the earth;
The presence in the Eucharist
And Mass of our Lord Jesus Christ;
That life continues after death,
The soul immortal, no brief breath;
That God will hold His Judgment seat
When men in death their Maker meet,
And by the Ten Commandments dire
Gain Heaven or Hell’s lake of fire;
That Heaven lies in the skies above
As prize for lives of grace, pure love,
For sinners all a life of woe
In Hell’s dark regions down below;
A pit the world of stain and sin,
But we God’s mercy may yet win
Through hope and faith and charity,
The last the greatest of the three.
For God crated all the universe,

The stars the endless skies immerse;
From chaos and the senseless dust
He made them, Adam, Eve, the lust
That crowned with love the earth’s first wife,
And sparked the endless flame of life.
The big things and the smallest things,
Beasts and the birds, with horns, with wings,
Each sharpened fang, each shining fin,
Claims in the human form a kin,
The sluggish paw, the thundering hoof,
No less than brain, of God the proof,
And through the corridors of space
Life surged, compound of sin and grace.
But who saw God in human shape,
Or at his Person gazed agape
To tell his brethren after him,
The texture of His Presence dim?
Is His work visible, but He
Must hide beyond our scrutiny?
What is His voice, is this His tread
We hear in space? And in this bread
And wine must we His body see
And blood? Why Faith’s credulity?
Not of the mind, which, sovereign,
Comes near to Him and proves His reign?
Why the confusing subtleties,
The hide-and-seek in mysteries?
O God, descend to us, speak straight,
Faith’s burden is for us too great,
For whom the bells sound far too far
And You seen like an extinct star,

And last, but not least, the State,
Here men less to be good than great
Strive and would build on shifting sand,
And in a trice, some Rome to stand,
In bronze or marble carve their name
And glory of unsullied fame.
And they would bridge the gulf that lies
‘Twixt wealth and want; drive avarice
And ignorance, the ills that prey
And doubtless cause the land’s decay;
Champion the weak, the strong restrain,
The wrong subdue, Peace find again
Above the ruins of war where none
May claim the victory has won,
Build on a free world’s brotherhood,
For nations all, one law, one God.
But this the world in vain has sought,
The wish is father to the thought,
The one-world order shall seem strange
Till man himself first suffer change —
Once, God turned man our Heaven to gain,
Let man turn God – is this too vain?

The students err, I think, alas
Who read their codes of law to pass —
The customs, congress and the courts,
The Pasig palace, its cohorts —
From whom if not from them shall we
Learn statecraft, all the sophistry
Essential to good government?
By influence peddling what is meant?
Where study simple living airs,
While poverty a nation stares?
Command responsibility
For graft (are we from graft now free?),
And checks and balance, long ago
They died in congress, did you know?
The same with customs, taxes, plus
The law to stem the Chinese rush.
Poor dears! for answer do not meet
In class — the laws are obsolete!
For all are fools who would place pelf
And every interest of self
Below considerations great
Of the ideal, abstract state,
As never were the leaders went,
It could not happen here and won’t.

A way there be, with trees engirt,
A silent mound of woods and dirt,
For those who by the wayside fall
(And this must happen to us all).
And here beneath the cool, green trees
There is what life could give not — Peace!
Lead it as well beyond the sea
To God and all the mystery?
Beyond the twilight of the west
To the fair islands of the blest?
Or leads it back where we begun
To the bright regions of the Sun?
We know not, but be it the East
Or West or God, the worms make feast
Beneath the lush eternity
Of yon rich east or western sky.

And man himself, O what of him,
Some demon or some seraphim?
The human beast which five score generations
Through diverse tribes and breeds and nations
Has changed but little, if at all
(Has he evolved? was there a Fall?)
The tribes keep doubling, time is near
There be more mouths than sustenance dear,
And hunger stalk, deep-eyed and pale,
And babes suck breasts milk-dry and stale.
What then to see? Shall there be war?
Or shall we seek some other star?
Each two decades, or less or more,
Two live where only one had lived before,
Our fate is writ, howe’er we strive,
More, more are born on less to live,
The age of space the space but narrows,
And man who once bore bows and arrows
Or spears, now carry pen and paper,
His heart’s unchanged, the selfsame caper
For life’s essentials sets his pace,
And to the swift still goes the race.
Now subtlety outcombats brawn,
The covering smile supplants the frown,
But still unequal, still man strive
To put one over – and survive.
Christ had His thorn, the king his crown,
But dead, who’s higher than the clown?

And come to think of it, the seas
Hold really none of mysteries —
Beyond is here, and here’s beyond,
Between our dreams lies but a pond,
It seemed not so to men at first
When their brave barks on strange seas burst
To open lands new, wild and wide
(The gods stood at their side.)
And be it the Hesperides,
Atlantis fabled o’er the seas,
Adventure called to stir the blood,
And hearts quailed not for tide or flood;
The apples beckoned, Golden Fleece,
And we were brethren all from Greece.
Morning of life, a glorious dawn,
When man was Master — and alone
(Was he then Adam, with his Eve,
Or Eden, we, not they, now leave,
For them what loss of paradise,
Whose world was lovely to their eyes?)
Life’s origins, the human race,
The seas have blotted every trace
But one — we bear the primal mark:
Death comes, the brightest suns grow dark.
And what the world? a smallish star
Within the cosmos bigger far
Than eye of man can hope to see,
A speck in cosmic mystery.
It looks so, too, but undenied,
How shall it be with human pride?

The East is East and West is West,
But Kipling’s view is not the best,
They de not meet, he said, you say,
But they walk on the selfsame way,
And the strange faces, don’t they seem
The semblance of some old, dead dream,
Are they the dead brought to new life,
Superior to the ends of strife?

The dead are dead, the dead are dead,
And deader than the deadest deed.
And men have died, O many men,
Their faces we see not again —
These thoughts our hearts with sorrow fill,
We wish to have then with us still,
They are a portion of our life,
The father, mother, child or wife.
What shall we think? that they still live
Some other place, to laugh and grieve?
But where? Got surely underground
With worms and somber darkness hound,
And as for space beyond the clouds,
The mysteries the sky enshrouds
Can hardly compass to our wind
The thought that life we there would find,
Extension of that snuffed by death,
It puts too great a strain on faith,
So what, but the alternative:
We die and cease fore’er to live?
But this alas is comfort cold,
Our earthly hopes it cannot hold,
We love our dearest dead too much,
In death’s despite would keep in touch
With them some future, final day,
Though how, we cannot find the way.
Alas, alas, is death man’s end?
Can never man his fate transcend,
A spray of dust, a quiet sound,
And nothing left of him or found
Beyond life’s vanished yesterday?
Immortal man, is this your way?
But God! how lonely are the deed,
The road behind, the road ahead!

Luis Dato
Luis Dato

Luis G. Dato (July 4, 1906 - January 29, 1985) was a poet, writer and educator from Sta. Cruz, Baao, Camarines Sur. He published books in English including Manila A Collection of verse (1926), My Book of Verses (1936) and the Land of Mai in 1975. He also wrote several books and text in Bikol such as, Vocabulario Bikol-Ingles-Kastila (1963), Cantahon na Bikol (1969), Morfologia kan Tataramon na Bikol (serialized in Naga Times), Patotodon sa Bikol (Bikol Mail) and Sarabihon sa Bikol.

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