A Deconstructive Reading of Luis G. Dato’s “THE SPOUSE”

The poem “THE SPOUSE” by Luis G. Dato, which first appeared on the Philippine Magazine in 1934 and LGD’s My Book of Verses in 1936, has been included in the Philippine college literature curriculum since the 1960’s. A good friend of mine, Ms. Marifa B. Borja-Prado, a college literature professor at the Ateneo de Naga University, lent me a copy of this article submitted by one of her graduate school students. It was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements in Lit 220 – Literary Theory by Manuel R. Yasis on the summer of 2003. Enjoy…

A Deconstructive Reading of Luis G. Dato’s “THE SPOUSE”

by Manuel R. Yasis

Rose in the hand and moist eyes young with weeping,
She stands upon the threshold of her house.
Fragrant with scent that wakens love from sleeping
She looks far down to where her husband plows.

Her hair disheveled in the night of passion,
Her warm limb humid with the sacred strife,
What may she know but man and woman fashion,
Out of the clay of wrath and sorrow, Life?

She holds no joys beyond the day’s tomorrow,
She finds no worlds beyond his arm’s embrace,
She looks upon the FORM behind the furrow,
Who is her mind, her Motion, Time and Space.

Oh, somber mystery of eyes unspeaking
And dark enigma of life’s loves forlorn
The Sphinx beside the river smiles with seeking
The secret answer since the world was born.

THE SPOUSE by Luis G. Dato, from My Book of Verses, 1936

At first glance, this poem could be in ideal text for feminist lambasting of the existing patriarchal set-up in Philippine society with the spouse seeming to be under the total control of the husbands.

In the text, the woman is depicted as the one crying – “moist eyes young with weeping” – the one who has to endure the sex act even if it does not feel right, as the whole second stanza of the poem seems to clearly suggest, and whose domination by the man was made complete in the third by the lines “She finds no worlds beyond his arm’s embrace and the “FORM behind the furrow (the husband) who is her mind, her Motion, Time and Space.”

But as Derrida would admonish… do not be sucked in by the obvious, a reader must try to look for what is excluded or repressed in the text and of course, for contradictions in the ambiguous statements. One could ask – where is the husband in the text?

A case in point is the first phrase that took my attention and made me take a different look at the meaning of the poem… “Rose in her hand…” It certainly does not go with the “moist eyes young with weeping.” The “rose” phrase is really more suitable with the “Fragrant with scent that wakens love from sleeping.”

What this interpretation is trying to point out and establish is that, instead of the man dominating the woman in a patriarchal Filipino setting, it is the Filipino male who is more dominated by or as the Marxists put it, being oppressed by the opposite sex.

Hogwash, you would say, but the SILENT VOICE rings loud and strong in this poem – that man is also dominated upon or oppressed by the apparent “WEAKNESS” of a woman.

The “rose in her hand” and being “fragrant with scent that wakens love from sleeping could be a subtle come-on which can make every man follow every turn of a woman’s small finger.

If this device fails to make the man do her will, WEEPING, a sign of weakness, is another weapon used by a woman to get what she wants. There is no wonder that man is reduced to an animal plowing the field in stanza one.

Could it be that the real picture in the first stanza is of the man is at work very early in the field because that is what the woman wants and that she is making sure she gets what she wants as she “looks for down to where her husband plows?”

It is also helpful to note the use of the pronoun HER in the “threshold of her house” when it is more appropriate to use their for ownership of the house. The HER could be telling us who calls the shots in the house – of course – it is NOT his house.

The second stanza gives us another useful weapon of the woman – SEX. Though it may not especially good (a sacred strife) and she may not be enjoying it, being an act of “wrath and sorrow,” it still is a very effective tool in domination of the man. The very real threat of not getting what he wants when he gets “outside–de-Kulambo” is an old and very reliable weapon a woman has the instinct of using any time and all the time.

It is but a simple matter to go back in history or all back on the Holy Books to prove my point. (But Foucault would surely have a different opinion on this.)

And “out of the clay of wrath and sorrow” Life is fashioned. Out of the sex act however offensive it could be especially if it is used only for the manipulation of the man, children are born.

The children – the Life fashioned out of the clay and sorrow by the man and woman – could also be very useful in the domination of the man, especially in the family-centered society where a child acts as a bond that binds the relationship of the wife and the husband.

A conscientious spouse, whether a husband or a wife, will think of the children first before thinking of ending a relationship.

And speaking of relationships, once married, the husband becomes her mind, “her Motion, Time and Space” – the domination of the man by the woman is FULL and COMPLETE. The husband is reduced to just a FORM behind the furrow – the object of the full attention from the wife who finds no worlds beyond his arm’s embrace. The wife who, because she spends all her time for her husband, herself, demands full attention from him in return.

The strongest argument on woman’s domination of man is reserved for last – in the fourth stanza. Here, the ENIGMA of the woman comes to the fore. Man is clueless to the mystery that is a woman. No one, least of all, the husband, will ever understand the machinations that goes on behind the “unspeaking eyes.”

The Sphinx who is herself a riddle and a mysterious “devourer” of men is an apt symbol for the woman. As I once read from a sociology book, a woman ceases to be a woman if she losses her mystery and man is always at a loss comprehending what is totally woman – that MYSTERY is the KEY to DOMINATION.

The common belief that the Filipino family is patriarchal is a myth. It is sociological fact that in the Philippine situation, especially in the Bicolano culture, the woman has the final say in the decisions made in the family. Politics as cultural domination, exists partially in the consciousness, but most of its control and power resides in the unconscious.

How can one subvert something one cannot understand? How can a man resist the domination if he is egged on (nagged) very subtly to do what the woman wants?

This interpretation does not want to sound anti-feminist but the silence on the husband’s part signals the domination, reducing the man to an animal (a form) working in the field.

If the above mentioned argument is not convincing enough, let me go back to the title – why did Luis G. Dato use the neutral word “spouse” instead of the more feminine “wife”?

Why is the author trying to be apolitical?

Perhaps, that is the key to the “dark enigma of life’s love forlorn,” the NEUTRALITY, the openness in a husband-wife, or shall we say, wife-husband relationship – the need to erase logocentric binary opposition and in place of this is a fusion of personalities into ONE entity – living, breathing, loving – in a marital utopia.

It is also noteworthy to add the following lines I took from a poem:

“For every woman who is not allowed to work,
There is a man who has to bear the brunt
Of earning for the whole family.”

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