Denny JA’s Essay Poems: One Analysis and a Fleeting Impression
by Professor Madya Ampuan Dr Haji Brahim
Akademi Pengajian Brunei, Universiti Brunei Darussalam
I have been provided with as many as 22 books of poetry authored by Denny JA, entitled Burung Trilili (October, 2015), Naga Seribu Wajah (October, 2015), Karena Kucing Anggora (November, 2015), Kisah Kitab Petunjuk (November, 2015), Mencari Raja dalam Raja (November, 2015), Sidang Raya Agama (November, 2015), Balada Wahab & Wahib (November, 2015), Menyelam ke Langit (December, 2015), Terkejut oleh Riset (November, 2015), Dua Wajah Ahli Agama (January, 2016), Hikmah Singapura (January, 2016), Lotre Kehidupan, Mimpi Sepeda Ontel, Perguruan Bahagia (April, 2016), Balada Aneta (April, 2016), Robohnya Menara Kami (April, 2016), Ambruknya Sang Raksasa (May, 2016), Barat Lebih Islami? (May, 2016), Berburu Bahagia (May, 2016), Mawar yang Berdarah (June, 2016), Ustaz yang Gay (June, 2016), and Berburu Tuhan (June, 2016).
Each book of poetry listed above is touched by social issues based on recent historical events, facts and real incidents that have affected certain people or a specific community. The social issues that are discussed invariably follow the stream or developments of this era which are incessantly transformative and dynamic.
The essay poems written by Denny JA are exceptional because they completely fulfill the function of literature, i.e. they provide entertainment and moral edification to mass consumers of literature. Literary works can entertain people if the work is gratifying because its contents are beneficial, its form is simple, and its language is attractive and easily understood. All of these functions and features are present in Denny JA’s essay poems. This matter is also the specialty of a poet who does not create “dark poetry” like other writers do.
A good work of literature is said to contain thoughts that are directed at ethical instruction, which are conveyed through appealing stories and are easy to comprehend, as Denny JA accomplishes in his literary works. He dislikes escapist or dark poetry, which are offered in various poems composed by a small segment of poets who represent the movement of art for art’s sake. It is this issue that makes Denny JA a special poet who is committed to the needs of the general public.
The unique and distinctive nature of Denny JA’s poetry is proven because he has already produced poems in a novel style and genre, which is called Essay Poetry. Denny’s creativity has made him recognized as a pioneer in the origination of essay poetry. He started writing (illustrated) essay poems in March, 2012 (in a book of poetry entitled In the Name of Love (Atas Nama Cinta: Isu Diskriminasi dalam Untaian KIsah Cinta yang Menggetarkan Hati).
Essay Poetry involves poems that are written based on the facts of specific events, and they are poured out in language that is easy to understand. Essay poems (in 22 books of poetry by Denny JA) differ from lyrical poetry that we normally read, which normally features symbolic language or metaphors that are difficult to understand. Although derived from factual events, essay poems remain fictional since the factual events referred to in the poems represent the background for a story that is intended to be developed by the writer. Footnotes are also used to affirm that the story that is being raised is a credible human story that is contextualized within a certain social reality or historical event (rather than something that never happened, or something foreign or abstract, which is a common element in lyrical poetry).
The five platforms that exist within Denny JA’s 22 books of essay poetry, as stated by Denny JA (2013) himself in an article entitled, “Puisi Esai: Apa dan Mengapa?” (Acep Zamzam Noor, Puisi Esai: Kemungkinan Baru Puisi Indonesia, Sajak Journal, published by PT Jurnal Sajak Indonesia, 2013) are quite remarkable. This extraordinary aspect of his essay poems can be seen in each platform, and I am using the essay poem, Burung Trilili, as well as some others to exemplify each of the five platforms.
First, the essay poem explores the inner side of individuals who face social conflict, and each of Denny JA’s poems and books truly contains a social conflict within it. The social conflict that is indicated here is the underlying theme for each of these essay poems. An example of this is Burung Trilili (The Trilili Bird); the social conflict argues for perception, and in this poem the inner side of the individuals who experience this conflict are characters, such as children and grandchildren, who quarrel because each has a different perception (of the divine bird). The Trilili bird is merely an illusion of the master teacher, which ultimately becomes reality in the shape of an idol or statue that is worshipped and praised to the extent that it becomes accepted as a leading trend or doctrine for the majority of the Indonesian people (handed down to successive generations) to the point that it becomes a matter of dissent and hostility between followers of Islam and Christianity.
Concerning Christian devotees of the Trilili bird, although they are coreligionists, they have divergent perceptions (e.g. their views in determining the appropriate punishment for a certain infraction), which cause schisms and enmity. Consequently, tolerant attitudes are abandoned; instead, mutual feelings of hatred become rampant (e.g. schisms that cause many human lives to be sacrificed).
Finally, the Master Teacher regrets what had not been his original intended outcome because it became the basis for dissent and enmity between people and their religions. The Trilili bird, which at the outset was merely an illusion, was inculcated among the grandchildren who eventually transformed this illusion into something sacred and real (an idol); this has already resulted in long-term schisms that have led to bloodshed and mutual hatred between people who had originally shared the same religion and nationality.
Secondly, essay poetry employs language that is easy to comprehend; this includes many forms and styles of language, such as metaphor and analogy. Conversely, poetry that is difficult to understand is poetry that is second-rate. As Denny JA states, according to the principles of essay poetry, the more difficult it is for a poem to be understood by the general public, the more imperfect the poem is as a means of communication between the poet and the world at large (in Denny JA’s article, entitled “Puisi Esai: What is it and What is its Purpose,” page 40, Jurnal Sajak, Essay Poetry: New Possibilities for Indonesian Poetry; Acep Zamzam Noor (editor), published by P.T. Jurnal Sajak, 2013).
In perusing the 22 books of poetry in this new genre, it is evident that Denny JA has used language that is easy to understand. The application of an uncomplicated and precise linguistic style assists the general reader and devotees of his books to comprehend any of his poems with ease. For example, repetition of the word “Soal” (Due to…), a form of anaphora, and then the repetition of the word “Trilili” as epiphora, greatly assist the readers to understand the poet’s purpose. Recurrently, the words, face, wings, feet, eggs, and feces are used as symbols, because each word expresses a different viewpoint in considering punishment or settling a breach of law:
However, they differ in their perception
Regarding the face of the Trilili bird
Regarding the wings of the Trilili bird
Regarding the feet of the Trilili bird
Regarding the eggs of the Trilili bird
(Burung Trilili; 19th stanza)
Another interesting aspect is the application of a symbolic linguistic style, which is frequently used by the poet. Utilizing this linguistic style does not at all hamper the ability of the general reader to understand the meaning of the poem; in fact, this style makes the poem more appealing because this symbolic feature is very inspirational.
This symbolism can be understood through its denotative (literal) or connotative (implied) meaning. For instance, in the poem Terkejut oleh Riset (Astounded by Research), the research findings (analysis) concerning happiness express a clearer meaning to the reading or convey a more imaginative impression to the reader. Research findings regarding comparative global happiness symbolize the happiness of the entire world. Happiness is achieved by people in various ways; this happiness is not static, and it is not the domain of a certain religion only. However, religious people will seek and achieve happiness both in the real mundane world and in the eternal, not just in the physical world but also by seeking joy in the afterlife.
Ha? Crazy? Damn! Could it be true?
Ustaz Jaka’s legs were trembling
He had read some news from Reuters
Some research findings obtained by smart people
(Astounded by Research; 2nd stanza)
Thirdly, a characteristic of essay poems is that they remain fictional. This means that essay poetry can portray and illustrate real characters, but this realism is embellished and enriched by employing various fictional characters and dramatization. An example is the poem, Trilili Bird, whose story plot is historically substantiated and represents long periods of war (which has occurred at least 123 times) and carnage that sacrificed the lives of many innocent victims. One of these wars involves the prolonged battles between Muslims and Christian Crusaders, which spanned the 11th to 13th centuries, resulting in the death of approximately 3 million people. However, the account of the Master Teacher, the Trilili bird, and the children in the essay poem, Trilili Bird, is fictional. These characters are fashioned specifically to dramatize religious issues in order to enhance our awareness of the world.
Fourthly, essay poetry is not simply the articulation of the writer’s ideas; rather, the concerns that are raised by the author result from analysis and research of matters that touch upon social issues. This means that essay poems provide a thoughtful response to social problems experienced by individuals or within a certain group or community. Thus, a social issue is considered in each poem in Denny JA’s 22 books of essay poetry.
A social issue becomes the basis for an actual event that has occurred, and then it is rendered in a fictional form. For example, Trilili Bird is an essay poem that responds and relates to social issues that pertain to religion and discrimination based on past history that actually happened between Muslims and Christians. The poem Lotre Kehidupan (The Lottery of Life) addresses the lucky and unfortunate fates of two brothers. Each of them in turn blames fate for the adverse circumstances that confront him.
Many issues like these affect social groups in regions of Indonesia where the author is located; they also occur in every country. The poem, Astounded by Research (Terkejut oleh Riset), relates the story of an inner conflict that disturbs and tests an individual’s spiritual equanimity. This happens to a figure named Ustaz Jaka, a village prosecutor (and a counselor at a mosque). Ustaz Jaka is unprepared to accept the truth revealed by research studies that the happiest nations consist primarily of nonreligious people who are uninvolved in either learning or teaching religious precepts. In order to obtain an explanation to this quandary, which troubles him both rationally and spiritually, Ustaz Jaka has arranged to meet Professor Daus:
He brought the news article with him to the local campus
The place where his good friend Professor Daus worked
Could you please look at this? Could it be that the happiest nation is
A country that does not have religion?
(Astounded by Research: 8th stanza)
Professor Daus tells the folktale of Nazaruddin who has mislaid the key to his room. This story about Nazaruddin losing his key can truly help people to understand that happiness can be attained by anyone in various ways to find momentary happiness, but permanent and eternal happiness can only signify happiness both in this world and the next world. However, at the end of the poem, Ustaz Jaka is still experiencing a psychological and spiritual conflict. He spends time contemplating and pondering both the research findings and the professor’s clarification until he gets a headache, whereupon he takes the logic of the Nazaruddin story and compares this story with the findings of the global happiness report.
Said Nazaruddin, “It got lost in there somewhere
But it is pitch black where I lost it
It would be easier to look for it right here
Where there is light and it’s easier to see
(Astounded by Research: 27th stanza)
“Thus, Jaka,” affirmed the professor in a cold tone
“It is very likely for all of us to become Nazaruddin
We all seek happiness
Yet we look for it in a place where it does not exist”
(Astounded by Research: 29th stanza)
The fifth platform concerns the length of the essay poem and its division into short chapters. At a fundamental level, the essay poem is a drama or short story that is rendered in a poetic style. The main characters or protagonists are portrayed in a dynamic manner or according to changes in an authentic aspect of society. In other words, the essay poem has a plot or story line that is arranged and synchronized, i.e. initially in the early development of the plot, then in the middle section of the plot, and finally at the end of the plot, which serves as the conclusion of the story. Inserted within each essay poem is a specific conflict which is resolved with a certain climax. It is this aspect that makes essay poems longer and subdivided into short chapters. An example of this is the essay poem Trilili Bird; the initial plot (man first studies and learns about religion), the middle plot (the peak or climax: social and religious issues and discrimination) and the final plot (consequences in the form of a schism and long-term hostilities).
Furthermore, the plot is not solely arranged in a synchronized form; the author is very clever in devising a haphazard arrangement of the plot within each essay poem. One essay poem actually places the final event (the resolution of the conflict) in the initial plot position, while another essay poem places the median event (the conflict) in the initial plot location. An example of an initial plot involving the resolution of a conflict is the poem Lotre Kehidupan (The Lottery of Life) featuring reflections on fortune and misfortune; i.e. from the first stanza until the fifth stanza the initial plot is arranged; these initial stanzas introduce the final events (the conclusion of the story), while the middle plot (beginning with the sixth stanza onward) tell the beginning events of the story.
The initial plot position (1st through 5th stanzas) recount the conclusion of the story
“Trilili Bird, thank you
Thank you for the miracle
That has transformed our lives!”
(The Lottery of Life: 1st stanza)
The whole choir is jubilant
“Let us rejoice
Understanding our fortune
And comprehend the misfortune
Of a life that was unexpected”
(The Lottery of Life: 5th stanza)
The middle plot position (the 6th stanza) relates the beginning of the story:
Aba and Abi came from poor families in the village
They had been good friends from childhood
They were given the same education
Their luck was more or less the same
(The Lottery of Life: 6th stanza)
However, the opposite situation can also be found in poems that place medial story events in the initial plot position (at the beginning of these essay poems). An example is the poem Mimpi Sepeda Ontel – Berani Beda (The Dream of a Bicycle – Daring to be Different). The initial plot (found in the 1st through 3rd stanzas) relates the middle events of the story, while the middle plot location (the 4th stanza) tells the logical beginning of the story.
The initial plot position (in the 1st through 3rd stanzas) recounts the middle events of the story:
One restless night
Dark and spooky
In her humid room
Nadia suddenly awakened
(The Dream of a Bicycle: 1st stanza)
During the past two nights,
The bicycle had appeared in her dreams
Nadia’s deceased grandmother was on the right-hand side of the bike
And Nadia was on the left-hand side
The two of them were just taking a stroll in the village
With the bicycle as their third companion
(The Dream of a Bicycle: 3rd stanza)
The medial plot position (in the 4th stanza) tells the logical beginning of the story:
In that organization
Nadia was the only bookkeeper
Her duties pertained not only to financial matters
She also witnessed with her eyes
The events on the blood-strewn battlefield
Which were said to be dignified and noble
(The Dream of a Bicycle: 4th stanza)
This is one plot narration strategy (among others) that is employed by the writer in his poems. In addition, the author also uses a standard plot sequence (exemplified in his poem Mencari Raja dalam Raja / Searching for a King within a King). However, this interesting plot sequencing scheme does not at all cause difficulty for the reader to understand the story line in each of these essay poems; on the contrary, this literary style makes the poem more interesting and impressive.
Another distinctive aspect of Denny JA’s poetry can be seen from the inclusion of footnotes in his essay poems, which serve as supplementary explanation. Denny JA’s essay poems are very appealing, although at a basic level the stanzas, lines, and rhymes still maintain the traditions of composing classical poetry. Essay poems still adhere to the poetic form that features stanzas, but the number of stanzas is rather long in a manner that differs noticeably with the lyrical poetry that we are familiar with. The number of stanzas in essay poems is considerably determined by the length or brevity of the story that the author conveys in each poem. The number of lines in each stanza is unconstrained (i.e. they are not linked). This also holds true for the number of words in each line, and the number of syllables is also free (i.e. not rule-bound).
The smallest number of stanzas is found in the poems Burung Trilili (Trilili Bird) and Naga Seribu Wajah (The Dragon of One Thousand Faces); each of these essay poems has only 28 stanzas; on the other hand, the largest number of stanzas (107 stanzas) is found in the poem Berburu Tuhan (Searching for God). However, the number of lines in each stanza tends to be less extensive; the author prefers to compose stanzas that consist of 4 lines. For instance, the poem Mencari Raja dalam Raja (Searching for a King within a King) has 28 stanzas, and each stanza consists of 4 lines. The poem Sidang Raya Agama (The General Assembly for Religion) has 34 stanzas, which like the previous poem contain 4 lines per stanza. Likewise, the essay poem Berburu Tuhan consistently features 4 lines in each of its 107 stanzas.
Although the form of end rhyme is certainly not listed among the five platforms of essay poetry, the balanced application of end rhyme, distributed throughout Denny JA’s 22 books of essay poetry, is very appealing. Creative word choice by the writer to render end rhyme demonstrates an advanced stage of his proficiency in producing each rhyming unit and more elaborate combinations in poetry that impresses the reader with its beauty, at the same time that the purpose or social predicament that is addressed in each poem is more skillfully conveyed. Two forms of end rhyme predominate in the writer’s rhyming scheme, i.e. (A/A/A/A) and (A/A/B/B). Here is an example from the poem Menyelam ke Langit (Diving to the Sky):
“What is that, and what does it mean?” Joni asked with curiosity (penasaran) A
It is the sound of your heart that makes it quiver (gemetaran) A
Is this Thy manner of speaking to me, God? (Tuhan?) A
Almighty One, please provide me with clarity.” (pencerahan) A
(Diving to the Sky: 4th stanza)
For three days, Joni has been puzzled (bimbang) A
Her thoughts are crisscrossed (malang-melintang) A
She is intent on changing her religion (agama) B
This is a decision she immediately needs to make (diambilnya) B
(Diving to the Sky: 5th stanza)
Father and Mother, I have great respect for you (padamu) A
But this is religion; it was not my choice (pilihanku) A
You conferred it upon me since I was small (ku kecil) B
You taught me gradually, step by step (dicicil-cicil) B
(Diving to the Sky: 6th stanza)
Currently I am already an adult (dewasa) A
I desire a universe that is different (berbeda) A
And determine by myself concerning religion (agama) A
Please accept my decision within your heart (dada) A
(Diving to the Sky: 7th stanza)
End rhyme in the A/A/B/B form, which I feel is very appealing, is also exemplified with rhythm found in the following stanzas:
All day Ahmad stayed inside (mengurung diri) A
Just contemplating by himself (menyepi) A
His heart was very flustered (resah melulu) B
The research findings were too much to handle (sungguh terlalu) B
(The West is More Islamic?: 23rd stanza)
The master teacher was respected by everyone (semua) A
Green Bird was the name of his academy (perguruannya) A
There he taught the art of self-defense (bela diri) B
But never for the purpose of brawling (berkelahi) B
(Seeking Happiness: 3rd stanza)
The unique characteristics of Denny JA’s essay poems that will be discussed next is an assertion of values and social precepts that are inherent in his poetry. According to Kimball Young, social capital consists of abstract components whose importance is often overlooked or misconstrued. On the other hand, A. W. Green formulated social capital as an ongoing awareness in a relative manner accompanied by emotions with respect to objects and the concept of people as individuals. Thus, social capital is an abstract thought or concept within people that relates to positive and negative assessments which describe matters such as norms, traditions, rules, and beliefs which are adopted or performed by a certain community. Sociology and literature possess similar objects, such as the behavior of people within a certain community, and the community consists of people who live together and in doing so create culture.
Literature is a social institution that includes descriptions of life which encompass relationships between communities, people, and events that are privately experienced by individuals. Social values as expressed within Denny JA’s 22 books of poetry underscore the importance of interpersonal relationships that take place within a certain community, and values are perceived in terms of what people consider to be good or bad within that community. Denny JA’s poems demonstrate what attitudes people should adopt, how people should settle conflicts and confront certain situations. Such actions / behavior are performed merely to achieve social objectives within a community. The author often brings up religious and moral values in his poems. These two values represent major issues within the life of a community according to the developments of a certain era, which by nature are always dynamic and evolving.
In truth, each of Denny JA’s 22 books of essay poetry fulfill a general function of articulating social values. First, they contribute a tool that can be utilized to maintain social standards and principles in both private and communal circumstances. Secondly, they direct and mold appropriate ways to think and behave. Thirdly, social values function as principles that guide people in carrying out useful roles in society. Fourthly, as a form of social supervision, these values motivate, guide, and conversely exert pressure and scold people with the purpose of encouraging them to behave in a civilized manner. The fifth function of social values is to promulgate an attitude of communal solidarity that promotes a sense of brotherhood, loyalty, and common bonds within a community. There are three types of social value, specifically: material, vital, and spiritual. The spiritual aspect, which is often dealt with in many of Denny JA’s poems, considers concepts of truth, beauty, morality, and religiosity.
From a religious perspective that pertains to faith, belief, and religious convictions, issues that relate to these concepts are evident in the following essay poems: The Trilili Bird, The Angora Cat, The Ballad of Wahab and Wahib, Singapore’s Wisdom, Diving to the Sky, and The Story of the Sacred Guidebook. For example, in the poem Because of an Angora Cat, the angora cat (a mere accessory that ultimately becomes indispensible) in this story becomes the basis for collapse of faith for Muslim people to the extent that it causes a schism into several sects or movements. This issue can also be seen through the characters of Badu and Amir who possess the same understanding but take different paths.
If Badu rejects the presence of a certain breed of cat while praying (an Angora cat) and in his view the notion of being accompanied specifically by that breed can be abolished, he differs with Amir. Amir entirely rejects the presence of any breed of cat (during prayer), including an Angora cat. Thus, a schism or difference in opinion is caused by the story of the Angora cat. This poem truly deliberates the extent of our religious convictions regarding God, the creator of the whole universe and all matter within it. Religious values (faith) that are touched upon in this poem concern Muslim people who adhere to the doctrines of Islam by being guided by the kiblat (the correct direction for prayer) as a compass for pursuing their lives and for eradicating any misdirection that could obstruct the unity within Islam.
Polan had a divergent understanding
The master teacher was our kiblat (orientation for religious practice)
The most essential idea was our purpose in prayer
We did not really need an Angora cat.
(Because of an Angora Cat: 19th stanza)
The lesson we can construe from the story Because of an Angora Cat is the essence of tenacious faith and adherence to belief in Allah with constant obedience to His commands and abandonment of His prohibitions. Let it not be that merely on account of an Angora cat, which is a trivial matter, we become distant from Allah and truly only to Him alone should we turn to and pray when requesting intervention.
In the following stanzas (stanzas 20 and 21), it appears that the writer wishes to convey a message or advice so that Islam constantly fortifies itself; its adherents must be vigilant against individuals and social groups that claim to champion national and religious creeds even though these may be based on specious conditions and circumstances.
Loyalty to the Master Teacher was necessary
Not every stipulation had to be emulated
Just take an inner point of view
The external side should not be as rigid as a table
(Because of an Angora Cat: 20th stanza)
“It was not necessary to find an Angora cat
Make your heart intent, just pray
Don’t waste time
Disregard any need for an Angora cat”
(Because of an Angora Cat: 21st stanza)
The poem Diving to the Sky (Menyelam ke Langit) recounts the story of Joni, who had already been taught about her religion by her parents since childhood until she reached her adolescence. In parallel with the emergence of new times and changes in the new millennium, Joni’s faith in religion becomes lax and undisciplined. This causes a sense of doubt in her religious beliefs and a desire to convert to another religion.
Joni prays fervently in an effort to receive a divine edict and counsel. After praying every day, Joni has a dream. After her first day of fervent prayer, she dreams about the early history of mankind. On the second day of praying, she dreams about becoming part of the Internet, living alongside Google and Youtube. On the third day of prayer, Joni dreams about becoming a fairy who enters a country for one-thousand and one nights. Through her third dream, Joni receives a complete and conclusive clue, which she had been seeking. Finally, Joni makes a decision not to convert to a different religion.
The significance of Joni’s story lies in the fact that she had been educated about religion since childhood; she had been taught religious values concerning belief in religion and faith in God. The conflict that occurs within her happens when the times change in a dynamic manner, causing Joni’s faith to be impaired. The 6th stanza demonstrates the principles of faith that Jon’s parents had inculcated in her from her early years:
“What is that, and what does it mean?” Joni asked with curiosity
It is the sound of your heart that makes it quiver
Is this Thy manner of speaking to me, God?
Almighty One, please provide me with clarity.”
(Diving to the Sky: 4th stanza)
“Father and Mother, I have great respect for you
But this is religion; it was not my choice
You conferred it upon me since I was small
You taught me gradually, step by step”
(Diving to the Sky: 6th stanza)
The lesson that we should deduce from this story is that an individual’s adherence to Islam (faith) begins with education in one’s childhood. The faith that one holds should be balanced and adapted to changes that occur during transitions between historical eras. The second lesson we can draw from this story is that we as human beings living on the face of planet Earth during these times must constantly learn and study the meaning of life in the context of the demands of our changing times. Mankind will always find a way to adapt to the demands of living in this era and future times without questioning the religious faith that it adheres to.
From a religious perspective, life concerns deliberation (musyawarah) and consensus (mufakat). Deliberation is the process of discussing a certain subject with the purpose of obtaining mutual agreement. Consensus, on the other hand, represents an agreement which is reached after a prolonged period of engaging in a process of discussion and negotiations among different parties. Thus, both deliberation and consensus represent a process of discussing issues for the purpose of achieving a mutually agreeable accord. The poem Naga Seribu Wajah (The Dragon of One-Thousand Faces) is one of the poems that clearly portrays the process of discussing a certain matter in order to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. The inhabitants of a village believe what their Teacher has told them; he has a premonition or indication that a dragon dwells within their river, and the villagers have been warned not to approach the river for their own safety. The villagers decide to comply with this request.
The villagers began to be convinced, a simultaneous choir
They happily cheered each other on, and they stomped their feet
“Nyi, nyi, nyi, nyi…
A DRAGON is hiding…
It is lurking in the still waters of our river
Nyi, nyi, nyi, nyi…
It’s lurking in the still waters of our river.”
(The Dragon of One-Thousand Faces: 11th stanza)
The lesson that we can draw from this story is that every Muslim must act wisely in resolving any problem by asking for divine intercession or inspiration and thus requesting in order to obtain divine counsel or a sign; in this manner, matters can be concluded properly and amiably. Muslims must also be prejudiced with a positive bias so that they are prepared in any circumstances to apply wisdom, as well as compassion which hides behind it.
From a moral viewpoint, Denny JA has extensively contended with ethical matters in many of his essay poems. Some of the moral values he discusses relate to camaraderie, brotherhood, and mutual forgiveness (as evidenced in The Lottery of Life), kindness and family values (as seen in The Ballad of Wahab and Wahib), responsibility (depicted in The Story of the Sacred Guidebook), truth (discussed in Seeking a King within a King, Singapore’s Wisdom, and Astounded by Research), as well as showing respect to religious elders (in The Academy of Happiness). These are some examples of essay poems that possess moral values related to companionship, brotherhood, and mutual forgiveness.
The essay poem The Lottery of Life (Lotre Kehidupan) recounts the story of two comrades of similar age named Aba and Abi. They had been good friends from childhood; they both grew up in poor families in their village, and they received the same education. All things considered, they both possessed the same amount of luck, more or less. Their friendship is so tight, like brothers born from the same mother, that they decide to live as neighbors. When they get older, they both marry and each is rewarded with five children. Both Aba and Abi wish to become wealthy.
Everyday, the two friends pray and fast in order to merit wealth and happiness. However, enmity forms between these good friends after Abi’s prayers and pleas are granted (i.e. he wins the lottery of life). Aba, who becomes jealous and resentful, then prays and asks God why only Abi’s prayers were granted when they had both prayed similarly for many years. Several days later, Abi is truly bestowed with happiness, while Aba was afflicted with hardship; however, this state of affairs was not permanent. After enjoying happiness for a while, Abi began to endure hardship, while Aba began to enjoy success and happiness. Then Abi prayed, beseeching God and praying for success, and Abi was again granted happiness, while conversely Aba began to suffer hardship again. This state of affairs continued for many years, each of the friends being blessed with happiness while the other, in turn, was stricken with adversity. They often blamed their fate over each turn of luck or misfortune that befell them. Despite this sad situation, the story ends on a positive note when Aba and Abi renew their friendship and realize their personal flaws:
Now Abi’s family shouted to the sky,
We have offered the same prayers to Thee
Why is it then that only their prayers
Have Thee granted?
Where is Thy sense of justice?”
(The Lottery of Life: 18th stanza)
Currently, Abi’s family shouted to the sky,
Thou sent us a Honda automobile
We believed that this was a blessing
But it turned out to be a source of misfortune
Where is Thy sense of justice?”
(The Lottery of Life: 24th stanza)
Through the experiences of the two story characters, Aba and Abi, we can see the lessons of life that they attain from the turn of events, taking turns repeatedly in experiencing hardship or fortune. At the end, they realized that luck was preordained by the Almighty; thus, as His servants, we should be grateful and accepting with regard to what He has already bestowed. Likewise, Aba and Abi praise God for living a long life or a safe and prosperous life. The lesson for them is that they are fortunate because their feelings of envy, anger, despair, and inadequacy as well as their thirst for revenge have all abated; these harsh feelings are now replaced by good cheer and happiness, sincere love, and kindness. No longer are these friends separated by an abyss of misery; instead, they unite in the understanding that as men, they are both God’s creation:
“Thank you, Trilili Bird
For Thy miracles which we have already received
Not for the fortune which Thou hast bestowed
Nor for the misfortune with which Thou hast tried our souls
But for the lessons we have attained
For the wisdom we can contemplate”
(The Lottery of Life: 78th stanza)
The poem entitled The Ballad of Wahab and Wahib is an example of an essay poem that deals with the virtues of kindness and family values. The story in this poem is quite appealing as an example for living one’s life and as a compass for treading one’s way through the continuously changing and challenging maze of life. The protagonists, Wahab and Wahib, are twin brothers who were raised with a religious education by their mother. The brothers were successful in school and were able to continue their studies abroad, though in different locations and disciplines. Wahib went to college in the United States, while Wahab attended college in the Middle East. After returning from their respective studies overseas, everything changed between them. Their attitude and conceptualization of religion now differed greatly. Wahib and Wahab differed in their opinions; they quarreled with each other, each asserting his perceptions and attitudes until these differences caused enmity and intense argumentation between them. Their mother witnessed this situation with great distress and aggravation:
“Mother, religion takes precedence over statehood
Islam of the Indonesian Archipelago has faltered and strayed
Although the president is behind this,” Wahab shouted angrily.
(The Ballad of Wahab and Wahib: 5th stanza)
“Wahab, you are wrong
Religion and nations are different domains.
We support Islam of the Archipelago,”
Wahib retorted loudly.
(The Ballad of Wahab and Wahib: 6th stanza)
“Enough! It’s enough already!
Mother is already exhausted,”
Their mother said in a halting voice,
As tears poured down her cheeks.
(The Ballad of Wahab and Wahib: 7th stanza)
The lesson from this poem is that religious instruction should proceed in parallel with the times because the demands of a new era will also change. We should accept perceptions of other nations from a different perspective, but one’s heart, convictions, and faith must remain resolute with the correct teachings of Islam because our religion also has its own particular perspectives. Islam does not torment its followers. To express this another way, words of adoration are not just uttered to one’s beloved but also to God, as well as to one’s parents, family, friends, and other creatures that live on this planet.
Another significant moral value is to respect the elders in one’s religious community. This value is expressed in the poem Academy of Happiness. This essay poem tells the story of a highly esteemed teacher who is getting older and reaching the age of retirement. The two candidates that are being considered to take his place are Amin and Amen. Each of them will be tested and then assessed by the old teacher; the test will evaluate which of these two candidates is most adept at inspiring happiness. Amin travels to a northern village, and Amen visits a southeastern village. Each of them brings many copies of holy scriptures to distribute. Besides this, they teach, recite, and memorize the holy scriptures. Although he experiences various challenges and obstacles, Amin perseveres in his efforts to preach his ideas based only on the holy scriptures. However, Amen takes a different approach. Amen undergoes his pilgrimage by opening his eyes, ears, and heart. Amen listens carefully to every complaint and problem that confront the inhabitants of the southeastern village. Amen also tries to resolve each problem and cause of bewilderment that the villagers are facing with the purpose of guiding them to find happiness in their lives (“with the goal that they keep searching for pearls”).
At the end of the testing period, Amin and Amen told their story from beginning to end concerning each teacher’s preaching mission to their old teacher. After the old teacher listened to the testimony from each disciple, Amen was chosen to replace him. A group of students who supported Amin disagreed with the old master’s decision. The old man provided many explanations and clarifications to elucidate why he had chosen Amen rather than Amin. However, these students remained angry and dissatisfied. Eventually, they rebelled against their old teacher and began to bicker and blame each other until violent confrontations and bloodshed broke out between the supporters of Amin and Amen.
“Amin made the scriptures his singular purpose and goal
He made it the only repository of truth
He homogenized the environment
Disavowing the broad spectrum of the colors of life
And was not disturbed if this caused tension and conflict”
(The Academy of Happiness: 41st stanza)
“Amen treated the scriptures only as a means
What he accentuated was the heart of man
The path did not have to be uniform
Because the environment was also diverse.”
(The Academy of Happiness: 42nd stanza)
“Amen acquired the flame of his passion from the scriptures
He kept that same fire alive
Where did that ember originally come from?
He did not care how his muse was different
As long as he succeeded in making people happy.”
(The Academy of Happiness: 43rd stanza)
The lesson we can learn here is that in order to achieve happiness, each decision made by the elder teacher was eagerly obeyed because that decision was made for the benefit of all his disciples. The eldest teacher was the most erudite scholar; thus, he deserved to be respected and recognized for being more experienced than younger scholars. Therefore, an attitude of respect to the eldest teacher can avert undesirable incidents, such as enmity.
Amen’s supporters reacted in a reverse manner
“Please respect our old teacher, respect his decision
Together we can fortify our ranks
As well as our master teacher’s dignity.”
(The Academy of Happiness: 51st stanza)
“Honor our great teacher, respect his decision
Behind our elder teacher, reinforce our ranks”
The choir of Amen’s supporters would not relent
Their teacher was not incorrect.
(The Academy of Happiness: 52nd stanza)
Moral values and lessons which have been gathered within these five poems in a random manner, are listed as follows:
Title of the Poem
The Story of the Sacred Guidebook
Compassion and cooperation
Religious study/education should not be the main reason for conflict among family members to the extent that it impairs the harmony between a father and his daughter.
The Dream about a Bicycle
Mutual respect and deference
Respecting the faith and beliefs of every human being (including respect for adherents to one’s own religion as well as followers of other religions)
Respecting human civil rights, especially because every society includes people of diverse ethnic background
The Wisdom of Singapore
Transparency (Global studies, universal values)
Religious precepts should be the most important concern, but they should be aligned and accompanied by secular studies, such as physical and social science. Both religious and secular education are necessary to face the changes that are taking place in the new millennium.
Searching for a King within a King
Sincerity and acquiescence
Every person that lives will also die; none of God’s creatures is immortal or eternal. As God’s servants, we must adhere to His laws and conditions.
Astounded by Research
The source of happiness, seeking the true meaning of happiness
Seek wisdom as suggested by the adage, “Pursue knowledge all the way to China”.
Religion is the source of happiness.
Science is a fortification that upholds the source of happiness. Thus, religion and various disciplines of science need to support each other in this era.
In conclusion, Denny JA’s 22 essay poems represent literary works that are the inspired product of the author’s creative processes, which utilize simple and precise language and are crammed full of moral messages, which are implicit as well as explicit; these messages concern virtues, such as honesty, righteousness, sincerity, submission, interethnic tolerance, patience, candor, and cooperation.
Denny JA’s literature are characteristically unique and wholesome because the author possesses a distinctive style in comparison to that found in most poetry collections. Each essay poem that Denny JA has written has a social issue inserted within it that is based on true events and also contains social values. The writer has included many lessons or social messages for the general public, which is his target audience. All these issues demonstrate that Denny JA is an extraordinary poet; he has created poems that feature an innovative style and are substantially linked to the social conditions in his surroundings.