August, in the Philippines, is the month of celebrating Buwan ng Wika. It promotes and highlights the national language to instill a sense of patriotism to young Filipinos, and a reminder of nationalism to old ones. One of the prominent figures in Philippine history and language is Francisco Balagtas. Even dubbed as the local counterpart of William Shakespeare, his poetry captured the hearts of both Spaniards and Filipinos alike.
But how did his poetry become an act of heroism? Here are ten facts to know Balagtas better.
1. A Poet is Born
The Pambansang Makata at Prinsipe ng Makatang Tagalog is born on April 2, 1788 in Bigaa, Bulacan. His full name is Francisco Balagtas Baltazar y Dela Cruz. He later on signed as Narvaez Baltazar, also an acceptable name of the poet.
2. Early Life
He was the 4th son of Juan Balagtas, a blacksmith, and Juana de la Cruz. He became a houseboy to a rich man in Tondo at 11 years old. The rich man paid for Francisco’s education.
He studied in Colegio de San Juan de Letran and finished a degree in Canon Law, the laws of the Catholic Church. He also has a degree in Physics and Philosophy.
One of his influences in writing is Fr. Mariano Pilapil, the author of the Pasiong Mahal, the Passion narrative sung by Catholics every Holy Week. He was also under the tutelage of Jose Dela Cruz, also known as Huseng Sisiw. There are instances wherein Huseng Sisiw helps Balagtas write love poems for the women Balagtas is pursuing. This is of course in exchange for one chick, hence the name. But Huseng Sisiw and Balagtas’ friendship came to an end because of Balagtas’ debt left unpaid.
5. Some Works
According to Hermenigildo Cruz, Balagtas’ prominent biographer, Balagtas wrote ten comedias or comedies and one metrical romance. He also wrote numerous poems and short plays and some unpublished works. These are his known completed works:
Florante at Laura– This is his most notable and famous work. The story is about Florante and Aladin, their hardships, and how they regained their kingdom.
La India Elegante y el Negrito Amante- A short zarzuela that talks about a real-life event in the home of Balagtas. Amidst its funny and light words and topic, the central theme of the play is discrimination.
Orosman at Zafira- A comedia in three parts, it tells the story of love and conflict between Muslims, mainly about Orosman on how to win Zafira’s love after he killed her father. It is a story based on a Greek play.
6. Balagtas as a Commissioned Artist
According to the book, Kun Sino ang Kumathâ ng̃ “Florante”: Kasaysayan ng̃ Búhay ni Francisco Baltazar at Pag-uulat nang Kanyang Karunung̃a’t Kadakilaan, written by Herminigildo Cruz, Balagtas often doesn’t write his pieces. He always works with a few transcribers. While he was working as a liaison in the local government, many would often commission him to write poems that are used to address the townspeople, for romantic use, or personal poems to give to their family and loved ones, alongside comedies and other works.
7. Lost Love
One of the women whom Francisco courted was Maria Asuncion Rivera. Due to incitement, he was imprisoned on false charges. While being imprisoned, the news came to him that Maria Asuncion married Mariano Capule. The Florante at Laura was believed to be written inside the prison. And the poem for Celia is believed to be for Maria Asuncion Rivera.
8. Balagtas’ Heroism
The heroism of Balagtas is expressed through writing Florante at Laura. As the book was published, it went under the Spaniards’ watchful eye and became a best seller. The story depicts the fight between the Moros and the Christians. Eventually, the people analyzed the book and knew it was subversive for it has lines that inspire the people to revolt.
9. Life Later On
After he got out of prison, he became a liaison in a tribunal in Balara, Bataan. Later on, he married Juana Tiambeng, and they had 11 offspring. He also became a town lieutenant and a lawyer to the farmers. On one incident, he was found guilty for balding a helper of a rich family in Udyong in Bataan, that led to his imprisonment. He died on February 20, 1862, at around 74 years old.
10. Balagtas and Rizal.
Rizal revered Balagtas. On one occasion, Rizal, before he went abroad, asked to publish Florante at Laura in a firm and rigid paper. For the cover, Rizal wanted to hire artists to paint scenes depicting the story. But the plan was unsuccessful due to a lack of funding. Even so, Rizal always kept a copy of the book with him when he went overseas, making it one of his inspirations in writing his own novel, Noli Me Tangere.
Contrary to popular belief, Francisco Balagtas wasn’t the first person to perform the balagtasan. It was on April 6, 1924, the first balagtasan event was held. But it was because of him that the Filipinos were inspired to create the cultural and creative poem telling that highlights not only our culture and language but also, our vigor and skills in writing and poetic rhythmic lines and communicating them as well in an artistic way.
With him being one of the pioneers as writers and fighting for our beloved country, his legacy lives on. To this day, as we study his works. Like Rizal’s novels, Balagtas’ writings as well, will forever be relevant in a country that seeks justice and freedom.
Kenneth currently studies Broadcasting in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He has always been drawn to writing and communicating ideas about what he observes. In his spare time, he is fascinated by books, television series, and movies, such as marvelous superheroes.