My Retreat

Jose Rizal describes in “My Retreat” his exile in Dapitan. From 1892 to 1896, he lived an unexciting but fruitful life.

In this poem, Rizal describes his exile in Dapitan where, from 1892 to 1896, he lived an unexciting but fruitful life. Even in his exile, Rizal proved that life can still be abundant and full of achievements. He lived as a merchant and a farmer and built three houses made from bamboo, wood and nipa. Interestingly, his houses were of varied geometrical shapes. 

“I shall tell you how we lived here. I have three houses-one square, another hexagonal, and the third octagonal.” This is part of his letter to Blumentritt on December 19, 1893 about his peaceful life in Dapitan and the following is his poem.

For the Spanish version of this poem, see Mi Retiro.

Beside a spacious beach of fine and delicate sand
and at the foot of a mountain greener than a leaf,
I planted my humble hut beneath a pleasant orchard,
seeking in the still serenity of the woods
repose to my intellect and silence to my grief.

Its roof is fragile nipa; its floor is brittle bamboo;
its beams and posts are rough as rough-hewn wood can be;
of no worth, it is certain, is my rustic cabin;
but on the lap of the eternal mount it slumbers
and night and day is lulled by the crooning of the sea.

The overflowing brook, that from the shadowy jungle
descends between huge bolders, washes it with its spray,
donating a current of water through makeshift bamboo pipes
that in the silent night is melody and music
and crystalline nectar in the noon heat of the day.

If the sky is serene, meekly flows the spring,
strumming on its invisible zither unceasingly;
but come the time of the rains, and an impetuous torrent
spills over rocks and chasms—hoarse, foaming and aboil—
to hurl itself with a frenzied roaring toward the sea.

The barking of the dog, the twittering of the birds,
the hoarse voice of the kalaw are all that I hear;
there is no boastful man, no nuisance of a neighbor
to impose himself on my mind or to disturb my passage;
only the forests and the sea do I have near.

The sea, the sea is everything! Its sovereign mass
brings to me atoms of a myriad faraway lands;
its bright smile animates me in the limpid mornings;
and when at the end of day my faith has proven futile,
my heart echoes the sound of its sorrow on the sands.

At night it is a mystery! … Its diaphanous element
is carpeted with thousands and thousands of lights that climb;
the wandering breeze is cool, the firmament is brilliant,
the waves narrate with many a sigh to the mild wind
histories that were lost in the dark night of time.

‘Tis said they tell of the first morning on the earth,
of the first kiss with which the sun inflamed her breast,
when multitudes of beings materialized from nothing
to populate the abyss and the overhanging summits
and all the places where that quickening kiss was pressed.

But when the winds rage in the darkness of the night
and the unquiet waves commence their agony,
across the air move cries that terrify the spirit,
a chorus of voices praying, a lamentation that seems
to come from those who, long ago, drowned in the sea.

Then do the mountain ranges on high reverberate;
the trees stir far and wide, by a fit of trembling seized;
the cattle moan; the dark depths of the forest resound;
their spirits say that they are on their way to the plain,
summoned by the dead to a mortuary feast.

The wild night hisses, hisses, confused and terrifying;
one sees the sea afire with flames of green and blue;
but calm is re-established with the approach of dawning
and forthwith an intrepid little fishing vessel
begins to navigate the weary waves anew.

So pass the days of my life in my obscure retreat;
cast out of the world where once I dwelt: such is my rare
good fortune; and Providence be praised for my condition:
a disregarded pebble that craves nothing but moss
to hide from all the treasure that in myself I bear.

I live with the remembrance of those that I have loved
and hear their names still spoken, who haunt my memory;
some already are dead, others have long forgotten—
but what does it matter? I live remembering the past
and no one can ever take the past away from me.

It is my faithful friend that never turns against me,
that cheers my spirit when my spirit’s a lonesome wraith,
that in my sleepless nights keeps watch with me and prays
with me, and shares with me my exile and my cabin,
and, when all doubt, alone infuses me with faith.

Faith do I have, and I believe the day will shine
when the Idea shall defeat brute force as well;
and after the struggle and the lingering agony
a voice more eloquent and happier than my own
will then know how to utter victory’s canticle.

I see the heavens shining, as flawless and refulgent
as in the days that saw my first illusions start;
I feel the same breeze kissing my autumnal brow,
the same that once enkindled my fervent enthusiasm
and turned the blood ebullient within my youthful heart.

Across the fields and rivers of my native town
perhaps has traveled the breeze that now I breathe by chance;
perhaps it will give back to me what once I gave it:
the sighs and kisses of a person idolized
and the sweet secrets of a virginal romance.

On seeing the same moon, as silvery as before,
I feel within me the ancient melancholy revive;
a thousand memories of love and vows awaken:
a patio, an azotea, a beach, a leafy bower;
silences and sighs, and blushes of delight …

A butterfly athirst for radiances and colors,
dreaming of other skies and of a larger strife,
I left, scarcely a youth, my land and my affections,
and vagrant everywhere, with no qualms, with no terrors,
squandered in foreign lands the April of my life.

And afterwards, when I desired, a weary swallow,
to go back to the nest of those for whom I care,
suddenly fiercely roared a violent hurricane
and I found my wings broken, my dwelling place demolished,
faith now sold to others, and ruins everywhere.

Hurled upon a rock of the country I adore;
the future ruined; no home, no health to bring me cheer;
you come to me anew, dreams of rose and gold,
of my entire existence the solitary treasure,
convictions of a youth that was healthy and sincere.

No more are you, like once, full of fire and life,
offering a thousand crowns to immortality;
somewhat serious I find you; and yet your face beloved,
if now no longer as merry, if now no longer as vivid,
now bear the superscription of fidelity.

You offer me, O illusions, the cup of consolation;
you come to reawaken the years of youthful mirth;
hurricane, I thank you; winds of heaven, I thank you
that in good hour suspended by uncertain flight
to bring me down to the bosom of my native earth.

Beside a spacious beach of fine and delicate sand
and at the foot of a mountain greener than a leaf,
I found in my land a refuge under a pleasant orchard,
and in its shadowy forests, serene tranquility,
repose to my intellect and silence to my grief.

Do you want to know more about Rizal’s stay in Dapitan? See Rizal’s footsteps in Dapitan.

In the photo (courtesy of is Casa Residencia, where Rizal stayed while in exile in Dapitan.

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