A Eulogy of Roaches by Bienvenido Lumbera (Poem) - Summary, Meaning, Analysis

Blessed are the cockroaches.

In this country they are
the citizens who last.
They need no police
to promulgate their peace
because they tolerate
each other's smell or greed.

Friends to dark and filth,
they do not choose their meat.
Although they neither sow
nor reap, a daily feast
is laid for them in rooms
and kitchens of their pick.

The roaches do not spin,
and neither do they weave.
But note the russet coat
the sluggards wear: clothed
at birth, roaches require
no roachy charity.

They settle where they wish
and have no rent to pay.
Eviction is a word
quite meaningless to them
who do not have to own
their dingy crack of wall.

Not knowing dearth or taxes,
they increase and multiply.
Survival is assured
even the jobless roach;
his opportunities
pile up where garbage grows.

Dying is brief and cheap
and thus cannot affright.
A whiff of toxic mist,
an agile heel, a stick
-- the swift descent of pain
is also final death.

Their annals may be short,
but when the simple poor
have starved to simple death,
roaches still circulate
in cupboards of the rich,

the strong, the wise, the dead.

Summary, Meaning, Analysis:

This is a politically-charged poem which should not come as a surprise to you if you are familiar with Bienvenido Lumbera and his body of work. Lumbera's written works are often described as "nationalist writing" and A Eulogy of Roaches is a perfect example. Lumbera wrote to scream against unfairness, injustice, brutality, and incompetence. He was among the many literary artists who were arrested and jailed during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. If you sense a lot of angst in this poem and in his other works, you know why.

This poem is a direct indictment of the greed and corruption that is rampant in Philippine society. Lumbera is directing his ammunition here towards the greedy rich folks and corrupt politicians. To Lumbera, these shady characters are nothing but opportunistic cockroaches. Pests who exploit the poor, the illiterate, and the gullible.

The poet provides several examples of unfair privileges that the rich and the corrupt enjoy. They are untouchable by the police because they tolerate each other's corrupt practices. They don't work, they don't plant the fields, they don't raise livestock. But when the time to eat comes, they can choose whatever they want to eat. There's always a feast in front of them. They do not spin yarn nor weave textile. But they are always wearing the best clothes. They can live wherever they want because they don't have to pay rent. They don't have to live in fear because they are immune to eviction. They survive even if they don't hold jobs because there will always be poor and gullible people for them to exploit.

Lumbera lived through the 60's, 70's, and 80's and so he saw with his own eyes and experienced with his own skin the injustices and corruption under the Marcos regime. Remember that he was thrown into jail by the regime. So this poem is him making his case against all the injustices and corruption he has witnessed. There's a line in the poem that goes "they tolerate each other's smell or greed". He is probably referring to cronies here. Cronyism was very rampant during the Marcos years. Businessmen and politicians working together to exploit the country and its poor people.

In conclusion, this poem is a protest poem. It's a literary piece coming from an activist. An activist who has seen and experienced injustice and suffering.