A Kind of Burning by Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta (Poem) - Analysis, Meaning, Critique

it is perhaps because
one way or the other
we keep this distance
closeness will tug as apart
in many directions
in absolute din
how we love the same
trivial pursuits and
insignificant gewgaws
spoken or inert
claw at the same straws
pore over the same jigsaws
trying to make heads or tails
you take the edges
i take the center
keeping fancy guard
loving beyond what is there
you sling at the stars
i bedeck the weeds
straining in song or
profanities towards some
fabled meeting apart
from what dreams read
and suns dismantle
we have been all the hapless
lovers in this wayward world
in almost all kinds of ways
except we never really meet
but for this kind of burning.

Analysis, Meaning, Critique:

If you have read other poems by Dimalanta, it should be easier for you to understand this poem. There are certain poets whose styles of writing can be used as a tool in understanding their poems. Dimalanta is one such poet. If you are familiar with her work (and her style), understanding her poems can be much easier. If it's your first time to read a Dimalanta poem (A Kind of Burning in particular), I wouldn't blame you if you think the poem is all over the place. There doesn't seem to be a coherence to it.

A Kind of Burning is a love poem. This much is true. There's no doubt about that. I sometimes joke to my students that I refer to this poem with an alternative title - "A Kind of Love". The speaker of talking about a kind of love. This is where the varied interpretations arise. What kind of love is he talking about? Some say it's about unconsummated love. Some say it's about long-distance relationships. Some say it's about an abusive relationship. Some say it's about love gone stale. Some say it's about tempered love. Some say it's about the love musings of a deranged person.

Here's my interpretation. A Kind of Burning is about guarded love. Maybe it's not all about it but it's the main foundation of the poem. In the first six lines of the poem, the speaker talks about keeping a safe distance because closeness is a destroyer of feelings. People often assume that being close keeps things together but that is not always true when it comes to love and relationships in general. Sometimes, closeness achieves the opposite. It causes people to grow farther apart from each other.

The lines from 7 to 17 tell of the things that the speaker and the other party share. Both common and uncommon things. As far as romance is concerned, they are a match. A pairing seemingly ordained by circumstances. And of course, they have their differences as well. One is slinging at the stars while the other one is content bedecking the weeds. One prefers songs, the other one prefers profanities.

The last 4 lines in the poems drive the message home that the poem is about guarded love. In most circumstances, the two parties would have been serious and passionate lovers. As I said earlier, they are a good match for each other. But as the last 2 lines explain, they meet not because they want to be lovers but to enjoy "this kind of burning". They prefer it this way. They didn't want to take what they already have any further. Why? Unfortunately, the poem ends here.


1. trivial - of little value or importance 
2. gewgaws - a showy thing, especially one that is useless or worthless 
3. hapless - (especially of a person) unfortunate 
4. wayward - difficult to control or predict because of unusual or perverse behavior 
5. dismantle - take (a machine or structure) to pieces