by Okky Madasari

What is God? What is poetry?

Spirituality has been a main topic for poetry across Nusantara for centuries. Since the beginning of Malay poetry in the 16th century through the works of Sufi poet, Hamzah Fansuri, to the pioneer of Indonesia’s modern poetry, Chairil Anwar, in the mid 20th century, to today’s generation, and from syair generation to TikTok generation, poetry has been a way to find the meaning of God and spirituality.

Between Hamzah Fansuri in the 16th century and Amir Hamzah in the beginning of the 20th century Sufi poet, poetry is medium of worshiping God — to express the love and longing for God, to surrender and to acknowledge the greatness of God. While Sufism itself is way to define God in more humanistic way, it is undoubtedly that Sufi poets see God as the greatest supranatural being, the creator and the source of everything.

The phrase God is Within Me, popularised by sufist ulama, is an expression to highlight the close relationship between human being and God, and that God is existing in every human’s heart and consciousness, not that human being is equal to God as many opponents and critics of sufi would like to interpret it.

Hamzah Fansuri’s syairs always worship God and call on people to follow God both in literal and metaphor expression. In every syair he uses words or sentences from Quran or Hadith or Arabic language in general. His clear and literal expression, for example shown in:

Aho, all of us named Islam

Yogya, follow Hadits and Kalam

Because words of Allah, garden inside

Saying from God without grave

Aho all of us named human

Don’t be hesitant to learn Qur’an

Because there all of God’s words

Saying everything in there

This kind of expression is also preserved in Amir Hamzah’s poetry, “Because of You”:

I am a puppet, you are a puppet,

To please the puppeteer as he runs through his song;

We glance at each other, out on the open screen,

For as long as the one melody lasts.

‘Other bright-coloured dolls take their turn;

You and I are laid in our box.

I am a puppet, you are a puppet,

To please the puppeteer running out his rhymes.’

Only until Chairil Anwar came to prominence, the call to express anger to God appears on Indonesia’s poems. Nevertheless, for Chairil, God is still the creator and the greatest super natural being. For this, He should answer all human being’s questions. Chairil expresses his anger and frustration on this poem entitle At The Mosque:

I shouted at Him

Until He came

We met face to face.

Afterwards He burned in my breast.

All my strength struggles to extinguish Him

My body, which won’t be driven, is naked with sweat

This room

Is the arena where we fight

Destroying each other

One hurling insults, the other gone mad.

For Rendra, God is nothing but humanity. He criticise all the after life narrative, clearly stating that what is happening on earth is more important than in utopian heaven. It shows in his poem, Bersatulah Pelacur-Pelacur Kota Jakarta:

The leader’s revolution

was a revolution of gods.

They fought for heaven

and not for this earth.

A revolution by gods

has never produced

more jobs

for the ordinary people

You are a part of the proletariat

they created.

Rendra also questions the definition of sin in his poem Nyanyian Angsa:

‘You were led into sin’

‘Not led. But I have sinned greatly’

‘You were deceived by the devil’

‘No, I was forced by poverty.

And my failure to find a job.

‘By St Peter!’

‘By St Peter! Father, listen to me

I don’t need to know why I sinned

I realize my life has been a failure

My soul is confused

And I am going to die

But I am terribly afraid

I need God or whatever

to befriend me’

Today’s Generation Saves God

Today’s generation who live with advanced technology giving them access to various ideas, readings, and conversations, certainly have more diverse interpretation on God compare to previous generations. It is a generation who are familiar with the postmodernism ideas, reading Karl Marx without fear, and at the same time, have been invaded by visual and video all the day through their mobile phone.

To understand the way younger generation utilising poetry to express its spirituality, I have studied a number of poems published by Omong-Omong Media and selected several of them that portray some characteristic of how the young poets redefine God.

The existence of social media has been an inspiration and intervening factor in how they define God. For Muhammad Akmal Firmansyah, he genuinely found the phrase of Ketuhanan yang Mahadaring (The Almighty Online God) and Iman Virtual (Virtual Faith).

Ketuhanan yang Mahadaring                          

di sana


memasang iklan

super mahal

di berbagai kanal

di sini

buruh-buruh digital

dipaksa produktif

sampai tak bisa piknik

seperti media digital yang

melempar clickbait

demi penuhi fee per klik

ingin kuberkata:

hiduplah Indonesia Maya!

This poem by Muhammad Akmal Firmansyah represents a young generation’s feeling of being ruled by a kind of supernatural being – much like the previous concept of God – in various aspects of life. Such a God now is technology, digital world and social media (daring = online). But digitalism and social media is also evil supernatural being. It shows in Iman Virtual:

Iman Virtual

orang-orang berdoa di snapgram

perjuangkan birahi di dating apps

mencari fwb, mencari cinta satu malam

menulis keluh kesah di twitter

sampai keblinger dan

kebersihan sebagian dari estetik

yang kukotori lewat

status whatsappku yang burik

: o tuhan

aku berlindung kepadamu

dari godaan dunia maya

yang penuh tipu daya

Meanwhile, a poem by Nurul Lathifah represents her fear of God, equaling it to death that has to be avoided:

Aku menyusun pelukmu dan meletakkannya pada pintu kamar tidurku serupa mantra yang mengusir setan-setan di dalam kepalaku.

Tapi kepalaku adalah kriminal yang tidak seharusnya dibiarkan sendiri.

Aku berdiri di depan kaca dan menatap cinta dan nyala untuk hidup sedetik lagi.

Hingga detik menjadi menit.

Hingga menit menjadi jam.

Jam menjadi hari.

Hari menjadi minggu.

Minggu menjadi bulan.

Bulan menjadi tahun.

Tahun menjadi aku

yang belum bertemu Tuhan.

God is also a disappointment. It reflects in poem by Inas Pramoda. While he seems to believe in God, he and life he gives to human beings are just a disappointment

aku tidak ingin hidup terlalu lama

dan kamu tidak ingin mati terlalu cepat

kita berdebat panjang tentang mana yang lebih terkutuk di antara keduanya

Tuhan mungkin tertawa—mengapa Ia tertawa jika Ia hidup selamanya?

apakah Tuhan pernah kecewa walau sekali saja?

sekali-kali kita berdua memikirkan hal itu hingga ketiduran di atas meja

dan buku-buku yang masih terbuka, dan gelas-gelas yang belum habis, dan waktu yang tak pernah sama

saat terbangun pertama kali, kita memastikan jantung masing-masing masih tetap berdetak

suatu saat, siapa pun yang masih hidup di antara kita berdua akan mengenang yang mati

“atau melupakannya,” katamu, “hidup adalah jebakan belaka, kita berkali-kali mencoba menghindarinya.”

It is also interesting, despite all cynicism, how deep inside they still have hope in God. A poem by Angga Pratama shows hypocrisy about God among current generation. As much as they want to get rid of God, in a time of fear, they will always want to return to him.

Ateisme Tanggung

Aku duduk bersama pikiran

Malam kemarin selesai baca Marx

Dalam hati bangga kunyatakan:

“demi otak yang dialektis, aku ateis!”

Di luar, hujan dan petir memadu kasih

Suasana kamar begitu lembab

Hawa dingin menusuk perih

Aku merinding disinari gelap

Celah ventilasi terlihat aneh

Aku curiga, kutatap saksama

Sudut demi sudut, seluruhnya

Dengan kecepatan suara

Petir menyambar tiba-tiba

Dan aku sontak berteriak:

“lindungi aku ya Tuhan!”

A poem by Adib Arkan shows optimism and hope despite all problems he is in, refusing to just blame God although it’s clear he recognizes its presence

Staring at the ceiling,

clearly i heard your question:

“Why god let me do this?

He let me fall again and again.”

But it wasn’t god, it was you,

and tomorrow will come in a minute.

I hope you’ll make it through.

Whatever happens, be tough.

And never seek solace from what could kill you.

God is Not Dead

Learning from such poems published by Omong-Omong Media, I can see there are five characteristics on how z generation or internet generation define God or Gods. First, they see God or Gods in every thing. For them, there is not a single definition or imagination of God. Second, for them, God is a reflection of not only humanity, love, hope but also fear and death. Third, God is a feeling in the sense that for them it matters when they feel the presence of God. Fourth, while most of ulamas and preachers believe that God is the answer, the young poets see it as a question rather than an answer. Lastly, poetry is a seeking process to find their our own version of God or Gods.

God is clearly neither dead nor disappeared from today’s poetry. The younger generation just found the new way in finding and seeing God. For this generation, God is not merely the greatest being, the creator, or the one they should worship.

*This writing is part of Okky Madasari’s lecture for Poetry Festival Singapore, 31 July 2022


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