Archive for September 2007

Barbie’s Prayer

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Fra Lippo Lippi

I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!

2You need not clap your torches to my face.

3Zooks, what’s to blame? you think you see a monk!

4What, ’tis past midnight, and you go the rounds,

5And here you catch me at an alley’s end

6Where sportive ladies leave their doors ajar?

7The Carmine’s my cloister: hunt it up,

8Do,–harry out, if you must show your zeal,

9Whatever rat, there, haps on his wrong hole,

10And nip each softling of a wee white mouse,

11Weke, weke, that’s crept to keep him company!

12Aha, you know your betters! Then, you’ll take

13Your hand away that’s fiddling on my throat,

14And please to know me likewise. Who am I?

15Why, one, sir, who is lodging with a friend

16Three streets off–he’s a certain . . . how d’ye call?

17Master–a …Cosimo of the Medici,

18I’ the house that caps the corner. Boh! you were best!

19Remember and tell me, the day you’re hanged,

20How you affected such a gullet’s-gripe!

21But you, sir, it concerns you that your knaves

22Pick up a manner nor discredit you:

23Zooks, are we pilchards, that they sweep the streets

24And count fair price what comes into their net?

25He’s Judas to a tittle, that man is!

26Just such a face! Why, sir, you make amends.

27Lord, I’m not angry! Bid your hang-dogs go

28Drink out this quarter-florin to the health

29Of the munificent House that harbours me

30(And many more beside, lads! more beside!)

31And all’s come square again. I’d like his face–

32His, elbowing on his comrade in the door

33With the pike and lantern,–for the slave that holds

34John Baptist’s head a-dangle by the hair

35With one hand (“Look you, now,” as who should say)

36And his weapon in the other, yet unwiped!

37It’s not your chance to have a bit of chalk,

38A wood-coal or the like? or you should see!

39Yes, I’m the painter, since you style me so.

40What, brother Lippo’s doings, up and down,

41You know them and they take you? like enough!

42I saw the proper twinkle in your eye–

43′Tell you, I liked your looks at very first.

44Let’s sit and set things straight now, hip to haunch.

45Here’s spring come, and the nights one makes up bands

46To roam the town and sing out carnival,

47And I’ve been three weeks shut within my mew,

48A-painting for the great man, saints and saints

49And saints again. I could not paint all night–

50Ouf! I leaned out of window for fresh air.

51There came a hurry of feet and little feet,

52A sweep of lute strings, laughs, and whifts of song, –

53Flower o’ the broom,

54Take away love, and our earth is a tomb!

55Flower o’ the quince,

56I let Lisa go, and what good in life since?

57Flower o’ the thyme–and so on. Round they went.

58Scarce had they turned the corner when a titter

59Like the skipping of rabbits by moonlight,–three slim shapes,

60And a face that looked up . . . zooks, sir, flesh and blood,

61That’s all I’m made of! Into shreds it went,

62Curtain and counterpane and coverlet,

63All the bed-furniture–a dozen knots,

64There was a ladder! Down I let myself,

65Hands and feet, scrambling somehow, and so dropped,

66And after them. I came up with the fun

67Hard by Saint Laurence, hail fellow, well met,–

68Flower o’ the rose,

69If I’ve been merry, what matter who knows?

70And so as I was stealing back again

71To get to bed and have a bit of sleep

72Ere I rise up to-morrow and go work

73On Jerome knocking at his poor old breast

74With his great round stone to subdue the flesh,

75You snap me of the sudden. Ah, I see!

76Though your eye twinkles still, you shake your head–

77Mine’s shaved–a monk, you say–the sting ‘s in that!

78If Master Cosimo announced himself,

79Mum’s the word naturally; but a monk!

80Come, what am I a beast for? tell us, now!

81I was a baby when my mother died

82And father died and left me in the street.

83I starved there, God knows how, a year or two

84On fig-skins, melon-parings, rinds and shucks,

85Refuse and rubbish. One fine frosty day,

86My stomach being empty as your hat,

87The wind doubled me up and down I went.

88Old Aunt Lapaccia trussed me with one hand,

89(Its fellow was a stinger as I knew)

90And so along the wall, over the bridge,

91By the straight cut to the convent. Six words there,

92While I stood munching my first bread that month:

93″So, boy, you’re minded,” quoth the good fat father

94Wiping his own mouth, ’twas refection-time,–

95″To quit this very miserable world?

96Will you renounce” . . . “the mouthful of bread?” thought I;

97By no means! Brief, they made a monk of me;

98I did renounce the world, its pride and greed,

99Palace, farm, villa, shop, and banking-house,

100Trash, such as these poor devils of Medici

101Have given their hearts to–all at eight years old.

102Well, sir, I found in time, you may be sure,

103′Twas not for nothing–the good bellyful,

104The warm serge and the rope that goes all round,

105And day-long blessed idleness beside!

106″Let’s see what the urchin’s fit for”–that came next.

107Not overmuch their way, I must confess.

108Such a to-do! They tried me with their books:

109Lord, they’d have taught me Latin in pure waste!

110Flower o’ the clove.

111All the Latin I construe is, “amo” I love!

112But, mind you, when a boy starves in the streets

113Eight years together, as my fortune was,

114Watching folk’s faces to know who will fling

115The bit of half-stripped grape-bunch he desires,

116And who will curse or kick him for his pains,–

117Which gentleman processional and fine,

118Holding a candle to the Sacrament,

119Will wink and let him lift a plate and catch

120The droppings of the wax to sell again,

121Or holla for the Eight and have him whipped,–

122How say I?–nay, which dog bites, which lets drop

123His bone from the heap of offal in the street,–

124Why, soul and sense of him grow sharp alike,

125He learns the look of things, and none the less

26For admonition from the hunger-pinch.

127I had a store of such remarks, be sure,

128Which, after I found leisure, turned to use.

129I drew men’s faces on my copy-books,

130Scrawled them within the antiphonary’s marge,

131Joined legs and arms to the long music-notes,

132Found eyes and nose and chin for A’s and B’s,

133And made a string of pictures of the world

134Betwixt the ins and outs of verb and noun,

135On the wall, the bench, the door. The monks looked black.

136″Nay,” quoth the Prior, “turn him out, d’ye say?

137In no wise. Lose a crow and catch a lark.

138What if at last we get our man of parts,

139We Carmelites, like those Camaldolese

140And Preaching Friars, to do our church up fine

141And put the front on it that ought to be!”

142And hereupon he bade me daub away.

143Thank you! my head being crammed, the walls a blank,

144Never was such prompt disemburdening.

145First, every sort of monk, the black and white,

146I drew them, fat and lean: then, folk at church,

147From good old gossips waiting to confess

148Their cribs of barrel-droppings, candle-ends,–

149To the breathless fellow at the altar-foot,

150Fresh from his murder, safe and sitting there

151With the little children round him in a row

152Of admiration, half for his beard and half

153For that white anger of his victim’s son

154Shaking a fist at him with one fierce arm,

155Signing himself with the other because of Christ

156(Whose sad face on the cross sees only this

157After the passion of a thousand years)

158Till some poor girl, her apron o’er her head,

159(Which the intense eyes looked through) came at eve

160On tiptoe, said a word, dropped in a loaf,

161Her pair of earrings and a bunch of flowers

162(The brute took growling), prayed, and so was gone.

163I painted all, then cried ” `T’is ask and have;

164Choose, for more’s ready!”–laid the ladder flat,

165And showed my covered bit of cloister-wall.

166The monks closed in a circle and praised loud

167Till checked, taught what to see and not to see,

168Being simple bodies,–”That’s the very man!

169Look at the boy who stoops to pat the dog!

170That woman’s like the Prior’s niece who comes

171To care about his asthma: it’s the life!”

172But there my triumph’s straw-fire flared and funked;

173Their betters took their turn to see and say:

174The Prior and the learned pulled a face

175And stopped all that in no time. “How? what’s here?

176Quite from the mark of painting, bless us all!

177Faces, arms, legs, and bodies like the true

178As much as pea and pea! it’s devil’s-game!

179Your business is not to catch men with show,

180With homage to the perishable clay,

181But lift them over it, ignore it all,

182Make them forget there’s such a thing as flesh.

183Your business is to paint the souls of men–

184Man’s soul, and it’s a fire, smoke . . . no, it’s not . . .

185It’s vapour done up like a new-born babe–

186(In that shape when you die it leaves your mouth)

187It’s . . . well, what matters talking, it’s the soul!

188Give us no more of body than shows soul!

189Here’s Giotto, with his Saint a-praising God,

190That sets us praising–why not stop with him?

191Why put all thoughts of praise out of our head

192With wonder at lines, colours, and what not?

193Paint the soul, never mind the legs and arms!

194Rub all out, try at it a second time.

195Oh, that white smallish female with the breasts,

196She’s just my niece . . . Herodias, I would say,–

197Who went and danced and got men’s heads cut off!

198Have it all out!” Now, is this sense, I ask?

199A fine way to paint soul, by painting body

200So ill, the eye can’t stop there, must go further

201And can’t fare worse! Thus, yellow does for white

202When what you put for yellow’s simply black,

203And any sort of meaning looks intense

204When all beside itself means and looks nought.

205Why can’t a painter lift each foot in turn,

206Left foot and right foot, go a double step,

207Make his flesh liker and his soul more like,

208Both in their order? Take the prettiest face,

209The Prior’s niece . . . patron-saint–is it so pretty

210You can’t discover if it means hope, fear,

211Sorrow or joy? won’t beauty go with these?

212Suppose I’ve made her eyes all right and blue,

213Can’t I take breath and try to add life’s flash,

214And then add soul and heighten them three-fold?

215Or say there’s beauty with no soul at all–

216(I never saw it–put the case the same–)

217If you get simple beauty and nought else,

218You get about the best thing God invents:

219That’s somewhat: and you’ll find the soul you have missed,

220Within yourself, when you return him thanks.

221″Rub all out!” Well, well, there’s my life, in short,

222And so the thing has gone on ever since.

223I’m grown a man no doubt, I’ve broken bounds:

224You should not take a fellow eight years old

225And make him swear to never kiss the girls.

226I’m my own master, paint now as I please–

227Having a friend, you see, in the Corner-house!

228Lord, it’s fast holding by the rings in front–

229Those great rings serve more purposes than just

230To plant a flag in, or tie up a horse!

231And yet the old schooling sticks, the old grave eyes

232Are peeping o’er my shoulder as I work,

233The heads shake still–”It’s art’s decline, my son!

234You’re not of the true painters, great and old;

235Brother Angelico’s the man, you’ll find;

236Brother Lorenzo stands his single peer:

237Fag on at flesh, you’ll never make the third!”

238Flower o’ the pine,

239You keep your mistr … manners, and I’ll stick to mine!

240I’m not the third, then: bless us, they must know!

241Don’t you think they’re the likeliest to know,

242They with their Latin? So, I swallow my rage,

243Clench my teeth, suck my lips in tight, and paint

244To please them–sometimes do and sometimes don’t;

245For, doing most, there’s pretty sure to come

246A turn, some warm eve finds me at my saints–

247A laugh, a cry, the business of the world–

248(Flower o’ the peach

249Death for us all, and his own life for each!)

250And my whole soul revolves, the cup runs over,

251The world and life’s too big to pass for a dream,

252And I do these wild things in sheer despite,

253And play the fooleries you catch me at,

254In pure rage! The old mill-horse, out at grass

255After hard years, throws up his stiff heels so,

256Although the miller does not preach to him

257The only good of grass is to make chaff.

258What would men have? Do they like grass or no–

259May they or mayn’t they? all I want’s the thing

260Settled for ever one way. As it is,

261You tell too many lies and hurt yourself:

262You don’t like what you only like too much,

263You do like what, if given you at your word,

264You find abundantly detestable.

265For me, I think I speak as I was taught;

266I always see the garden and God there

267A-making man’s wife: and, my lesson learned,

268The value and significance of flesh,

269I can’t unlearn ten minutes afterwards.

270You understand me: I’m a beast, I know.

271But see, now–why, I see as certainly

272As that the morning-star’s about to shine,

273What will hap some day. We’ve a youngster here

274Comes to our convent, studies what I do,

275Slouches and stares and lets no atom drop:

276His name is Guidi–he’ll not mind the monks–

277They call him Hulking Tom, he lets them talk–

278He picks my practice up–he’ll paint apace.

279I hope so–though I never live so long,

280I know what’s sure to follow. You be judge!

281You speak no Latin more than I, belike;

282However, you’re my man, you’ve seen the world

283–The beauty and the wonder and the power,

284The shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades,

285Changes, surprises,–and God made it all!

286–For what? Do you feel thankful, ay or no,

287For this fair town’s face, yonder river’s line,

288The mountain round it and the sky above,

289Much more the figures of man, woman, child,

290These are the frame to? What’s it all about?

291To be passed over, despised? or dwelt upon,

292Wondered at? oh, this last of course!–you say.

293But why not do as well as say,–paint these

294Just as they are, careless what comes of it?

295God’s works–paint any one, and count it crime

296To let a truth slip. Don’t object, “His works

297Are here already; nature is complete:

298Suppose you reproduce her–(which you can’t)

299There’s no advantage! you must beat her, then.”

300For, don’t you mark? we’re made so that we love

301First when we see them painted, things we have passed

302Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see;

303And so they are better, painted–better to us,

304Which is the same thing. Art was given for that;

305God uses us to help each other so,

306Lending our minds out. Have you noticed, now,

307Your cullion’s hanging face? A bit of chalk,

308And trust me but you should, though! How much more,

309If I drew higher things with the same truth!

310That were to take the Prior’s pulpit-place,

311Interpret God to all of you! Oh, oh,

312It makes me mad to see what men shall do

313And we in our graves! This world’s no blot for us,

314Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good:

315To find its meaning is my meat and drink.

316″Ay, but you don’t so instigate to prayer!”

317Strikes in the Prior: “when your meaning’s plain

318It does not say to folk–remember matins,

319Or, mind you fast next Friday!” Why, for this

320What need of art at all? A skull and bones,

321Two bits of stick nailed crosswise, or, what’s best,

322A bell to chime the hour with, does as well.

323I painted a Saint Laurence six months since

324At Prato, splashed the fresco in fine style:

325″How looks my painting, now the scaffold’s down?”

326I ask a brother: “Hugely,” he returns–

327″Already not one phiz of your three slaves

328Who turn the Deacon off his toasted side,

329But’s scratched and prodded to our heart’s content,

330The pious people have so eased their own

331With coming to say prayers there in a rage:

332We get on fast to see the bricks beneath.

333Expect another job this time next year,

334For pity and religion grow i’ the crowd–

335Your painting serves its purpose!” Hang the fools!

336–That is–you’ll not mistake an idle word

337Spoke in a huff by a poor monk, God wot,

338Tasting the air this spicy night which turns

339The unaccustomed head like Chianti wine!

340Oh, the church knows! don’t misreport me, now!

341It’s natural a poor monk out of bounds

342Should have his apt word to excuse himself:

343And hearken how I plot to make amends.

344I have bethought me: I shall paint a piece

345… There’s for you! Give me six months, then go, see

346Something in Sant’ Ambrogio’s! Bless the nuns!

347They want a cast o’ my office. I shall paint

348God in the midst, Madonna and her babe,

349Ringed by a bowery, flowery angel-brood,

350Lilies and vestments and white faces, sweet

351As puff on puff of grated orris-root

352When ladies crowd to Church at midsummer.

353And then i’ the front, of course a saint or two–

354Saint John’ because he saves the Florentines,

355Saint Ambrose, who puts down in black and white

356The convent’s friends and gives them a long day,

357And Job, I must have him there past mistake,

358The man of Uz (and Us without the z,

359Painters who need his patience). Well, all these

360Secured at their devotion, up shall come

361Out of a corner when you least expect,

362As one by a dark stair into a great light,

363Music and talking, who but Lippo! I!–

364Mazed, motionless, and moonstruck–I’m the man!

365Back I shrink–what is this I see and hear?

366I, caught up with my monk’s-things by mistake,

367My old serge gown and rope that goes all round,

368I, in this presence, this pure company!

369Where’s a hole, where’s a corner for escape?

370Then steps a sweet angelic slip of a thing

371Forward, puts out a soft palm–”Not so fast!”

372–Addresses the celestial presence, “nay–

373He made you and devised you, after all,

374Though he’s none of you! Could Saint John there draw–

375His camel-hair make up a painting brush?

376We come to brother Lippo for all that,

377Iste perfecit opus! So, all smile–

378I shuffle sideways with my blushing face

379Under the cover of a hundred wings

380Thrown like a spread of kirtles when you’re gay

381And play hot cockles, all the doors being shut,

382Till, wholly unexpected, in there pops

383The hothead husband! Thus I scuttle off

384To some safe bench behind, not letting go

385The palm of her, the little lily thing

386That spoke the good word for me in the nick,

387Like the Prior’s niece . . . Saint Lucy, I would say.

388And so all’s saved for me, and for the church

389A pretty picture gained. Go, six months hence!

390Your hand, sir, and good-bye: no lights, no lights!

391The street’s hushed, and I know my own way back,

392Don’t fear me! There’s the grey beginning. Zooks!


1] First published in Men and Women, 1855. In this poem, Browning makes use of the account of Lippi in Vasari’s Lives of the Painters, from which the following is an extract: “The Carmelite monk, Fra Filippo di Tommaso Lippi (1412-1469), was born at Florence in a bye-street called Ardiglione, under the Canto alla Cuculia, and behind the convent of the Carmelites. By the death of his father he was left a friendless orphan at the age of two years, his mother having also died shortly after his birth. The child was for some time under the care of a certain Mona Lapaccia, his aunt, the sister of his father, who brought him up with very great difficulty till he had attained his eighth year, when, being no longer able to support the burden of his maintenance, she placed him in the above-named convent of the Carmelites. Here, in proportion as he showed himself dexterous and ingenious in all works performed by hand, did he manifest the utmost dullness and incapacity in letters, to which he would never apply himself, nor would he take any pleasure in learning of any kind. The boy continued to be called by his worldly name of Filippo, and being placed with others, who like himself were in the house of the novices, under the care of the master, to the end that the latter might see what could be done with him; in place of studying, he never did anything but daub his own books, and those of the other boys, with caricatures, whereupon the prior determined to give him all means and every opportunity for learning to draw. The chapel of the Carmine had then been newly painted by Masaccio, and this being exceedingly beautiful, pleased Fra Filippo greatly, wherefore he frequented it daily for his recreation, and, continually practicing there, in company with many other youths, who were constantly drawing in that place, he surpassed all the others by very much in dexterity and knowledge …. Proceeding thus, and improving from day to day, he has so closely followed the manner of Masaccio, and his works displayed so much similarity to those of the latter, that many affirmed the spirit of Masaccio to have entered the body of Fra Filippo …. “It is said that Fra Filippo was much addicted to the pleasures of sense, insomuch that he would give all he possessed to secure the gratification of whatever inclination might at the moment be predominant …. It was known that, while occupied in the pursuit of his pleasures, the works undertaken by him received little or none of his attention; for which reason Cosimo de’ Medici, wishing him to execute a work in his own palace, shut him up, that he might not waste his time in running about; but having endured this confinement for two days, he then made ropes with sheets of his bed, which he cut to pieces for that purpose, and so having let himself down from a window, escaped, and for several days gave himself up to his amusements. When Cosimo found that the painter had disappeared, he caused him to be sought, and Fra Filippo at last returned to his work, but from that time forward Cosimo gave him liberty to go in and out at his pleasure, repenting greatly of having previously shut him up, when he considered the danger that Fra Filippo had incurred by his folly in descending from the window; and ever afterwards labouring to keep him to his work by kindness only, he was by this means much more promptly and effectually served by the painter, and was wont to say that the excellencies of rare genius were as forms of light and not beasts of burden.”
17] Cosimo of the Medici (1389-1464): the real ruler of Florence, and a patron of art and literature.
53] The snatches of song represent a species of Italian folk-song called Stornelli; each consisting of three lines of a set form, and containing the name of a flower in the first line.
67] Saint Laurence: the Church at San Lorenzo, now famous for the tombs of the Medici, the work of Michael Angelo.
73] Jerome: one of the Christian Fathers, translated the Bible into Latin; he led a life of extreme asceticism.
117-18] A reference to the procession carrying the consecrated wafer.
121] the Eight: a body of magistrates who kept order.
130] antiphonary: the service-book.
140] Preaching Friars: the Dominicans.
172] funked: turned to smoke.
176 ff.] Lippi belonged to the naturalistic school which developed among the Florentines. These showed a greater attention to natural form and beauty, as opposed to the conventional school, who were men under the influence of earlier artists and inherited an ascetic timidity in the representation of material things.
189] Giotto (1267-1337): the earliest of the greater Florentine painters.
196] Herodias: sister-in-law of Herod, and mother of Salome. See Matthew, 14 for the story of Salome’s dance and the beheading of John the Baptist.
227] See line 18 above.
235] Brother Angelico: Fra Angelico (1387-1455), “By purity of life, habitual elevation of thought, and natural sweetness of disposition, he was enabled to express the sacred affections upon the human countenance, as no one ever did before or since” (Ruskin).
236] Lorenzo: Lorenzo Monaco (1370-1425), a Camaldolese friar who painted in Florence.
273 ff.] Tommaso Guidi (1401-28) better known as Masaccio (which means “hulking”) “because,” says Vasari, “of his excessive negligence and disregard of himself.” He was the teacher–not, as here represented, the pupil–of Filippo Lippi (see first note above).
324] Prato: a town some dozen miles from Florence; in the Cathedral are frescoes by Filippo, but they represent St. Stephen, and the Baptist, not St. Laurence.
328] According to tradition, St. Laurence was roasted on a gridiron.
339] Chianti wine: the common red wine of Tuscany.
346] Browning proceeds to put into Fra Filippo’s mouth a description of what is considered his masterpiece –a Coronation of the Virgin–which he painted for the nuns of Sant’ Ambrogio. Browning, following Vasari, believes that the painter put a self-portrait in the lower corner of the picture. Recent research has shown that the figure is a portrait, not of Fra Filippo, but of the benefactor who ordered the picture for the church. In this case, perfecit opus means “caused the work to be made,” not, as Browning takes it, “completed the work himself.”
354] St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of the Florentines.

Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Robert Browning, Men and Women, 2 vols. (1855.) Rev. 1863.
First publication date: 1855
RPO poem editor: F. E. L. Priestley
RP edition: 3RP 3.131.
Recent editing: 2:2002/1/10*1:2005/1/11

Rhyme: unrhyming

Other poems by Robert Browning

Your comments and questions are welcomed.
All contents copyright © RPO Editors, Department of English, and University of Toronto Press 1994-2002
RPO is hosted by the University of Toronto Libraries.

[Faye brought up the song by the Norwegian group Fra Lippo Lippi, and I was reminded of this poem which I had taken up in one of my Comparative Literature classes, perhaps under Prof. Sylvia Mendez-Ventura. Makes me nostalgic for the good old days when I was just a student.]

It was my turn to be surprised, in a way, to see Christmas Trees at SM yesterday afternoon. All of a sudden, the realization that THIS Christmas will be spent without Den — really, really without — washed over me.

That got me to thinking about the Christmases I had spent without Den, ever since he came into my life and changed its course forever. The first was in 1961, after we first met. The second was in 1967, when he had gone on ahead to study for his M.A. at Bryn Mawr College, and I had to stay behind to finish my last semester of A.B. and to deliver our 3rd child, Vey. The third and fourth were in 1971 and 1972, when Den had returned to the U.S. to study for his Ph.D. at Temple University, and the children and I had been left behind, the better for me to get over the inconsolable loss of Fevi in 1970. The fifth and sixth were in 1988 and 1989, when Den took his post-doctoral course and sabbatical, back-to-back. The seventh, in 1998, when I spent Christmas with Bryn. She was then residing in sunny Florida, but we flew to windy Chicago and stayed with my brother Bien and his family. The eighth was in 2001, just after my father had died. By then Bryn was already residing in Chicago. So I had actually spent 8 Christmases without Den before.

But the hardest to bear was in 1961, when we had just known each other for about 4 weeks. (We met November 15.) My diary entry for December 31 begins, “Oh F.G. I’m ending this year in [sic] a sad note…” and goes on in what I can best describe as a melodramatic tone that only a lovesick 16-year old can muster. :) It used to be, I had looked forward to spending Christmas with my parents–esp. my father, whose birthday it also was; my sisters, brothers, aunts, cousins and neighbors. But this Christmas was different. I counted the days and could hardly wait for classes to resume so I could see Den again. As it turned out much later, Den and I would eventually spend 38 Christmases together, 37 in the Philippines, watching the UP Lantern Parade and the fabled giant lanterns or parol in Pampanga and eating kalamay na ube, tamales and other native delicacies; and one in Philly, eating at a Chinese restaurant with our good friend Ver Enriquez, who had just bought a brand-new Camaro and who had driven from Northwestern University in Illinois to our apartment in Devon, Pennsylvania for the holidays.

As the children got bigger and we, older and less inclined to travel,–I think this was around 1977–we opted to spend later Christmases at our home in UP, playing games, watching TV or, later, DVDs, exchanging gifts, telling stories, having a good time. The only time we didn’t spend Christmas in UP as a family was in 2004, when we spent our Christmas in Virac with our daughter Vey and her family in their new home.

And so this Christmas isn’t really my first without Den. But it is the first since he travelled to that “bourn/From which no traveler returns.” It won’t be easy. Memories are double-edged. They can bring joy, or they can intensify the sadness. Hopefully, the memories of our 38 Christmases together — for me at least — will bring joy, and sustain me and my children during this very difficult time. ‘Miss’ is a pale word to describe how we hope to get through Christmas without Den’s witticisms, his ongoing commentary whenever we watched movies, his crabs and prawns, his Christmas table laden with goodies, the way he’d liven up everything with his presence, the indefinable joy of knowing he’s somehow around, even when he’d leave us to our womanly gossip and talk, and take refuge in the sanctuary of his office.

It should be a great consolation to me that his children, and their children, live on. Ef, Vey, Bryn, Gids, Fer, Xen, Avi, Uc. Remo, Barbie, Vito, Mogen, Vyan, Megan, Nina. They are his legacy, the testament to the fact that once, indeed, there lived and loved a man called F.G. David. While it’s too soon to say whether his poems, his letters, his writings, his lectures, his influence on his students, his Quotable Quotes, will stand the test of time, it’s with a little more definiteness that his children and grandchildren and, hopefully, great-grandchildren, will survive him for a little more time and keep his name alive. So we hope. So we pray.

[Originally published as a comment on Faye's 'The Season Upon Us', published in 'Uncategorized' last September 1. I have revised, re-revised and corrected certain errors.]



1. 2 Jan 89 (1:45 AM)

Dear Avi,

The New Year’s Day is over. It went by quietly with me. As I was only by myself, I did not prepare a midnight dinner. I just ate a full and regular supper.

In the early morning I walked halfway to school. It was cold. Midway, it snowed very lightly. I only stayed until 4:15 P.M. in school. I went home to watch a game on TV.

What about there at home? Did you light sparklers at the strike of the New Year? I suppose your Mama prepared a good midnight dinner.

Soon you’ll go back to school. I wish you gladness with your friends and teachers. Happy New Year!



2. 2 ENERO 89 (2 A. M.)







[Avi was 7 years old at the time; Ucron, 6, which probably explains the all-caps and the language.]

Para sa isang propesor na hinding-hindi ko malilimutan

July 19, 2007

Buong psych department, naging estudyante man niya o hindi, ay napamahal sa kanya. Hindi pa ko 4th year nun, kilala ko na siya. Excited na nga kong maging teacher siya sa 160, sobrang excited, na hindi ko pa siya teacher e nakikigreet na ko pag nakakasalubong ko siya sa phan lobby. Madalas ginagabi ng uwi si sir, at tamang tama, madalas din ako kung makauwi. Pag lumalabas na siya galing sa faculty room niya, hindi ko maiwasang mapangiti pag nakikita ko siyang may parehong get-up gabi-gabi—kumpleto yan, naka-cap, may dalang payong na pantukod, sabay tango, showbiz smile, at maraming kindat sa’yo na feeling mo e kilala ka niya talaga. Kaya love ko si sir e.

Dumating ang summer ng 2003, at excited kaming mga magkakablock na magiging estudyante niya sa Psych 160. Masaya ang pag-alala ko ng bawat araw ng summer na yun, na tinuring kong “summer days with Morrie.” Kinaibigan ko si Pinel dahil sa kanya. Ginusto ko ang bawat buklat ng libro, aral, pag-attend at pakikinig sa mga klase niya. Tumawa at natuwa ako sa bawat patok na paggaya niya sa mga chimpanzeeng nabanggit sa Pinel. Napa-wow ako sa bawat guhit niya ng kahit anong parte ng utak at spinal cord. Dahil sa kanya, natuto ako ng etymology. Nakabisado at nai-drawing ko ang synthesis at chemical structures ng neurotransmitters para lang maka-at least 4 pages ako sa essay exam niya. Di ko na nakalimutan ang tamang sagot nung nawindang ako sa pagtanong niya sa akin ng “what is food?” Dahil sa kanya, feeling ko may koneksyon na ko kay BF Skinner. Dahil sa kanya, nakumpleto ang pagiging psych major ko. Siya ang Morrie ko, mapa-summer man ng 2003, at hanggang ngayon kahit wala na siya.

Si Dr. Fredegusto David ang pinakamamahal kong college prof. Kahit hindi niya alam, siya ang tinuring kong mentor simula college. Nainspire akong mag-aral, mabuhay, at magmahal dahil sa kanya. Nalulungkot akong isipin na wala na siyang hinahanap-hanap ko sa tuwing pagbisita ko sa phan lobby. Hindi ko na maitatanong sa mga undergrad na psych kung nagtuturo pa rin si Dr. David kahit matagal na niyang binalak na huminto. Nakukulangan ako para sa mga magiging psych major na hindi magkakaroon ng pagkakataong makilala siya. Napakaswerte naming mga naging estudyante niya, kaya naman sana ay maipasa namin ang kanyang mga aral at alaala sa mga susunod na henerasyon ng psych. Mananatili siyang buhay sa aming puso, isip, at gawa. Mamimiss kita Dr. David, kung pwede lang sana ay matagal ka pa naming nakapiling…

Regina Alma G. Quiogue
UP Diliman Psychology Graduate, Batch 2004


Mga munting alaala ni Dr. David sa puso (at notebook) ko, bukod sa dami ng natutunan ko sa Psych 160

‘I convinced my wife that when I die, my brain would be donated to the psych department, to the PPL.’ – April 30, 2003
‘Romance happens once a while, (When) two better halves can’t find each other, until you find him/her, you remain listless and restless.’ –  May 5, 2003
‘Why do you always enjoy jokes at my expense?’ – May 12, 2003
On changing surnames- ‘Not because I own her, but deep down, I feel she owns me.’ — May 13, 2003
On tasting perspiration- ‘You must have some romance with life!’ – May 13, 2003
‘Laziness is no excuse for not doing something that must be done!’ – May 13, 2003
‘Mag-aral (kayo) nang mabuti, so you’ll know who to choose – (Look for) a man/woman who would make your heart beat like hell.’ – May 15, 2003
On moving an exam on a Saturday — ‘I’m doing something on Saturday, I’ll write a long letter to my wife (she was in Illinois then) — She misses me like hell.’ – May 19, 2003
‘Love is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is desirable and beautiful in the universe and unites the mind with the object of love. (But don’t fall in love too much,) so united that you will lose your own existence.’ — May 20, 2003
‘Be observant, kaya inaantok kayo e.’– May 20, 2003
‘Sometimes I have to impress my wife — I’m that lovable.’ – May 22, 2003
Childhood dreams ni Dr. David: gambler and boxer May 26, 2003
‘Respect is much better than fear. Respect doesn’t stop, fear stops at the door of death.’ — May 29, 2003

Tiyak na mananatili pa rin ang kanyang alaala sa puso at isip nating lahat na na-inspire nya. Mamimiss kita Dr. David…

Last Updated: Saturday, 21 July 2007 8:37 P GMT+08 :: Comments/Trackback

… Every time I see you
My life turns upside down
Every time I see you I know

Love it seems, slips away
Just like any dream
I failed to see this memory
means so much to me

Say, say why is it so
Wait, wait don’t let me know

Every time I see you
My life turns upside down
Tried so hard to find out
How to make you come back
But even if I told you
I can’t hold you again
Every time I see you I know …

Hard to believe that this seemingly cheesy song dating back from the late eighties can fill me with such a pang of late. As much as my Dad would probably hate for me to reveal it (I can almost imagine him standing beside me right now giving me that ‘Ikaw talaga..’ look), it became one of my parents’ ‘theme’ songs when he made (what we later teased him as) a mistake of singing the chorus the night before he was scheduled to leave for the United States for more graduate studies. And so, for what felt like an eternity to my siblings and I (but was of course only a couple of months :) ), the whole time he was away my Mom would begin and end each day by playing that ONE song, over and over, until all of us in the house could sing it in our sleep. I am almost grateful that this happened during the cassette tape era so our respite, as it were, from hearing the song while we were home was garnered from the precious few seconds between the time that the song ended, the rewind button was pushed, and the song restarted.

It is almost funny what memories are jolted to the surface nowadays. With very few things really cheering me up lately I find myself clinging to these moments which somehow manage to bring even a half-smile to my face. In my mind’s eye I know that my Dad, my dignified and accomplished father, would be embarrassed to have me share his romantic (again, the word ‘cheesy’ comes to mind) side to anyone who might be interested to know of it. But then again, as I have learned more and more from his students over the years, his pronouncements about how he felt for my Mom was something he never hid nor hesitated from expressing. Strangely enough I feel he was even more embarrassed to tell us, his children, about them more than his students, presumably because we had the advantage of being able to tease him to no end about them. Just this past summer, as we were planning for what had been their 45th wedding anniversary, he would call my Mom daily while she was away and tell her that her kids were at it again, teasing him with far-fetched romantic escapades which we envisioned them having. He was always pretending to be annoyed, but we knew he enjoyed the banter, a testament to that side of him we all loved and miss particularly right now.

With the not-so-highs and really-lows of my emotions of late, I try to dwell on these moments of careless banter, on his witticisms and even what we told him were his corny jokes. Yes, he was Dr. F.G. David, the Psychology Professor, whom I have heard a lot of people call an institution in the University, the knowledgeable man with many talents and skills. But to me he was so much more than that. However proud I am of everything he achieved what makes me miss him most right now is that he was this funny, witty, kind and thoughtful man — one who liked to laugh and tease; who made sure to talk to us when he could; who (while never particularly demonstrative) somehow always made us, his family, feel loved. A man who was simply, but most of all, a decent human being. That is what I miss most about our Dad.

(Fra Lippo Lippi. Yup, a group long ago disbanded, representative of a decade long since passed. Not exactly a classic, but maybe I’ll pick up a copy of the song for myself one of these days. Wow, I never would have thought I would actually even consider that. My Mom would find it funny indeed. :) )


Ask Your Doctor
Vietrez P. David-Abella, MD
Diplomate, Philippine Board of Surgery
Fellow, Philippine Society of General Surgeons
Fellow, Philippine College of Surgeons

In Memoriam
August 08,2007

It’s been two months of writer’s slack since I last posted an article in this column. Post-election dyskinesia and then, a convergence of work from all sides kept me away from the computer keyboards – until now. The work still beckons, but my father’s untimely passing has jolted me out of my cocoon to start writing again.My father, Fredegusto G. David, left this physical world last July 13, 2007, after a stroke in the brain’s critical area left him unconscious for 24 hours. It was the kind of quiet, dignified death that he would have planned for, leaving his family no uneasy questions, no difficult choices, but only reluctant acceptance of the inevitability of death. Yes, it seemed that he really planned to make it easy for us: from the start-up he gave us in life (all eight siblings, except one, who is already a medical intern, have already finished schooling: a computer science graduate, a Master’s Degree in Math, a Ph. D. in Biomedical Engineering, and four M.D.s), to the memorial plan he bought 23 years ago.But he also exited still at the height of his career, teaching psychology courses to both undergraduate students and masteral ones. At 69 years old, this year was to be his last extension at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, before he would finally put away his chalk box for good. He had served UP since 1959, starting off as Instructor and climbing all the way to Full Professor VIII (this was my last count), the last rung anyone could possibly attain. Along the way, he became Department of Psychology Chairman several times, refused other administrative positions, which to him, served only to distract him from what he really wanted, which was to teach.

And teach he did. From the many students, both present and past, many of those had gone off to graduate in medicine and related fields, who we siblings got to talk to during his wake, we discovered how they sought out his classes, enjoyed his lessons on life, wrote down his quotable quotes and passed it around, and even videoed one session (his last). They came in droves every night to view my Dad for one last time, before leaving to wonder who could ever replace him in the courses he taught. In the last night of the wake, upon their insistence, they prepared a tribute during which they unfurled a big tarpaulin with his picture and their favorite sayings from him; showed a video-documentation of the highlights of his career; and recited his famous quotations. Although the void that we feel from this loss could not be filled up by these outpourings of devotion, it has become a source of comfort for us that the 47 years he spent teaching in U.P. produced two generations of students who appreciated psychology and biostatistics, because of the way he taught it.

His colleagues speak of the very simple man who walked from his home to his office (he and my mother lived on campus for the past 45 years), wearing a cap (he acquired this habit in later years to give his balding pate some protection from the sun’s rays) and carrying an umbrella/walking stick. He spoke gently, mildly, just enough to make a person stop and listen. And yet, people hung onto his every word during faculty meetings. They took note of his comments which came in measured words and weighted pitch. Yes, he had already become an institution within an institution of learning.

But for me, the measure of his humility was his kindness to people commonly perceived as the disadvantaged in society. One office technician told us how my father would wait for him until he had finished his chores, just to slip him a small amount of money for merienda. This may not seem big, but we children knew that he only kept a little money in his wallet, turning over his whole salary to my mother. The department security guard came during one night of the wake, in tears, to tell us of Dad’s many kindnesses to him and how he would be sorely missed. Although not an outwardly religious man, my Dad took to heart the practice of Christian love.

I’ve not said goodbye to my father. I bid his physical body farewell when we buried him, but I know his spirit lives on, if only in the hearts and minds of the multitudes he touched, as a teacher, as a colleague, as a friend, as family. And now I am closer to him than ever.

(As it appeared in The Catanduanes Tribune on August 8, 2007)


In darkness my mind fails to find respite. Sleep once again refuses to come, allowing my mind to be deluged by thoughts unbidden. The soft patter of the rain outside my window helps little, and I am once again thrown back to that moment which I feel will continue to haunt me for the rest of my life.

I do not know if it would have been better for me to have just heard about it after the fact, to not have been there to see you lying on the stretcher as they tried valiantly to draw you back into this world. Alive and yet not really so. Warm still but with death’s cold grip slowly pulling you away.

I do not know if it would have been better for me not to have been there as they took you to the ICU, with all my medical know-how relinquishing every ounce of hope I had, all the while battling it out with a heart that refused to believe what my senses were telling me.

I do not know if it would have been better for me to not have been there to watch you draw your last breath, to hear your heart beat into nothingness, to watch your life ebbing away.

Had I, I very-well imagine other regrets probably borne. Such is the nature of recriminations and of life. Nothing is ever acceptable in retrospect.


Friday, 13 July 2007

To dear Ethel and family–

It was a shock to hear of F.G.’s passing. I am not that well myself, am still recuperating from a minor stroke. However, though still unsteady on my feet, I could not miss paying my last respects to F.G., who quietly told me at another wake that my husband “Franz is irreplaceable!”

I’m sure that F.G. will continue to look after you and cherish his wonderful family as he always had.

Keep the wonderful memories in your heart. He will always be remembered by us his colleagues as a good person and a great human being!

God Bless You all!


(Franz +) & Emy Arcellana


19 July 2007

Dear Mrs. David:

On behalf of the University of the Philippines, I wish to convey my sincere condolence to you and your family on the demise of your beloved husband, Dr. Fredegusto G. David.

Yours truly,


Vice President for Public Affairs

Diosa Aquino-Adriano

Alan Lizaso Alcantara


Emy Arcellana

Mary Rose de la Cruz-Badar and Family

Dennis & Tess Batangan

Allan B. I. Bernardo

BodyFarm, Inc.

Manuel and Amelia Bonifacio and Family

Dr. Danilo Cabantog

Ernest Caritativo

Cervantes, Dumapi and Santos Families

Class of 1955, Pampanga Trade School


Dayrit-David Family

De Castro Family

Dennis Dayrit David

Lynn Inigo-Dimaano (UP Psych Batch ’76; Masteral 2005)

Pepe and Fe Domingo

Flory, Nadj, Rain, Hazel & Vicky Gandia

Grade V class of Remo Abella, Pilot Elementary School, Virac, Catanduanes

Herrera Family

Fe P. Langston, Conrad & Joel

Raymund L. Lirag and Family

Mrs. Teresita A. Mendoza

Fe Nava

Alfred Ong/Body Farm/Rhodiola

Dr. Mary Lou Onglatco

Ramon and Susan C. Ortega

Dr. Luz Pascual

Section of Pediatric Anesthesia, PCMC/Consultants, Fellows & Staff

Carmen Pilapil

Ralph and Cora Rodriguez

Nap, Leni and Don Santos

Rosario P. Soto

Ruben, Amar Torres, Mira Torres-Tigas, Mike Torres

Dr. Lulu G. Trias

Gene & Au Yusi

UP Department of Political Science

UP Department of Sociology

UP Population Institute