Sapardi Djoko Damono, Indonesia's Beloved Poet, Passed Away at 80

Updated: Mar 15

Indonesia has just lost one of its literary giants. Sapardi Djoko Damono, passed away yesterday morning. He was 80 years old.

Born in Surakarta, Central Java on 24 March 1940, Sapardi was an avid reader since he was a child. He immersed himself in reading the works of Karl May, and Pramoedya Ananta Toer, to comics by R.A. Kosasih. After graduating from high school in Surakarta, Sapardi completed his graduate study in Indonesian literature at Gajah Mada University, Yogyakarta. He then serves as a lecturer in a number of places, including Diponegoro University in Semarang. Later he became a permanent faculty member in the Literature Department at the University of Indonesia and became a full professor there in 1993.

(Literasia Creativa)
Sapardi Djoko Damono (© Veronique Rompas)

He published his first poetry collection, Duka-Mu Abadi in 1969, followed by Mata Pisau (Knife) and Akuarium (Aquarium) in 1974, and in 1983 he published Perahu Kertas (Paper Boat) and Sihir Hujan (Rain Spell).

In 1994, he published Hujan Bulan Juni. One of his most popular works, The book contained 95 poems, including a selection of his poems from 1964 to 1992. Sapardi has also completed a number of translations of literary works from other countries into Bahasa Indonesia. His translation of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is considered among Indonesia's best. In 1987, together with other prominent Indonesian literary figures (Goenawan Mohamad, Subagio Sastrowardoyo, Umar Kayam, and John H. McGlynn) involved in the establishment of the Lontar Foundation.

On Sapardi's passing, John McGlynn said: "There is no underestimating the late Sapardi Djoko Damono’s contribution to contemporary Indonesian literature, particularly the popularity of modern Indonesian poetry. Unlike two of his contemporaries, Rendra (1935–2009) and Goenawan Mohamad (b. 1941), whose mass appeal can be attributed as much to their political activism as to the power of their pens, Sapardi was a much more reserved soul whose widespread popularity rests almost entirely on the subtle and unadorned quality of his work: poems that often consisted of just a few lines or phrases with simple words that could be easily understood and easily memorized, poems that were often prose-like in nature and unlike poems as had previously been defined. That a fair number of his poems were set to music and came to be known nationally further served to guarantee his unofficial position as Indonesia’s poet laureate and make him an icon for younger Indonesians who saw, in the striking simplicity of his work, that the world’s problems could better be solved through enhanced interpersonal communication than through political harangue."

Sapardi Djoko Damono ©Kompas

Another tribute also came from Laura Prinsloo, of the 17000 Pulau Imaji Foundation. They released a statement: "We're deeply saddened with the passing of Sapardi Djoko Damono. Everyone in the 17000 Pulau Imaji Foundation is an admirer of his works. His immense talent to craft words with such simplicity and deep meaning is truly a gift to Indonesian literature.

We shall find solace in the midst of great loss. Though he is no longer with us, his works will always continue to be celebrated by current and future generations".

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