A Short Analysis of “Bato sa Buhangin”
By Edgar Lores
The Tagalog song, “Bato sa Buhangin” is a collaboration between composer Ernani Cuenco (1936 – 1988) and lyricist Roberto Nicolas Rigor (1946 – 2016).
The song has been covered by several singers and bands, notably Cinderella, Ogie Alcasid, Didith Reyes, and Mark Bautista.
Rigor, whose nickname is “Snaffu,” wrote many other hits such as “T.L. Ako sa ‘Yo;” “Bulag, Pipi at Bingi;” “Macho Gwapito;” “Mr. Dreamboy;” and “Boy, I Love You.”
Here is the song:
Kapag ang puso’y natutong magmahal
Bawat tibok ay may kulay at buhay
Ngunit kung ang pagsuyo’y lilipas din
Bagay kaya ang bato sa buhangin?
Kay hirap unawain
Pangakong magmahal hanggang libing
Sa langit may tagpuan din
At doon hihintayin
Itong bato sa buhangin
Ngunit kung ang pagsuyo’y lilipas din
Bagay kaya ang bato sa
Bato sa Buhangin
Structurally, “Bato sa Buhangin” is a simple song consisting of the traditional verse, chorus, and coda. The title appears at the end, rather than at the beginning, of each section.
The verse is a quatrain or a 4-line section, and the chorus is a sestet or a 6-line section. Each line of the quatrain is comprised of 11 syllables. In contrast, each line of the sestet varies in length from 5 to 10 syllables. All in all, both verse and chorus are made up of almost an equal number of syllables: 44 for the verse and 45 for the chorus. Such remarkable symmetry is not obvious, and one wonders in admiration at the effort to achieve it.
The rhyming scheme of the verse is AXBB. And that of the chorus BBXBBB.
The themes of the song are essentially about heartbreak, marriage, death, and endless love.
One imagines the songwriter, at day’s end, pondering on the frailty of love after a breakup with a loved one or after receiving a Dear John email.
He asks, “Is affection worth the bother?” although, of course, in more poetic language.
It is noteworthy that the writer uses the word “pagsuyo” rather than the traditional “pagibig.” While the word “pagsuyo” has been translated here as affection, it can take on the meaning of petting.
As such, the term is ambiguous as it can refer to a groping kind of love or a gentle love. The ambiguity is further heightened in that affection can be a prelude to romantic love or its postlude. We all are familiar with the excitement of love in its first stages. But only a few of us are fortunate to reach that last stage, when the fires of love have turned to glowing embers, and in our significant other we find both a lover and a friend.
The song is written in the third-person limited voice, and is devoid of pronouns. In using this perspective, the writer lifts the experience of heartache that love often brings from the personal realm, implied in the verse, into the universal realm of suffering, implied in the chorus. We all have experienced this pain.
There are two central tropes. The first is in the enigmatic phrase “bato sa buhangin.” This is not an idiomatic phrase. It literally translates as “stone on sand.” What is powerful about the metaphor is that the word “bato” assumes two forms. In the verse, it is used as a verb, and in the chorus as a noun.
In the verse, the writer asks, “If affection fades, is it worth our while to cast or “throw” (bato) our luck on the shifting sands of time?” Sand is a well-used symbol, and it can signify the passage of time, impermanence, or possibility.
Then in the chorus, the writer speculates that we may catch the “stone” (bato) we ventured to throw.
This brings us to the second central metaphor, that of heaven and earth. The verse occurs on earth. In the first couplet, each heartbeat is described as full of intensity (kulay) and vivacity (buhay) when the heart learns to love. In the second couplet, the writer asks the haunting question about the infirmity of love.
Moving on to the chorus, we note that the first three lines still find us on earth, with the first couplet capturing the plaint of lovers troubled with their feelings, which are hard, if not impossible, to make sense of.
The third line is the start of a pivot that brings us, despite our doubts, to our exchange of marital vows to embrace each other “in sickness and in health until death do us part.”
The fourth line is a volta, a full pivot that shifts us into heaven. It gives us the reassurance lovers will meet again. The last two lines return us to the first metaphor. They affirm the possibility our earthly vows may come full circle in heaven, and that the daring cast of the dice we made on earth will at last find full fruition.
Love is no longer within the realm of time but timeless, no longer ephemeral but eternal.