From ‘ca dao’ (a traditional type of literature) to ‘Truyen Kieu’ and the rise of ‘Tho Moi’ movement in the 20th century, Vietnamese poem has continued time after time. Not only did poems become an inseparable part of Vietnamese people’s daily life but they also reflected the ups and downs in Vietnamese history. From the dawn of writing language in the 10th century, Vietnam had proudly recognized excellent names of poetry history. Here are the four poets who had placed tremendous influence on Vietnamese poetry and are still honored by their descendants.
1. Nguyen Du
When mentioning Vietnamese poets, Nguyen Du should be the first name on the list. He was the creator of the epic called ‘Truyen Kieu’ and was considered as the father of Vietnamese language. He raised Vietnamese language in general and ‘chu Nom’ to a whole new level and his work of art is a classic.
Nguyen Du was born in an elite family with academic tradition and he was an intellect, but the raging storm of his era took away all his privileges. He witnessed the chaos in his life time, which was why his works reflected such realities of Vietnam during that time. Nguyen Du‘s vision in ‘Truyen Kieu’ is considered to advance his time as he discussed social issues such as the collapse in morality and the frightening power of money. ‘Truyen Kieu’ also praised core Vietnamese values such as sacrifice, loyalty and the ideology of suffering and happiness with unprecedented depth in meaning.
‘Truyen Kieu’ for Nguyen Du is not only a poem, but it is a culture. There is hardly a work of art in Vietnam that is learned by heart and recited even by illiterate peasants as ‘Truyen Kieu’. The 3,254-line classic novel in verse written in luc bat is taught in Vietnam’s high schools and has been translated into more than 20 languages. With these great works, Nguyen Du has been honored by the world. In 1965, he was honored as a world cultural celebrity by the World Peace Council, on the anniversary of his 200th birthday.
2. Ho Xuan Huong
Born and raised in the same era as Nguyen Du, Ho Xuan Huong is considered to be pure feminist in Vietnamese poetry history and ‘The Queen of Nom poetry’. She stood out from all artists at her age, and perhaps all female poets in Vietnam, by her fearlessness to display the rebellious part in her personality, despite the societal norms.
Considering one of her famous pieces, “Jackfruit” (translated by Marilyn Chin):
My body is like a jackfruit swinging on a treeMy skin is rough, my pulp is thickDear prince, if you want me pierce me upon your stickDon’t squeeze, I’ll ooze and stain your hands
In the age where Confucianism and male’s authority, writing such words caused serious controversy. The most surprising and beyond-her-age things were the double entendre in her pieces: each of her poems contained a hidden sense of sexuality. Perhaps to some extent, it was the double entendre that helped Ho Xuan Huong‘s works survive. They conveyed a unique yet intimate sense about daily topics on the surface in a mastery of using word combination while hiding a hunger for love and a soul craving for breaking the limits.
Ho Xuan Huong left a one-of-a-kind trademark in the development of Vietnamese poetry as a queen of not only language skills but also femininity. It will be long time away until the next Vietnamase s a rebellious yet surprisingly delicate female poets in the way Ho Xuan Huong did.
3. Xuan Dieu
A representative of Vietnamese modern poetry, Xuan Dieu, is considered to be the pioneer of Tho Moi movement. Scholars and his peer colleagues called him “the greatest poets among the new poets” and “the king of love poems”. He shocked readers by his bold sensibility, intensity in tones and feelings, and his unprecedented freshness imagery.
This is extracted from his most famous works, “Haste”, translated by Thomas D. Le:
Life has just begun to burst forth.
I want to seize the clouds and wind,
Drunk with love on butterfly wings.
I want to embrace in an ardent kiss
The mountains, streams, trees, and bright grass
To delight in this world of perfume and light,
To satiate my soul with the prime of life.
O, vermeil spring! I want to bite into thee!
The signature of Xuan Dieu is his intensity in all aspects of his poems. He celebrated youth, spring, life and glorified the beauty of living with powerful words. He overwhelmingly craved for embracing the whole captivating universe, while expressed a melancholy as time flew. He worshiped every single moment of life and at the same time realized that life was too short for him to embrace its greatness.