Translated Vietnamese Poetry Collections

Vietnamese poetry originated in the form of folk poetry and proverbs and has flourished throughout the centuries. However, due to the vast difference in poetry styles and rules and the fact that Vietnamese itself is a tonal and multisyllabic language, whereas English is monosyllabic, not many Vietnamese poems are translated into English and thus brought to global attention. For example, the lyrical element thanks to the tone in the Vietnamese language is lost when translated into English. However, that shouldn't stop us from digging thoroughly into the possibilities and limits of literary translation and appreciating worldwide poetry. Therefore, I’ve composed a list of translated Vietnamese poetry collections below from Vietnamese literature luminaries. Also, for each poetry collection, I included an audio file of a poem in each, saying each lyrical word in the poem out loud in Vietnamese.

2. Distant Road: Selected Poem by Nguyen Duy, translated by Kevin Bowen and Nguyễn Bá Chung. 

Nguyễn Duy is one of the most widely-read poets in Vietnam, born in 1948 in Thanh Hoá, a province in Northern Vietnam. In this poetry collection, nature, most notably the moon, is a source of solace, but also a force too ethereal that ignites unsettlement and startlement. Furthermore, the scenery of Vietnam is always associated with a certain state of emotions, from pondering that everything is so easy come, easy go, to missing someone at such random moments. For example, in the poem Da Lat in the moonlight, the wind breezes above the hill; the charcoal flames. Through these images of a Vietnamese suburban, the narrator expresses the burning love for a girl in a humble manner, as the narrator looks at the girl who is also looking somewhere at something absent-mindedly. There is no conversation between the two people, only nature and the surroundings that speak out human emotions. 

The title of this poem in Vietnamese is Đà Lạt một lần trăng, which transliterates as Đà Lạt one time the moon. However, the title is translated into English as Da Lat in the moonlight. Here, the moon becomes moonlight, and there is no connotation of one time. 

Here's the link to the audio file of the original Vietnamese version of the poem: https://bit.ly/3xbhDle

2. Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan Huong, translated by John Balaban

Hồ Xuân Hương, born in 1772 in the Lê dynasty, is one of the most acclaimed classical poets in Vietnam, dubbed “The Queen of Nôm poetry,” as her poems are the records of the complex history of Vietnamese written language. Her poems were written in chữ Nôm, a written language adapted from Chinese characters. Since the 17th century, chữ Nôm has been supplanted by chữ Quốc ngữ, a Latin alphabet system introduced to Vietnam by PortuguesePortuguese missionary and lexicographer Alexandre de Rhodes and promoted for usage during the French colonization in Vietnam. Hồ Xuân Hương poems transform the theme of love and marriage as part of women's fate in the 18th century via delicate, sensual imageries of women's bodies and saucy double entendres. 

As Hồ Xuân Hương's poems were written in chữ Nôm, it is undoubtedly an ambitious and difficult task to translate her poems into English, especially in maintaining the witty and subtle rawness and the double entendres. In this translated poetry collection, translator and poet John Balaban includes the chữ Nôm version in characters, chữ quốc ngữ in the Latin alphabet, and the English one for each poem. Furthermore, there is an end-note of historical background information and explanation of word-play. 

Here's the audio file of the Vietnamese version of Bánh trôi nước, one of the most famous poems by Hồ Xuân Hương: https://bit.ly/2P7vFDc

 

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