Archive for the Poetry Category

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays

Posted in Announcements, Poetry with tags , , , , , , on December 25, 2011 by Ian Pham

“Maybe Christmas… doesn’t come from the store,
maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little but more.” – Dr. Seuss

I’m sure you’ve already noticed (since it’s pretty obvious) that this post has nothing to do with Vietnamese politics.  Just a line from one of the most beloved Christmas stories of all time, How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss.  There is really no significant reason why I put this up, other than to welcome this holiday season, and hope that all of you enjoy yourselves and appreciate the people around you.  Whether you are struggling with personal problems, or just relaxing it up without a care in the world, this goes out to you.

It is true that for some of us, the holidays can be a rough time.  For various reasons, we may not be feeling exactly the way we want to, and that special feeling that we long for seems just a little bit out of reach.  If you find yourself feeling that way, just remember that you are bigger than your problems.  Keep your head up, let nothing upset you today, and most important of all… Smile.  If you are feeling alone, just know that out there, somebody is thinking about you.

As always, best wishes from your favorite blogger.  Merry Christmas, Happy New Years, and all in all, a Happy Holidays to all of you, dear readers.  Take care.

A Poem By Emperor Quang Trung

Posted in Modern History, Poetry with tags , , , on February 18, 2011 by Ian Pham

Emperor Quang Trung Nguyễn Huệ, the general that never lost.  Under his leadership, the Army of Tây Sơn overthrew the corrupted Dynasties of Trịnh And Nguyễn, and sequentially smashed the Qing Army to pieces.  He was a mastermind who unified Vietnam and mapped out a plan to turn the country into a modern empire.  Sadly, he passed away before his plans could be realized.

It is said that when the soldiers of Qing heard the name of Quang Trung, they simply packed up and left the battlefield before he arrived.  The following are the words of Quang Trung, a rallying cry from the fearless leader himself.  This call to arms should give us an idea of what kind of man he was, and why he was the military leader that never lost a single battle.

Fight for the right to grow our hair long,

Fight for the right to dye our teeth black,

Fight so they never dare to challenge us,

Fight until their armor turns to dust,

Fight to teach them a lesson, enshrined in our history, that the heroes of the South shall always reign supreme!

Đánh cho để dài tóc,

Đánh cho để răng đen,

Đánh cho nó chích luân bất phản,

Đánh cho nó phiến giáp bất hoàn.

Đánh cho sử tri Nam quốc anh hùng chi hữu chủ!

– Nguyễn Huệ Quang Trung, 18th Century

Listening to the Rain

Posted in Dynastic History, Poetry with tags , , on November 12, 2010 by Ian Pham

A Poem by Nguyễn Trãi

With all the tensions in the world, one should remember to take a break once in a while and ease the mind with a little poetry.  This is “Listening to the Rain,” composed by Nguyễn Trãi, great poet and political genious of the 15th century.  Translated by contemporaries, Do Nguyen and Paul Hoover.


“Alone in a dark, silent room.

Listening to the rain fall the whole night long.

The somber sound is a shock to the pillow.

Drop by drop falling melodiously, endlessly.

The sound of bamboo tapping on the window

And a ringing bell melt gently into my peaceful dream.

Mumbled some poems but can’t fall asleep,

Continually listening, drop by drop, until sunrise.”

Hoover, Paul & Do Nguyen. Beyond the Court Gate: Selected Poems of Nguyễn Trãi. Denver, Colorado: Counterpath Press. 2010.

Update: Nguyễn Trãi’s “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo”

Posted in Announcements, Poetry with tags , , on September 14, 2010 by Ian Pham

Not too long ago, I told you readers that I was going to translate the poem “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo” by Nguyễn Trãi from Vietnamese into English.  This project, to my surprise, is much harder than anticipated.  The poetic style of Nguyễn Trãi’s writing, combined with the complexity of the metaphors and wordplay in the Vietnamese language, is quite a challenge to translate fluently.  Though I speak both Vietnamese and English, it is still a tough task to convert one language to the other while still maintaining the same poetic integrity of the original.  As of this time, with the help of an excellent advisor, I have succeeded in translating about half of the poem.  If one wanted a realistic timeframe for when the poem will be completed, my best guess would be two weeks from now.  For anyone who is really waiting on this poem: don’t worry, it will be worth the wait.

Coming Soon: Nguyễn Trãi’s “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo,” the English Translation

Posted in Announcements, Dynastic History, Poetry with tags , , on August 27, 2010 by Ian Pham

The “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo” is a famous poem composed by the brilliant strategist Nguyễn Trãi in 1428.  It is a very inspirational piece of writing and an important piece of Vietnamese  history.  I have been trying to find a complete English translation, but with little luck.  However, I can find it in Vietnamese, which isn’t very helpful for what I am trying to do here.

I originally wanted to find the English version of the “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo” and share it with you readers.  Sadly, it is nowhere to be found.  For that reason, I’ve decided to translate the poem myself, using the version provided in the history book Việt Nam Sử Lược by Trần Trọng Kim, a respected Vietnamese historian.  It just so happens that I have a copy of that book lying around.

Expect a full, accurate, and concise translation of Nguyễn Trãi’s “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo” sometime in the near future.  I well reference my sources and make it as academic as possible.  It will be correct, it will be inspirational, and it will be worth the read.

– Ian Pham

The Poem That Mobilized an Entire Nation: Nguyễn Trãi’s “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo”

Posted in Dynastic History, Poetry with tags , , on August 20, 2010 by Ian Pham

Nguyễn Trãi (1380-1442)
When the Ming Dynasty invaded Vietnam in 1408, two formidable leaders rose to liberate the country and chase them back to China.  The first leader was a military expert and excellent warrior by the name of Lê Lợi, the second was a poet, intellectual, and political genius by the name of Nguyễn Trãi.  Together, Lê Lợi and Nguyễn Trãi mobilized the Vietnamese people and obliterated the Ming occupants, establishing the Lê Dynasty.

The two leaders achieved this objective by uniting the people of Vietnam, rallying everyone for the good of the nation.  This was not, by any means, an easy task to accomplish.  It took enormous efforts, blood, sweat, and tears to make the people believe.  One of the pivotal pieces of writing that incited the patriotism inside the hearts of the Vietnamese people was the “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo”, a poem/political essay written by Nguyễn Trãi in 1428.

In his delicately written essay, Nguyễn Trãi outlined the reasons why Vietnam will prevail in face of foreign aggression, raising the spirits of the Vietnamese people, and ultimately leading them to victory.  Using the heroes of the past, Nguyễn Trãi showed the resilience of the Vietnamese people and their refusal to give up.  In a bold statement, he clarified that Vietnam has been independent of China since antiquity, and that Vietnam will continue to be free from China.  Not only that, Nguyễn Trãi also made clear that both countries stood on equal ground, regardless of strengths and weaknesses.

One of the famous lines in his poem says that, “Tuy mạnh yếu từng lúc khác nhau, song hào kiệt thời nào cũng có.”  This line literally states that, “Whether weak or strong at different times, a nation’s hero will always rise.”  I have used this quote in several articles, paraphrasing it into, “It is true that our nation has sometimes been weak and sometimes been strong, but never in time have we suffered from a lack of heroes.”

The poem’s title, “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo,” is somewhat difficult to translate into english, since each character has it’s own significant meaning.  In Vietnamese, “Bình” means “Peace,” “Ngô” means “Idiots,” “Đại” means “Great,” and “Cáo” means “to inform or proclaim.”  If we put this together, the essay can be called “Great Proclamation For Peace From the Idiots.”  However, this is just a rough translation, since the context of these words have to be taken into consideration.

In the Vietnamese language, four simple words can be used to convey a powerful, complicated message.  Nguyễn Trãi used these four simple characters as the title of his poetic declaration.  The word “Ngô,” in this context, has more meaning than just “idiots,” it can be perceived as “troublemaker,” “disruptor,” or most fitting of all, “the invader.”  Taking this into consideration, “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo” can translate into “The Great Declaration to Achieve Peace and Defeat the Invaders.”  Even so, this is still not the precise meaning of the poem.

In Vietnamese, the words “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo” makes perfect sense, but in English… well that’s a whole different story. If I were to go deeper into this particular subject, it would take very long, much too long for a quick read.  All I want to do, for now, is bring to light the significance of this beautiful poetic achievement and the role it played in conclusively vanquishing the Ming invaders.

The name “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo” can be interpreted in many different ways, as I have just demonstrated.  Believe it or not, I was only scratching the surface.  Of the many translations, I’ve decided, for now, to go with the “Great Declaration on the Victory Over China.”  Though it doesn’t 100% reflect the meaning of its Vietnamese counterpart, “Bình Ngô Đại Cáo,” it covers the basic aim of the original, to signify the defeat of the invaders and bring peace to the nation.   Also, it is easy to understand.

***For further reading, check out the article, “Nguyễn Trãi’s Bình Ngô Đại Cáo of 1428: The Development of a Vietnamese National Identity” by Stephen O’Harrow:

Lý Thường Kiệt: the Protector of Đại Việt

Posted in Dynastic History, Heroes of Vietnam Week, Poetry with tags , , , on July 22, 2010 by Ian Pham

The Lý Dynasty (1009-1225)

“Over the mountains and rivers of the South, lives the Southern Emperor,
As it says now and forever in the Book of Heavens,
That whoever dares to invade our land,
Will be defeated without mercy.”

– Lý Thường Kiệt, 1076

After the expulsion of the Chinese empire in 938, the newly reborn state of Nam-Việt underwent a short period of chaos and power struggle.  Many powerful families from different provinces in Nam-Việt vied for control of the throne.  As a result, several monarchs reigned for a short time, losing their powers to other families competing for the crown.  Finally, in 1009, the Lý Dynasty was founded, and the emperor proclaimed that the young nation would be named Đại Việt (Great Việt).

Having just expelled the Chinese from Vietnam only one century before, the new rulers of Đại Việt were determined to keep them from returning.  One of the brightest generals of the Lý Dynasty went by the name of Lý Thường Kiệt.  Winning two major wars against the Song Dynasty of China, along with several battles versus the kingdoms of Champa and Khmer, Lý Thường Kiệt is one of the most prominent figures in Vietnamese history.

Born in 1019 in the city of Thang Long (Hanoi), his birth name was Ngô Tuấn.  Starting out as a cavalry captain in 1036, Ngô Tuấn later went on to become the leader of the Imperial Guard.  Thanks to his talents, Ngô Tuấn rose through the ranks of the Vietnamese army and was awarded the name of Lý Thường Kiệt by the royal family.

When news of an incoming invasion by the Song Dynasty reached the people of Dai Viet (Vietnam) in 1075, emperor Lý Nhân Tông sent generals Lý Thường Kiệt and Tôn Đản to launch a surprise attack on the Song forces.  Lý Thường Kiệt and Tôn Đản were both hugely successful on their mission, soundly defeating the Chinese forces on their own soil.

In retaliatian, the Song Dynasty made alliances with the Khmer (Cambodian) and Cham kingdoms to invade Đại Việt together.  Once again, emperor Lý Nhân Tông sent Lý Thường Kiệt to confront the invaders. Sure enough, General Lý was victorious.

As a result of the victories, the Song Dynasty never dared invade again.  With the Chinese subdued, the Lý Dynasty under General Lý Thường Kiệt carried out two successful assaults on the Champa Kingdom, ensuring security from them as well.

Even though he did help win major wars against foreign countries, Lý Thường Kiệt’s contributions to Vietnam were more than just military.  As a distinguished poet, he was also accredited with penning the first Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, a poem titled “Nam Quốc Sơn Hà (Over the Mountains and Rivers of the South).”