Chế Lan Viên

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Men, be vigilant!
Those are killers.
They don't care about introspection, still-lifes, structuralism, colours and sounds:
They kill.
They don't care about Chuang-tzu, Kafka, the unconscious and the subconscious, Breton and surrealism, Hamlet and "to be or not to be," they just don't care;
They kill.

Chế Lan Viên (January 14, 1920June 24, 1989) was a Vietnamese poet.

Quotes[edit]

  • Men, be vigilant!
    Those are killers.
    They don't care about introspection, still-lifes, structuralism, colours and sounds:
    They kill.
    They don't care about Chuang-tzu, Kafka, the unconscious and the subconscious, Breton and surrealism, Hamlet and "to be or not to be," they just don't care;
    They kill.
    They sweep on us as the twitter of birds greets the coming of dawn
    Or during starlit and love-laden nights
    Or when the sky is at its bluest
    When gardens are fragrant with the scent of flowers
    And the fruit sweet like human lips.
    • "The Enemy and Us", in Vietnam Courier (December 1972), quoted in Traveling to Vietnam: American Peace Activists and the War by Mary Hershberger (Syracuse University Press, 1998), ISBN 978-0815605171, p. 180
Listen to me, skull!
  • Listen to me, skull!
    Under your thin brittle boneplates
    what black memories haunt you?
    What do you want? What do you dream of? ...
    Is it your soul you think of,
    flickering through frightful nights? ...
    Skull, I must have been raving mad
    to smash you with my bare fist.
    Scarlet blood thickens on my fingers,
    plagues me to spew these rhymes, and still
    my teeth want to tear you to pieces!
    Like a raven I'll swallow even the sucked-out bones
    to get a fresh taste of the past,
    a drop from the torrent of months and years.
One translucent day I leave the city
to visit my home, the land of Champa.

Here are stupas gaunt with yearning,
ancient temples ruined by time,
streams that creep alone through the dark
past peeling statues that moan of Champa.

Here are dense and drooping forests
where long processions, lost souls of Champa,
march; and evening spills through thick,
fragrant leaves, mingling with the cries of moorhens...

  • One translucent day I leave the city
    to visit my home, the land of Champa.

    Here are stupas gaunt with yearning,
    ancient temples ruined by time,
    streams that creep alone through the dark
    past peeling statues that moan of Champa.

    Here are dense and drooping forests
    where long processions, lost souls of Champa,
    march; and evening spills through thick,
    fragrant leaves, mingling with the cries of moorhens.

    Here is the field where two great armies
    were reduced to a horde of clamoring souls.
    Champa blood still cascades in streams of hatred
    to grinding oceans filled with Champa bones.

    Here too are placid images: hamlets at rest
    in evening sun, Champa girls gliding homeward,
    their light chatter floating
    with the pink and saffron of their dresses.

    Here are magnificent sunbaked palaces,
    temples that blaze in cerulean skies.
    Here battleships dream on the glossy river, while the thunder
    of sacred elephants shakes the walls.

    Here, in opaque light sinking through lapis lazuli,
    the Champa king and his men are lost in a maze of flesh
    as dancers weave, wreathe, entranced,
    their bodies harmonizing with the flutes.

    All this I saw on my way home years ago
    and still I am obsessed,
    my mind stunned, sagged with sorrow
    for the race of Champa.

    • "On the Way Home", in A Thousand Years of Vietnamese Poetry, ed. Nguyễn Ngọc Bích (Alfred A. Knopf, 1975), p. 167; quoted in full in Buddhism & Zen in Vietnam by Thich Thien-an (Tuttle Publishing, 1992)
  • O Heaven! Today I am sick and tired
    Of the colors and forms of this world! ...
    I close my eyes to disregard the present,
    Gradually shifting into the past upon my eyelids.
    I close my eyes to let the dark shadows arise boundlessly,
    Immense as in the deep of night,
    To let my soul grow dark with the artificial,
    In the world of the dead so long awaited.
    Let the shades of ghosts and demons one by one appear.
    Let their cries, their shouts of epilogue, reverberate in my ear.
    Let me roll about, my soul intoxicated with illusion,
    To put out of mind for a few minutes the scenes of this world!
    Let my soul soar rapidly over great distances
    In the dark night shadows of my eyelids,
    And proudly assert: Here is a world
    Created in a moment of grief.
    • "Creation", as quoted in "Shattered Identities and Contested Images: Reflections of Poetry and History in 20th-Century Vietnam" by Neil Jamieson, in Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1992, p. 89, and in Understanding Vietnam by Neil Jamieson (University of California Press, 1995), ISBN 978-0520916586, p. 164
  • ...[E]ach moment of joy but prompts the more
    That madness buried at the base of dreamy souls,
    That sadness in the dark citadel of the heart,
    And in sorrowful eyes, images of innocence from the past.
    All the Past is but an endless string of days,
    All the Future is but a series of graves not yet fulfilled...
    In the summer sun, fresh leaves begin to change in hue,
    Weaving the autumn whose arrival is imminent—as in our lives
    The green days follow in fading succession,
    Weaving the shroud that covers our souls.

    • "The Graves", as quoted in Understanding Vietnam by Neil Jamieson (University of California Press, 1995), pp. 163–164
  • Pale, cold torchlight.
    Slender shadows from a row of tall bamboo
    Flicker dimly on the coffin of a child
    Carried through the chilling dew.
    A sobbing old woman lays bare her heart.
    I stare at the countless stars in silence, asking myself:
    Since when has my soul been destroyed?
    And might that dark coffin of a child
    Not contain my corpse as well?
    Vaguely, from the immensity of space,
    I heard a star cast a soft reply.
    • "The Funeral Procession", as quoted in Understanding Vietnam by Neil Jamieson (University of California Press, 1995), p. 164
  • Nothing at all is lost
    When life has clear purpose.
    • "When You Have Purpose", as quoted in Understanding Vietnam by Neil Jamieson (University of California Press, 1995), p. 267, and in Renovating Politics in Contemporary Vietnam by Zachary Abuza (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001), p. 58
  • Little sister, do you know why humanity passes down
    ancient tales, from hand to hand, from generation to generation?
    It is so that each generation can add something that was not there yesterday.
    ...The miracle of today is in the hands of those who go unshod, their hearts bare.
    • As quoted in Translation as Transhumance by Mireille Gansel (Feminist Press, 2017), ISBN 978-1936932085
  • They destroy
    while we want to live
    • As quoted in Translation as Transhumance by Mireille Gansel (Feminist Press, 2017)

Quotes about Chế Lan Viên[edit]

  • [A] bright star on the literary scene in the late 1930s was a young man from central Vietnam who wrote under the pen name Che Lan Vien. His reputation was based primarily on one slender volume of poems, entitled In Ruins, published in 1937 when he was only seventeen years old. Although he was Vietnamese, his poems are mostly about Champa and written from a Cham rather than Vietnamese point of view. It seems, however, that behind his preoccupation with the long-crumpled glories of Champa, deemed worthy of countless centuries of lamentation and regret, lay a view of Vietnam in the 1930s as a decadent and dying society whose true glory was "in ruins."
    • Neil L. Jamieson, Understanding Vietnam (University of California Press, 1995), ISBN 978-0520916586, p. 163

External links[edit]

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