Nguyễn Du

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Inside ourselves there lies the root of good:
the heart outweighs all talents on this earth.

Nguyễn Du (阮攸; 3 January 176616 September 1820), pen names Tố Như (素如) and Thanh Hiên (清軒), is a celebrated Vietnamese poet who wrote in chữ nôm, the ancient writing script of Vietnam. He is most known for writing the epic poem The Tale of Kiều.

Quotes[edit]

  • West Lake flower garden: a desert, now.
    Alone, at the window, I read through old pages.
    A smudge of rouge, a scent of perfume, but
    I still weep.
    Is there a Fate for books?
    Why mourn for a half-burned poem?
    There is nothing, there is no one to question,
    and yet this misery feels like my own.
    Ah, in another three hundred years
    will anyone weep, remembering my fate?
    • "Reading Hsiao-ch'ing", in The Harpercollins World Reader: The Modern World, eds. Mary Ann Caws and Christopher Prendergast (HarperCollins Publishers, 1994), ISBN 978-0065013832, p. 1411

The Tale of Kiều (1813)[edit]

Unless otherwise noted, English translations are from The Tale of Kiều, trans. Huỳnh Sanh Thông (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), ISBN 978-0300028737.
A hundred years—in this life span on earth
talent and destiny are apt to feud.
You must go through a play of ebb and flow
and watch such things as make you sick at heart.
Is it so strange that losses balance gains?
Blue Heaven's wont to strike a rose from spite.
By lamplight turn these scented leaves and read
a tale of love recorded in old books.
  • Trăm năm trong cõi người ta,
    Chữ tài chữ mệnh khéo là ghét nhau.
    Trải qua một cuộc bể dâu,
    Những điều trông thấy mà đau đớn lòng.
    Lạ gì bỉ sắc tư phong,
    Trời xanh quen thói má hồng đánh ghen.
    • A hundred years—in this life span on earth
      talent and destiny are apt to feud.
      You must go through a play of ebb and flow
      and watch such things as make you sick at heart.
      Is it so strange that losses balance gains?
      Blue Heaven's wont to strike a rose from spite.
      • Opening lines
  • Cảo thơm lần giở trước đèn,
    Phong tình có lục còn truyền sử xanh.
    • By lamplight turn these scented leaves and read
      a tale of love recorded in old books.
      • Lines 7–8
  • Cỏ non xanh tận chân trời,
    Cành lê trắng điểm một vài bông hoa.
    • Young grass spread all its green to heaven's rim;
      some blossoms marked pear branches with white dots.
      • Lines 41–42
  • Đau đớn thay phận đàn bà!
    Lời rằng bạc mệnh cũng là lời chung.
    • "How sorrowful is women's lot!" she cried.
      "We all partake of woe, our common fate."
      • Lines 83–84
Beautiful girl and talented young man—
what stirred their hearts their eyes still dared not say.
They hovered, rapture-bound, 'tween wake and dream.
  • Người quốc sắc, kẻ thiên tài,
    Tình trong như đã, mặt ngoài còn e.
    Chập chờn cơn tỉnh cơn mê.
    • Beautiful girl and talented young man—
      what stirred their hearts their eyes still dared not say.
      They hovered, rapture-bound, 'tween wake and dream.
      • Lines 163–165
  • Người đâu gặp gỡ làm chi,
    Trăm năm biết có duyên gì hay không?
    • And who is he? Why did we chance to meet?
      Does fate intend some tie between us two?
      • Lines 181–182
  • Một mình lưỡng lự canh chầy,
    Đường xa nghĩ nỗi sau này mà kinh.
    • Alone with her dilemma in deep night,
      she viewed the road ahead and dread seized her.
      • Lines 217–218
  • Sầu đong càng lắc càng đầy,
    Ba thu dồn lại một ngày dài ghê.
    • He drained the cup of gloom: it filled anew—
      one day without her seemed three autumns long.
      • Lines 247–248
  • Nàng rằng: Khoảng vắng đêm trường,
    Vì hoa nên phải đánh đường tìm hoa.
    Bây giờ rõ mặt đôi ta,
    Biết đâu rồi nữa chẳng là chiêm bao?
    • "Along a lonesome, darkened path," she said,
      "for love of you I found my way to you.
      Now we stand face to face—but who can tell
      we shan't wake up and learn it was a dream?
      "
      • Lines 441–444
  • Vầng trăng vằng vặc giữa trời,
    Đinh ninh hai miệng một lời song song.
    • The stark bright moon was gazing from the skies
      as with one voice both mouths pronounced the oath.
      • Lines 449–450
  • Hoa hương càng tỏ thức hồng,
    Ðầu mày cuối mắt càng nồng tấm yêu.
    • A fragrant rose, she sparkled in full bloom,
      bemused his eyes, and kindled his desire.
      • Lines 497–498
  • Trăng thề còn đó trơ trơ,
    Dám xa xôi mặt mà thưa thớt lòng.
    • But it's still there, the moon that we swore by:
      not face to face, we shall stay heart to heart.
      • Lines 541–542
  • Gìn vàng giữ ngọc cho hay,
    Cho đành lòng kẻ chân mây cuối trời.
    • Care for yourself, my gold, my jade, that I,
      at the world's ends, may know some peace of mind.
      • Lines 545–546
  • Duyên hội ngộ, đức cù lao,
    Bên tình bên hiếu, bên nào nặng hơn?
    Để lời thệ hải minh sơn,
    Làm con trước phải đền ơn sinh thành.
    • As you must weigh and choose between your love
      and filial duty, which will turn the scale?
      She put aside all vows of love and troth—
      a child first pays the debts of birth and care.
      • Lines 601–604
  • Đau lòng tử biệt sinh ly,
    Thân còn chẳng tiếc, tiếc gì đến duyên!
    • To part from Kim meant sorrow, death in life—
      would she still care for life, much less for love?
      • Lines 617–618
  • Trong tay đã sẵn đồng tiền,
    Dầu lòng đổi trắng thay đen khó gì!
    • When money's held in hand it's no great trick
      swaying men's hearts and turning black to white.
      • Lines 689–690
  • Đau lòng kẻ ở người đi,
    Lệ rơi thấm đá tơ chia rũ tằm.
    • She grieved to go, they grieved to stay behind—
      tears drenched the steps as parting tugged at hearts.
      • Lines 781–782
  • Thân lươn bao quản lấm đầu,
    Chút lòng trinh bạch từ sau xin chừa!
    • How can an eel mind muddying its head?
      Hereafter I'll forget my maiden shame.
      • Lines 1147–1148; according to Huỳnh Sanh Thông, the line Thân lươn bao quản lấm đầu "has acquired the status of a proverb, meaning that a poor, helpless person may have to endure humiliation and degradation in order to save himself or herself and survive" (p. 187).
  • Rõ màu trong ngọc trắng ngà!
    Dày dày sẵn đúc một tòa thiên nhiên.
    • Lo, such pure jade and such white ivory!
      Her body stood as Heaven's masterwork.
      • Lines 1311–1312
  • Long lanh đáy nước in trời,
    Thành xây khói biếc non phơi bóng vàng.
    • Waters, all gleaming, mirrors for the sky,
      walls wreathed in sapphire mist, peaks gilt with sun.
      • Lines 1603–1604
  • Bước vào chốn cũ lầu thơ,
    Tro than một đống nắng mưa bốn tường.
    • Where they'd hummed verse he now stepped in to find
      a pile of cinders, four rain-beaten walls.
      • Lines 1671–1672
  • Đã đành túc trái tiền oan,
    Cũng liều ngọc nát hoa tàn mà chi.
    • I sinned in some past life and have to pay:
      I'll pay as flowers must fade and jade must break.
      • Lines 1765–1766
  • Bốn phương mây trắng một màu,
    Trông vời cố quốc biết đâu là nhà.
    • All heaven was one white expanse of clouds—
      she peered far into space: where was her home?
      • Lines 1787–1788
  • Bề ngoài thơn thớt nói cười,
    Mà trong nham hiểm giết người không dao.
    • The face displays sweet smiles, but deep inside
      the heart will scheme to kill without a knife.
      • Lines 1815–1816
  • Tiếc thay chút nghĩa cũ càng,
    Dẫu lìa ngó ý còn vương tơ lòng!
    • Oh, how she pined and mourned for her old love—
      cut from her mind, it clung on to her heart.
      • Lines 2241–2242
  • Chị sao phận mỏng phúc dày!
    • How frail your fate! Your virtues, though, how strong!
      • Line 2715
  • Trông xem đủ mặt một nhà:
    Xuân già còn khỏe huyên già còn tươi.
    Hai em phương trưởng hòa hai,
    Nọ chàng Kim đó là người ngày xưa!
    • She glanced and saw her folks—they all were here:
      Father looked still quite strong, and Mother spry;
      Both sister Vân and brother Quan grown up;
      And over there was Kim, her love of yore.
      • Lines 3009–3012
  • Trời còn để có hôm nay,
    Tan sương đầu ngõ vén mây giữa trời.
  • Hai tình vẹn vẽ hòa hai,
    Chẳng trong chăn gối cũng ngoài cầm thơ.
    Khi chén rượu khi cuộc cờ,
    Khi xem hoa nở khi chờ trăng lên.
    Ba sinh đã phỉ mười nguyền,
    Duyên đôi lứa cũng là duyên bạn bầy.
    • Of love and friendship they fulfilled both claims—
      they shared no bed but joys of lute and verse.
      Now they sipped wine, now played a game of chess,
      admiring flowers, waiting for the moon.
      Their wishes all came true since fate so willed,
      and of two lovers marriage made two friends.
      • Lines 3221–3226
  • Thiện căn ở tại lòng ta,
    Chữ tâm kia mới bằng ba chữ tài.
    • Inside ourselves there lies the root of good:
      the heart outweighs all talents on this earth.
      • Lines 3251–3252

Quotes about Nguyễn Du[edit]

  • By triumphantly rescuing Vietnamese poetry from the stranglehold of classical Chinese, Nguyễn Du performed for the vernacular what Dante had once done for Italian, liberating it from its position of subservience to Latin.
  • Born into those foul times of dusk and dust,
    you reached and touched no soul mate by your side.
    Your sorrow matched the fate of humankind:
    Kieu spoke your thoughts and crystallized your life.

    Kings rose and fell—the poem still abides.
    You fought and won your feats on waves of words.
    You planted stakes in the Bach-dang of time:
    our language and the moon forever shine.

    • Chế Lan Viên, "Thoughts on Nguyen", as quoted in "Global Scripts and the Formation of Literary Traditions" by David Damrosch, in Approaches to World Literature, ed. Joachim Küpper (Akademie Verlag, 2013), p. 99
  • To the Vietnamese people themselves, The Tale of Kieu is much more than just a glorious heirloom from their literary past. It has become a kind of continuing emotional laboratory in which all the great and timeless issues of personal morality and political obligation are tested and resolved (or left unresolved) for each new generation. Western readers who are curious about Vietnam and the Vietnamese may well gain more real wisdom from cultivating a discriminating appreciation of this one poem than they will from reading the entire library of scholarly and journalistic writings upon modern Vietnam which has accumulated in the West in the past decade. As a vivid transcript of Vietnamese approaches to the dilemmas of the human condition, The Tale of Kieu has survived in, and gained new strength from, hundreds of different contexts.
    • Alexander B. Woodside, "The Historical Background", in The Tale of Kieu (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), p. ix

External links[edit]

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