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
    • Note: Hsiao-Ching was "a seventeenth-century poet who was forced to become a concubine to a man whose jealous primary wife burned almost all of her poems" — David Damrosch, "Global Scripts and the Formation of Literary Traditions", in Approaches to World Literature (2013), p. 98

The Tale of Kiều (1813)[edit]

Main article: The Tale of Kieu
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
  • 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
  • Bây giờ rõ mặt đôi ta,
    Biết đâu rồi nữa chẳng là chiêm bao?
    • Now we stand face to face—but who can tell
      we shan't wake up and learn it was a dream?
      • Lines 443–444
  • 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
  • Trông vời cố quốc biết đâu là nhà.
    • She peered far into space: where was her home?
      • Line 1788
  • 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.
~ Huỳnh Sanh Thông
  • As a medium for literature in Vietnam, the native tongue had been fighting a difficult battle against classical Chinese since the early part of the fifteenth century, when Nguyễn Trãi (1380–1442) wrote his short poems of four or eight lines. In a poem of over three thousand lines, Nguyễn Du led that fight to a victorious conclusion. Weaving foreign and national elements into a seamless, shimmering fabric, the poet dressed Kiều the prostitute in clothing fit for a queen: his masterpiece is a celebration of the Vietnamese language in all its diversity, with all its resources of rhythm and tone, of sound and image, of terse and rich expression. 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

External links[edit]