Nguyen Chi Thien, 1939-2012


If tomorrow I have to die
I still would not regret my springtime
Life no doubt is lovely, inestimable
But suffering has taken its toll – gone is the best part
In the deserted night I look at the distant stars
And let my soul drift into the past
For a minute I am oblivious to the cruel reality
And forget all about hunger, cold & bitterness…
History takes me back in time
To that golden age of sumptuous pavilions & palaces
To scenes of success at the imperial exams with
long chaise and parasols
To scenes of poor scholars reading through the night
Once again, I find Confucians of integrity
Who choose poverty and stay away from the cities
Then I see virginal and virtuous country lasses
Weaving silk on their looms near a pool with water jets
In dream I witness joyous festivals
And paddy threshing on golden moonlit nights
Images I tenderly nurture in my heart
Where there still lingers the echo of immense river calls
And the smooth clip of a shuttle going back & forth
I love the forests dense and dark
Full of dangers and secrets, exuding with life
I love also and miss the gongs that give the alarm
Sinister-looking thieves’ dens & the path thereto
Scenes of war with horses neighing & troops clamoring
Also fascinate me, bewitch my soul!
Why I do so, I know full well
That in old days there were emperors & mandarins
That life was riddled with injustice
Why is it that I dream only of the better facets,
That only glories of the past seep through to my poetry?
That I am forgetting the seamier side?
Can it be that life today
Is filled with poison in its very innards
Whereas the old society’s defects were mere pimples?

Nguyen composed much of his poetry in his head and committed it to memory while imprisoned in Vietnam.  You can read his brief autobiography here.

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