Spring essence: the poetry of Ḥ̂ Xuân Hương
H Xun Huong—whose name translates as "Spring Essence"—is one of the most important and popular poets in Vietnam. A concubine, she became renowned for her poetic skills, writing subtly risqu poems which used double entendre and sexual innuendo as a vehicle for social, religious, and political commentary.
"The Unwed Mother"
Because I was too easy, this happened.
Can you guess the hollow in my heart?
Fate did not push out a bud
even though the willow grew.
He will carry this a hundred years
but I must bear the burden now.
Never mind the gossip of the world.
Don’t have it, yet have it ! So simple.
The publication of Spring Essence is a major historical and cultural event. It features a "tri-graphic" presentation of English translations alongside both the modern Vietnamese alphabet and the nearly extinct calligraphic Nm writing system, the hand-drawn calligraphy in which H Xun Huong originally wrote her poems. It represents the first time that this calligraphy—the carrier of Vietnamese culture for over a thousand years—will be printed using moveable type. From the technology demonstrated in this book scholars worldwide can begin to recover an important part of Vietnam’s literary history. Meanwhile, readers of all interests will be fascinated by the poetry of Ho Xuan Huong, and the scholarship of John Balaban.
The translator, John Balaban, was twice a National Book Award finalist for his own poetry and is one of the preeminent American authorities on Vietnamese literature. During the war Balaban served as a conscientious objector, working to bring war-injured children better medical care. He later returned to Vietnam to record folk poetry. Like Alan Lomax’s pioneering work in American music, Balaban was to first to record Vietnam’s oral tradition. This important work led him to the poetry of H Xun Huong.
Ngo Than Nhan, a computational linguist from NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematics, has digitized the ancient Nm calligraphy.
Also available by John Balaban
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Review: Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan HuongUser Review - Leola - Goodreads
I enjoy anything that has survived against the odds of history, and even more so if it's the work of a woman. There's a permanence to these poems, a sense that Ho Xuan Huong's spirit is alive in them ... Read full review
Review: Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan HuongUser Review - Mark Lawrence - Goodreads
"A gentle spring evening arrives airily, unclouded by worldly dust. Three times the bell tolls echoes like a wave. We see heaven upside-down in sad puddles. Love's vast sea cannot be emptied. And ... Read full review