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The Soul Of Poetry Inside Kim-Van-Kieu

The Soul Of Poetry Inside Kim-Van-Kieu

by Thuy Lexuan

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Kim-Van-Kieu, for centuries, has been regarded by the Vietnamese as the most beautiful jewel in painting the sentimental tenderness of the human soul.

Edited in the early 1813's, this masterpiece of 3250 verses was structured in a particular form of prosody that has become since then a cherished anthem of Vietnamese poetry.

The story concerns a maiden endowed


Kim-Van-Kieu, for centuries, has been regarded by the Vietnamese as the most beautiful jewel in painting the sentimental tenderness of the human soul.

Edited in the early 1813's, this masterpiece of 3250 verses was structured in a particular form of prosody that has become since then a cherished anthem of Vietnamese poetry.

The story concerns a maiden endowed with mental and bodily graces; an elite who, placed between love and filial devotion, deliberately chose the harder way: she sold herself to save her father, a victim of an unjust calamity. And from that day on, she passed from one misfortune to another until she sank into the most abject depravity. But, like the lotus, after a long chain of stormy winds, she succeeded in elevating herself and preserving the pure perfume of her original soul.

Homesickness seemed to carry away

Her soul toward the forlorn clouds of Tsin.

"My poor old parents! Both now must be quite old!

"Since my departure, has their grievance

"Subsided any as time went by?

"So fast, more than ten years out of sight!

"If they still live, maybe their skin

"Has been wrinkled, and their hair has turned gray

"Like frost-covered as it had never been!

"And the old love! Regretful, I may say!"

Like the lotus torn off from its stem,

Though their former binding had been broken,

The feelings Kieu had conceived for Kim

Seemed to still have a slight venation.

Kim-Van-Kieu 1963 Edition, English translation by Professor Le-Xuan-Thuy, had given the Western readers a chance to taste the delights of a new style of poem-in-prose version of Vietnamese poetry into English.

Forty six years later came into light a fresher gem with a more inspired form, "The Soul of Poetry inside Kim-Van-Kieu", a vibrant versification of Kim-Van-Kieu by Professor Le Xuan Thuy himself, well known online as international poet Hall-of-Fame Thuy Lexuan, ASO.

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Copyright © 2010 Thuy Lexuan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4520-9998-9

Chapter One

The Vng Family

Fragrant manuscripts, turned open before a lamp,
And tablets of gallant old anthologies
Relate: In the period of Kia-Tsing,
Inside one of the two capital cities,
Under the dynasty of the Ming,
When peace reigned throughout the nation,
There was a family of a notable
Named Vuong of modest and average station.
The youngest of their children was a son,
Vuong -Quan, a progeny of literati.
And two daughters, Thúy-Kiu, and Thúy-Vân,
Famous for their heavenly beauty.
Both were as slender as apricot-trees,
As pure as snow, and diverse in their harmonies.
Vân's moon-face and chiefly her brows,
Alike two fully unrolled silkworms,
Gave her an imposing beauty;
Her smile, similar to a blooming flower,
And her voice of jade were very comely.
What were clouds in comparison
To her hair, and snow to her complexion?
But Kieu exceeded her younger sister
In grace and talents; her charming
Eyes looked like two gentle autumn waves,
And the bow of her brows, a mount in spring.
Flowers envied for her brilliance,
And willows shivered for not being so verdant.
She could, with one single sidelong glance,
Put empires and cities in revolution.
In addition to all the above, intelligence
Came to her as a natural endowment.
Kieu, not only fond of poetry and painting,
Was also versed in music and verse singing.

A good master of the Cung-Thng scale,
She excelled in the Ho guitar and, chiefly,
By using a few familiar tunes,
Was able to write down a nice melody.
"The Cruel Fate," one of her romances,
Was so sad that it could move one to tears.
A flower among those who wore red trousers,
Kiu reached the first pin of her vernal years.
Behind closed hangings and discreet curtains,
She lived peacefully, far from the calls
Of loafing bees and butterflies
On the other side of the East walls.

Cao thm lan gi truc dèn,
"Phong tình co luc" còn truyen xu-xanh,
Rang: nam Gia-tinh trieu Minh,
Bon phuong phang-lang, hai Kinh vung-vàng.
Co nhà viên-ngoai ho Vuong,
Gia-tu nghi cung thuong thung bac trung.
Mot trai con tu rot lòng,
Vuong-Quan là chu, noi dòng nho-gia.
Dau lòng hai a to-nga,
Thúy-Kieu là chi, em là Thúy-Vân.
Mai cot-cách, tuyet tinh-than,
Moi nguòi mot ve, muoi phân vn muoi.
Vân xem trang-trng khác vi,
Khuôn trang day-dan, nét ngài no-nang.
Hoa cuòi, ngoc thot doan trang,
Mây thua nuoc toc, tuyet nhuong mau da.
Kieu càng sac-sao man mà,
So be tài-sac, lai là phan hon.
Làn thu-thuy, nét xuân-son,
Hoa ghen thua tham, lieu hon kém xanh.
Mot hai nghiêng nuoc, nghiêng thành,
Sac dành dòi mot, tài dành hoa hai.
Thông-minh von san tính troi,
Pha nghe thi hoa, du mùi ca ngâm.

Cung, thuong, lau bac ngu-âm,
Nghe riêng an dut ho-cam mot truong.
Khúc nhà tay lua nên chuong.
Mot thiên bac-menh lai càng não nhân.
Phong-luu rat muc hong-quan,
Xuân-xanh xap-xi tói tuan cap-kê.
Êm-dem truong ru màn che,
Tuong dông ong buom di ve mac ai.

Chapter Two

The Tomb of Dam-Tiên

Spring, alike swallows darting their shuttles,
Of ninety days of light, sixty had gone by.
Green grass began spreading far to the horizon,
And boughs of pear-trees also started beeing white
With a few scarce flowers and buttons.
It was the 'Pure Light,' in the third month.
People came, like orioles and swallows,
From near and far for the tomb-rite
And for their first steps on grass in sight.
Vung-Quan and his sisters, not lingering,
Also dressed up for a spring outing.
Elegant gentlemen and beautiful women
Were everywhere, strolling side by side
As they mingled the waves of their garments
With endless flows of horses and vehicles.
Ritual ingots lay strewn all around
Pell-mell knolls and hillocks, low and high.
Overhead, ashes from burnt joss papers
Went on soaring and flying in the sky.
When the sun declined in the West,
Quan and his sisters were still, hand in hand,
Lounging back along a rivulet,
And over the sweet scenery of the land.
Down far ahead was a narrow bridge
Spanning a purling brook of meandering dance;
And before them, on a side of the road,
Covered with green and yellow weeds,
Was an earth grave of neglected mode.
"What!" Kiu exclaimed. "No incense, no smoke,
"Here, on this very day of Pure Light?"

"Dam-Tiên, the woman who is resting at this side,"
Vuong-Quan traced back to a past event,
"Was a singer, and was formerly
"Famous for both her talent and beauty.
"The front door of her house was crowded with flows
"Of reveling orioles and swallows.
"The fate of that rosy face, however,
"Was nothing but a frail outer link:
"The branch, which carried the divine perfume,
"Suddenly broke in the prime of her spring.
"A foreigner from a remote country,
"When hearing about her fame, far and wide,
"Came for her talents and beauty, instantly
"Right after his love boat came alongside.
"But the pin had broken and the vase fallen.
"He found nothing, only an empty room
"With frigid and dismal silence,
"And ruts left by horses and vehicles
"Covered with greenish moss as evidence.
"He could not help weeping out his sorrow:
"'Destiny does not want us to live together!
"'A small token will be for our future union
"'Even now we're not bound for each other!'

"He had a catalpa coffin, a pearl hearse,
"And a discreet burial prepared for her.
"Weeds and wild flowers would follow,
"Not very long to overgrow the barrow.
"Since then, how many times the Lunar Rabbit
"Has set and the Solar Crow has bowed down!
"This is only an abandoned tomb
"Which, thus far, no one has come to visit."
What a queer heart! Just listening to the story
Was enough to cause tears to fill
Kieu's eyes and to flow down pearly.
"This woman's life, what a painful destiny!
"Speaking of ill fate is speaking of us all!
"Why did you, Creator, treat her so cruelly?
"Why did you make this green singer
"Waste away and her rosy cheeks wither?
"When alive, she was the wife of everyone,
"Now, she is a phantom without a husband!
"Where is her former true would-be lover,
"The ph?nix who had shared the same cover?
"Where are the wooers of her green savvy,
"Those who lusted after her rosy beauty?
"Since no one cares for her, for her mourning,
"Let me burn a few joss sticks we still have,
"In witness of this accidental meeting.
"Maybe you'll see my gesture,
"You who are now under the Yellow Spring."
Kieu murmured an invocation, stooped
And then stepped backward after laying
Some grass right in front of the grave.
The sunlight was now declining
Over the whole corner of poor weeds
As a breeze softly shook a few reeds.
Drawing out a pin stuck in her hair,
Kieu briefly traced a three-rhyme quatrain
On the bark of a nearby tree.
Then, absorbed in a deep reverie,
She stood there, without a further move,
As if lost in a strange blurry sea.
Sorrow changed her charming features,
And pearly tears flowed down freely.
"What a strange thing to shed your extra tears,"
Vân exclaimed, "over a person of bygone years!"
"For millenniums," replied Kieu dolefully,
"This cruel fate has spared no rosy face!
"This thought tortures my heart, and truly
"I'm musing on the one resting there.
"Who knows what will become of me?"
"What you said," Quan cut in, "has no sense!"
"It hurts me, when you applied it to yourself.
"Here, the air from the graves is heavy.
"It has already declined, the sunlight,
"And a long way home is still in sight."
"The elite," Kieu replied, "when they pass away,
"Only lose their physical bodies,
"Not their self intellect in any way.
"My heart probably has met the dead.
"Let's wait and if it's true as I just said
"I am sure her soul is going to manifest."
Immediately after she stopped speaking
And without one's having time to reply,
An uncommon squall rose suddenly,
Seemingly with some light perfume inside,
Lashing against the pennons visibly,
Tearing leaves away and shaking a nearby tree.
By following the direction of the wind,
They all saw clear shoe traces
Imprinted on the moss, pace by pace.
One could read a real fright on their faces.
"This shows," Kieu said, "undoubtedly,
"The effect of nothing but my faith!
"My tender heart has found its like,
"And as sisters, it does not matter
"Whether she's dead and I'm alive."
Kieu said a few more words, in addition,
Thanking the dead for her manifestation.
With a new emotional wave of poetry,
Kieu again traced a classical poem
On the lower trunk of the same tree.

Ngày xuân con én a thoi,
Thieu-quang chín chc dã ngoài sáu muoi.
Co non xanh tan chân troi,
Cành lê trang diem mot vài bông hoa.
Thanh-minh, trong tiet tháng ba,
Le là Tao-mo, hi là Dap-thanh.
Gan xa nô-nuc yen anh,
Chi em sam-sua bo hành choi xuân
Dap-dìu tài-tu, giai nhân,
Ngua xe nhu nuoc, áo quan nhu nêm.
Ngon-ngang gò dong kéo lên,
Thoi vàng vó rac, tro tien giay bay.
Tà-tà bng nga ve tây,
Chi em tho-than dan tay ra ve.
Buoc lan theo ngon tieu khê,
Lan xem phong-canh có be thanh-thanh,
Nao-nao dòng nuoc uon quanh,
Dip cau nho-nho cuoi ghenh bac ngang.
Sè-sè nam dat bên durong,
Dau-dau ngon co, nua vàng nua xanh.
Rang: "Sao trong tiet Thanh-minh,
"Mà dây huong khói vang tanh the mà?"
V uong-Quan mó'i dn gan xa:

"Dam-Tiên nàng y xa là ca-nhi,
"Noi danh tài sac mot thì,
Xôn-xao ngoài cua, him gì yen anh,
"Phan hong-nhan co mong-manh,
"Nua chung xuân, thoat gay cành thiên-huong.
"Có nguoi khách o vien phuong,
"Xa nghe cung nuc tieng nàng tìm choi.
"Thuyen tình vua ghé den noi,
Thì dà trâm gãy bình roi bao gio!
"Buong không lanh ngat nhu to,
"Dau xe ngia dã rêu lo-mo xanh.
Khóc than khôn xiet su tình,
"Khéo vô duyên by là mình vói ta!
"Dã không duyên truoc chang mà,

"Thì chi chút uóc goi là duyên sau.
"Sam-sanh nep tu, xe châu,
"Vùi nông mot nam, mac dau co hoa.
"Tri bao tho lan, ác tà,
"Ay mo vô chu, ai mà vieng tham!"
Lòng dâu san món thuong tâm,
Thoat nghe Kieu dã dam-dam châu sa:
Dau-don thay, phan dàn-bà!
"Lòi rang bac-menh cung là loi chung.
"Phu-phàng chi bay Hóa-công!
"Ngày xanh mòn-moi, má hong phôi-pha.
"Song làm vo khap nguòi ta,
"Hai thay! Thác xuong làm ma không chong!
"Nào nguoi phuong cha, loan chung
Nào nguòi tích luc, tham hong là ai?
"Dã không ke doái, nguoi hoài,
"San dây ta kiem mot vài nén huong.
"Goi là gap-go giua duong,
"Hoa là nguoi duoi sui vàng biet cho."
Lâm-dâm khan-khura nho to,
Sup ngoi, dat co truoc mo, buóc ra.
Mot vùng co áy, bóng tà,
Gió hiu-hiu thi mot và bông lau.
Rút trâm san giat mái dau,
Vach da cây, vinh bon câu ba van.
Lai càng mê-man tâm-than,
Lai càng dung lang tan-ngan chang ra.
Lai càng u-dot nét hoa,
Sau tuôn dut noi, châu xa van dài!
Vân rang: "Chi cung nuc cuoi,
"Khéo du nuoc mat, khóc nguoi doi xua!"
Rang: "Hong-nhan tu nghìn xua,
"Cái diiu bac-menh có chua ai dâu.
"Noi-niem tuong den mà dau,
"Thay nguoi nam dó, birt sau thr nào?"
Quan rang: "Chi noi hay sao,
"Moi loi là mot van vào khó nghe!
"O dây âm khí nang ne,
"Bóng chieu dã nga, dam ve còn xa."
Kieu rang: "Nhung dang tài-hoa,
"Thác là the-phách, còn là tinh-anh.
De hay tình li gap tình,
"Chò xem, at thy hien-linh bây giò."
Mot lòi nói chua kip thua,
Phút dâu tran gió cuon cò den ngay.
Ào-ào do loc, rung cây,
O trong duòng có huong bay ít nhieu.
Dè chùng ngon gió lan theo,
Dau giay tùng buóc in rêu rành-rành.
Mat nhìn, ai nay u kinh,
Nàng rang:"Này thuc tinh-thành chang xa.
"Huu-tình ta lai gap ta,
"Chó ne u-hin, moi là chi em."
Dã lòng hien-hien cho xem,
Ta lòng, nàng lai noi thêm vài lòi.
Lòng tho lai láng boi-hoi,
Goc cây, li vch mt bài co thi.


Excerpted from THE SOUL OF POETRY INSIDE KIM-VAN-KIEU by THUY LEXUAN Copyright © 2010 by Thuy Lexuan. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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