Hồ Xuân Hương (; 1772–1822) was a Vietnamese poet born at the end of the Lê dynasty. She grew up in an era of political and social turmoil – the time of the Tây Sơn rebellion and a three-decade civil war that led to Nguyễn Ánh seizing power as Emperor Gia Long and starting the Nguyễn dynasty. She wrote poetry using chữ Nôm (Southern Script), which adapts Chinese characters for writing demotic Vietnamese. She is considered to be one of Vietnam's greatest classical poets. Xuân Diệu, a prominent modern poet, dubbed her "The Queen of Nôm poetry".[1]

Portrait of female poet Hồ Xuân Hương on the cover of the book Giai nhân dị mặc by scholar Nguyễn Hữu Tiến, 1916

Biography edit

The facts of her life are difficult to verify, but this much is well established: she was born in Nghệ An Province near the end of the rule of the Trịnh lords, and moved to Hanoi while still a child. The best guess is that she was the youngest daughter of Hồ Phi Diễn.

According to the first researchers of Hồ Xuân Hương, such as Nguyễn Hữu Tiến and Dương Quảng Hàm, she was a daughter of Hồ Phi Diễn (born in 1704) in Quỳnh Đôi Village, Quỳnh Lưu District, Nghệ An Province (*). Hồ Phi Diễn acquired the baccalaureate diploma at the age of 24, under Lê Dụ Tông's reign. Due to his family's poverty, he had to work as a tutor in Hải Hưng, Hà Bắc for his earnings. At that place, he cohabitated with a girl from Bắc Ninh, his concubine – Hồ Xuân Hương was born as a result of that love affair.

Nevertheless, in a paper in Literature Magazine (No. 10, Hanoi 1964), Trần Thanh Mại claims that Hồ Xuân Hương's hometown was the same as mentioned above, but she was a daughter of Hồ Sĩ Danh (1706–1783) and a younger stepsister of Hồ Sĩ Đống (1738–1786)"

She became locally famous and obtained a reputation of creating poems that were subtle and witty. She is believed to have married twice as her poems refer to two different husbands: Vĩnh Tường (a local official) and Tổng Cóc (a slightly higher level official). She was the second-rank wife of Tổng Cóc, in Western terms, a concubine, a role that she was clearly not happy with ("like the maid/but without the pay"). However, her second marriage did not last long as Tổng Cóc died just six months after the wedding.

She lived the remainder of her life in a small house near the West Lake in Hanoi. She had visitors, often fellow poets, including two specifically named men: Scholar Tôn Phong Thi and a man only identified as "The Imperial Tutor of the Nguyễn Family." She was able to make a living as a teacher and evidently was able to travel since she composed poems about several places in Northern Vietnam.

A single woman in a Confucian society, her works show her to be independent-minded and resistant to societal norms, especially through her socio-political commentaries and her use of frank sexual humor and expressions. Her poems are usually irreverent, full of double entendres, and erudite.[2]

Legacy edit

Statue of Hồ Xuân Hương in Danang

By composing the vast majority of her works in chữ Nôm, she helped to elevate the status of Vietnamese as a literary language. Recently, however, some of her poems have been found which were composed in Hán văn, indicating that she was not a purist. In modern times, chữ Nôm is nearly a dead script, having been supplanted by chữ Quốc ngữ, a Latin alphabet introduced during the period of French colonization. For details, see Vietnamese language. Some of her poems were collected and translated into English in John Balaban's Spring Essence (Copper Canyon Press, 2000, ISBN 1 55659 148 9).

An important Vietnamese poet and her contemporary is Nguyễn Du, who similarly wrote poetry in demotic Vietnamese, and so helped to found a national literature.

A few cities in Vietnam have streets named after Hồ Xuân Hương.[3]

Works edit

The Jackfruit (Quả Mít, 果櫗)[4] edit


Vietnamese Chữ Nôm (chữ Nôm, 𡨸喃) Vietnamese alphabet (chữ Quốc Ngữ, 𡨸國語) English Translation
身㛪如果櫗𨕭𣘃 Thân em như quả mít trên cây, My body is like a jackfruit swinging on a tree,
𤿭伮摳縐梅伮𪠗 Vỏ nó sù sì, múi nó dày. My skin is rough, my pulp is thick.
君子𣎏𢞅時㨂梮 Quân tử có yêu thì đóng cọc, Dear prince, if you want me then pierce me upon your stick,
吀𠏦𢺳𢱖𣺾𦋦𢬣 Xin đừng mân mó nhựa ra tay. Don't squeeze, I'll ooze and stain your hands.

The Cake That Drifts In Water (Bánh Trôi Nước, 𩛄𬈼渃) edit


Vietnamese Chữ Nôm (chữ Nôm, 𡨸喃) Vietnamese alphabet (chữ Quốc Ngữ, 𡨸國語) English Translation
身㛪𣃤𤽸𫣚𣃤𫣝, Thân em vừa trắng lại vừa tròn, I was born pure and beautiful,
𠀧沉𦉱𬈗貝渃𡽫。 Ba chìm bảy nổi với nước non. Yet my life's full of struggles.
𠡧𬄅默油𢬣仉𡔃, Rắn nát mặc dầu tay kẻ nặn, My fate is in entirely in the hands of the elites, the powerful,
𦓡㛪𫪏𡨺𬌓𢚸𣘈。 Mà em vẫn giữ tấm lòng son. I still shall keep my true red heart.
  • "Thân em vừa trắng lại vừa tròn," (literally, my body is white and round like the cake in the water)
  • "Ba chìm bảy nổi với nước non." (literally, sunk down three times, floated up seven times; this refers to the up and downs in life)
  • "Rắn nát mặc dầu tay kẻ nặn," (literally, hard and crumbled through the hands of the molder)

The Unfortunate Plight of Women (Thân phận người đàn bà, 身份𠊛彈婆) edit


Vietnamese Chữ Nôm (chữ Nôm, 𡨸喃) Vietnamese alphabet (chữ Quốc Ngữ, 𡨸國語) English Translation
𪠠姉㛪𠲖𣎏𪿍空, Hỡi chị em ơi có biết không, Hey sisters, do you know,
𠬠邊𡥵哭𠬠邊𫯰。 Một bên con khóc một bên chồng. On one side, the child cries on, the other side of the husband.
𢂞俱監巖𭺗𨕭䏾, Bố cu lổm ngồm bò trên bụng, Clumsy father crawling on his stomach,
僶𡮣吁嘘哭𠁑胸。 Thằng bé hu hơ khóc dưới hông. The baby is crying under his hips.
畢哿仍羅收貝𢯝, Tất cả những là thu với vén, All of these are collected with pulls,
𪬽傍閙仍𩸮拱𣜳。 Vội vàng nào những bống cùng bông. Hurry up with the same flowers.
𫯰𡥵𫡔嫧羅如勢, Chồng con cái nợ là như thế, Such is the debt of husband and children,
𪠠姉㛪𠲖𣎏𪿍空。 Hỡi chị em ơi có biết không. Hey sisters, do you know?

References edit

  1. ^ Võ, Hà. "Hồ Xuân Hương "Bà Chúa thơ Nôm"". vovworld.vn. VOV.
  2. ^ 'The Poetess of White Silk Lake' in: Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David: Vietnam Past and Present: The North (History and culture of Hanoi and Tonkin). Chiang Mai. Cognoscenti Books, 2012. ASIN: B006DCCM9Q.
  3. ^ Vietnam Country Map. Periplus Travel Maps. 2002–2003. ISBN 0-7946-0070-0.
  4. ^ "Jackfruit by Ho Xuan Huong | Poetry Magazine". www.poetryfoundation.org. 24 December 2022.

Sources edit

  • Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David: Vietnam Past and Present: The North (History and culture of Hanoi and Tonkin). Chiang Mai. Cognoscenti Books, 2012.
  • Outstanding Vietnamese Women Before the 20th Century published in English by The Gioi Publishers, 2006.
  • Hồ Xuân Hương, nha tho cach mang (Hồ Xuân Hương - A Revolutionary Poet) by Hoa Bang, 1982.

External links edit