Ho Xuan Huong
Biography of Ho Xuan Huong
Hồ Xuân Hương was a Vietnamese poet born at the end of the Lê Dynasty who grew up in an era of political and social turmoil: the time of the Tây Sơn rebellion and the reactionary rule of Nguyễn Ánh. She wrote poetry using the Chữ nôm script. She is considered one of Vietnam's greatest poets, such that she is dubbed "the Queen of Nôm poetry" by Xuân Diệu, a prominent, modern Vietnamese poet.
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 she moved to Hanoi while still a child. The best guess is that she was the youngest daughter of Ho Phi Dien.
According to the first researchers about Ho Xuan Huong like Nguyen Huu Tien and Duong Quang Ham, she was Mr. Ho Phi Dien's daughter (born in 1704) at Quynh Doi Village, Quynh Luu District, Nghe An Province (*).
He acquired the baccalaureate diploma at his age of 24 under Le Bao Thai's Dysnasty. Due to his family's poverty, he had to work as a tutor in Hai Hung, Ha Bac for his earnings. At that place, he got cohabitation with a girl from Bac Ninh as a concubine - Ho Xuan Huong was born as a result of that love affair.
Nevertheless, as per a newly-launched document by the literature researcher, the late Professor Tran Thanh Mai, Ho Xuan Huong's hometown was the same as mentioned above, but she was Mr. Ho Si Danh's daughter (1706-1783) and a younger stepsister with Ho Si Dong (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: Vinh Tuong (a local official) and Tong Coc (a slightly higher level official). She was the second-rank wife of Tong Coc, 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 Tong Coc 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 Ton Phong Thi and a man only identified as “The Imperial Tutor of the Nguyen 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, through her social-political commentaries and use of sexual humour or expressions. Her poems are usually irreverent, full of double entendres, but erudite. The sexual allusions in her work are ambiguous, however, though this may be more a result of the translation.
By composing the vast majority of her works in Nôm she helped elevate the status of Vietnamese as a literary language in Vietnamese literature in the 1800s. However, recently some of her poems have been found which were composed in classical Chinese, so she was not a purist. In modern times, chữ nôm is nearly a dead script having been supplanted by Quốc ngữ during the period of French colonization. Some of her poems were collected and translated in John Balaban's work Spring Essence. Most cities in Vietnam have a major street named after her.
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.
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Ho Xuan Huong Poems
I am like a jackfruit on the tree. To taste you must plug me quick, while fresh: the skin rough, the pulp thick, yes, but oh, I warn you against touching --
Drop by drop rain slaps the banana leaves. Praise whoever sketched this desolate scene:
Weaving At Night
Lampwick turned up, the room glows white. The looms moves easily all night long as feet work and push below.
A gentle spring evening arrives airily, unclouded by worldly dust.
On Sharing A Husband
Screw the fate that makes you share a man. One cuddles under cotton blankets; the other's cold.
Day And Night
Peekaboo we used to play; my hands covered my face, your hands covered your face, incredible, there we were gone.
A cliff face. Another. And still a third. Who was so skilled to carve this craggy scene:
Are you seventeen or eighteen?(1) Let me cherish you by all means. Thin or thick you display a triangle, and
Not a drop of rain for this dry heat! Come, girls, let's go bail water. Let's drag our delta-shaped buckets to that huge square field
If you want to pick flowers, you have to hike. Climbing up, don't worry about your weary bones. Pluck the low branches, pull down the high.
Day Sleeping Girl
Summer breeze is sporadically blowing, Lying down the young girl slides into sleeping. Her bamboo comb loosely attached to her hair,
To A Couple Of Students Who Were Teasing...
Where are you going, my dear little greenhorns? Here, I'll teach you how to turn a verse or two Young drones sucking at withered flowers,
Her lonely boat fated to float aimlessly midstream, weary with sadness, drifting.
The Cake That Drifts In Water
My body is both white and round. In water I may sink or swim. The hand the kneads me may be rough, But I still shall keep my true-red heart.
I am like a jackfruit on the tree.
To taste you must plug me quick, while fresh:
the skin rough, the pulp thick, yes,
but oh, I warn you against touching --
the rich juice will gush and stain your hands
Translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich