hit counter

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ba huyen Thanh Quan - The female poet of Thang Long

The river-wharf of Nghi Tam village overlooking the West Lake is one of the 8 beautiful sceneries of West Lake ("8–scenery West Lake"). On the wharf grew a kind of bamboo with gold trunk called ivory bamboo, so there is a popular saying that goes "Nghi Tam bamboo river-wharf, Yen Thai tropical almond forest." West Lake waves with beautiful sceneries of the homeland had significant influences on the female poet’s soul.

Ba Huyen Thanh Quan’s real name is Nguyen Thi Hinh, from Nghi Tam village, Thuong ward, Vinh Thuan district (now Quang An Ward, Tay Ho district, Hanoi). Born in a Confucian family, Nguyen Thi Hinh was sent to study literature and very soon showed her gifted literary abilities. When she grew up, she was married to Bachelor of Chinese studies Luu Nguyen On from Nguyet Ang village (now in Thanh Tri district, Hanoi). After the examination, Luu Nguyen On was appointed to be the Governor of Thanh Quan district (now Thai Thuy District, Thai Binh Province), secretary of Ministry of Justice, then Vien ngoai lang until his death in 1847. During the time her husband was a mandarin with many ups and downs, she always stayed close, shared and shouldered her husband family's work. At the same time, experiences of being the wife of a district governor also left important marks in the life and literature of the female poet. Her penname - "Ba Huyen Thanh Quan" literally means “wife of Governor of Thanh Quan district”. Under the reign of Tu Duc King, she was invited to the capital, Hue, as a teacher to train princesses and imperial concubines in the Nguyen royal family.
Legends still tell many anecdotes related to Ba Huyen Thanh Quan when her husband was governing the district. Whenever her husband was absent in the law court, she often received applications and solved them instead. One day a successful examinee at village level submitted a request to kill a buffalo and give a feast to his village. At that time it was the agricultural season and the King’s court issued a ban on killing buffaloes to avoid damaging agricultural cultivation activities. But as a Confucian, Ba Huyen respected the new graduate and also on this occasion she wanted to make fun by literature so she took the pen and wrote 2 sentences in the application:
Not everybody is allowed to do this
It still depends if the new graduate kills the buffalo!
Another day when her husband went away on business, a woman named Nguyen Thi Dao sued a divorce as her husband fell in love with another woman and treated her badly. Ba Huyen wrote 4 sentences in the application:
Nguyen Thi Dao is to decide her fate
There is no reason for her to wait
Youth is not forever there to get
Go another man before you get aged.
These anecdotes circulated among the folks have created her image, who was an intelligent, witty poet with full compassion and thorough understanding of human behaviors and humane spirits. Her poetry fully reflected her personality, and her poems which were handed down are so far hidden, elegant, taciturn verses.
Evening shadow with gently winds always appeared in her poems. That was a homesick evening:
The sky is dusky with twilight
The sound of shellfish is far away with faintly drumming rhythm
Or the evening shadow on Ngang Pass:
Going to Ngang Pass in the late afternoon sunlight
Rocks were interspersed with vegetation and leaves with blooms
Appearing in evening shadows were lonely countryside images:
Several woodcutters are down there at the foot of the mountain
Some houses are spattered near the river
And especially the soul of the person in this desolate evening shadow is extremely lonely:
A person is in Chuong Dai, the other in a strange land
Nobody can converse after a long separation
Among the universal nature, men become lonely, odd and small in the unlimited space:
Please sky, mountains and water stop
A single love: me and myself
Above all, Ba Huyen Thanh Quan is a poet of Thang Long with general writings about the Thang Long (Nostalgic Thang Long Citadel), West Lake hometown in particular (Tran Bac Pagoda, Visiting Tran Quoc Pagoda) Thang Long-Hanoi as shown in homesick verses of Ba Huyen Thanh Quan is not about beautiful and sparkling sceneries or detailed scenes but in general is just as sad as the poet. Nghi Tam poem recalled a Thang Long capital citadel as the old luxuriant place which was then abandoned.
Old routes with horse carriages are deserted
The palace foundation is in setting sun
Merciful and blaming words burst into plaintive verses:
The Creator causes whatever theater.
And she felt pity as she witnessed the hard laws of nature and history:
Looking back at thousands of years of history
Sceneries and people are both painful.
The poem is not only Ba Huyen Thanh Quan’s own voice, but also the confidence of the entire class of intellectuals in Thang Long before the decline of feudalism. The situation of the country was more and more desolate and bare, and people became more upset as they didn’t dare to fight and couldn’t find a way out, unwilling to accept the current situation, and dreaming to return to what they longed for but these were mere illusions. It is the root cause of the nostalgia, "the melancholy of times" in Ba Huyen Thanh Quan’s poetry.
However, apart from the pains caused by the changes in the feudal regime and human behaviors, Ba Huyen Thanh Quan also had a passionate love for her home country:
More dedicated to the country than to alcohol
Full of wind and moon, life devoted  to poems
Her poems deeply express her love and thoughtful concerns about the country and Thang Long-Hanoi. Perhaps that is the reason why those skeptical and compassionate verses of Ba Huyen Thanh Quan live for a long time. In the history of Vietnamese literature still lived long a female celebrity and female artist of Tay Ho: Ba Huyen Thanh Quan.


Post a Comment


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More