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  VIET NAM LITERATURE
 

From CHINESE to NOM to today's VIETNAMESE

LITERATURE IN CHINESE
In poetry, it follows the rules of Chinese prosody and ideas and sentiments it expresses are generally the same than those of Chinese poetry, particularly the ancient Chinese poetry and that of the T'ang epoch. Maybe in descriptive poetry or in poetry exulting historical subjects one could find a little originality, but this particle of originality holds more to the subject's nature itself than to the poet's effort to get rid of his Chinese culture to return to sources of a purely Vietnamese inspiration.

All genres and forms of Chinese poetry have been cultivated in Viet Nam. Most ancient texts that have reached us are works of Ly epoch bonzes. They are obviously of Buddhist inspiration and their themes are: worldly vanity, aspiration to nothingness paradise, enjoyment of heart peace within calm and tranquil landscapes, especially hermitages' sites or pagodas. Beside the bonzes, as early as the 11th century, lettered people of Confucianism tendencies compose either in prose or in poetry. Finally, their influence will be preponderant since the Tran. Also since the Tran, Vietnamese Emperors take pleasure to versify and all dynasties shall transmit to posterity compilations of poetry of emperors and their courtiers. This custom lasted until the last dynasty and emperors like Le Thanh Ton of the Le and Tu Duc, Minh Menh of the Nguyen are among great poets of Chinese language of Viet Nam.

Vietnamese studies find Chinese language poetry does not present a same interest than prose. Chinese language works in prose are infinitely precious not so much by style qualities but by the great mass of information, which are essential in the reconstruction of Viet Nam past such as Official administrative writings (orders of the day, emperors' proclamations), historical or geographical works, compilations of legends etc… Nguyen Trai is among the great Vietnamese authors of Chinese language. A remarkable poet and prose-writer, has left behind an abundant work. His geography, under lesser form, is the most ancient composed by a Vietnamese. Le Loi's proclamations that are attributed to him are masterpieces reverently admired.

BINH NGO DAI CAO EXCERPT
(Proclamation following a victory over the Chinese)

A short time ago, because of the over-vexatious Ho's administration, our feelings were filled up with discontent. Throngs of mad dogs that are the Ming watched over us and profited from the situation to do harm to our people. Bands of rebels and traitors also took advantage of the occasion to sell our country. Our people were burnt alive in cruel furnaces; inhabitants were unjustly shoved into deep wells. They thwarted Heaven and bore down the population; they schemed demoniacal tricks under ten thousand forms. Then, they incurred warfare and, for almost twenty years, calamities succeeded calamities. They had lost all human sentiment - even Heaven and Earth aspired to a respite; Taxes were heavy and collections frequent, mountains and rivers had nothing left to yield. In order to exploit gold mines, one had to confront pestilential vapors of high regions, and to cut through mountains and screen sands. To find brilliant pearls, one had to rout marine monsters, gird up one's loins and plunge into deep sea. They molested our people by urging it to dig ditches to catch black roebucks; they annihilated- the beasts in setting traps and nets to catch kingfishers. Even insects and plants do not have the satisfaction of lawns in peace. Widowers and widows, wretched and badly off people could not find a peaceful home. They bleeded the people living body white to fatten their tyrannical mouths. They pushed to the extreme, wood and earth works to embellish their public buildings and their private houses. In hamlets, fatigue tasks were overwhelming and toilsome; in villages, people forsook the weaving-loom. Should one drain the Oriental Sea water, one still could not wash traces of their ignominy; should one take all bamboo of Meridional Mountains, one still could not transcribe all their crimes. Geniuses themselves grew angry, Heaven and Earth could not show themselves lenient.

Nguyen Trai (14th century)

MID AUTUMN SHINING MOON EULOGY
Tonight, the moonlight is so lively, one might think it is daytime,
All stars in the universe have not failed to join their lights,
The moon consents to let clouds float closer around her, but does not agree to be dissimulated,
If she lets the wind follow her, it is to help her in her rapid gliding.
The sun's glare, in summer or winter, differs: it is either redoubtable or beneficent,
The moon's glare, whether it is full or waning, remains mellow and pleasant,
One affirms that within a range of ten thousand "li", the night is similar to the one eight here,
I wonder if my black-head poor people has been happy or not?

Minh Mang (1820-1840)

NOM (CHU NOM)
The nom is a transcription system of Vietnamese words with the help of Chinese characters, simples or combined between themselves, to note the sound of a Vietnamese word or the combined meaning and sound of a Vietnamese word. The most ancient texts of Vietnamese language have been transmitted to us in nom. It was only from the 17th century that the transcription in latin characters, known under the name of quoc ngu was utilized, and in a greater part, by missionaries. One had to wait until the 20th century to assist to the blooming of transcriptions in quoc ngu of ancient texts nom as well as the creation of new works. Thus the literature in nom and in quoc ngu constitutes two expressions of a same literature, the literature in Vietnamese popular language.

VIETNAMESE (CHU VIET HAY CHU QUOC NGU)

Thuan D. Luc, 06/16/98

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