ABOUT A PILGRIMAGE by Nguyen Quang Thieu (translated by VTNM)


Nguyen Quang Thieu

(translated by Vo Thi Nhu Mai)

Every book of poetry by any author has a lot to say. But with this collection of poems by poet Dau Phi Nam, there is a path that emerges and haunts me. It is the return that I call the most important pilgrimage of a human being. The journey back to the most humane. When a person is aware of his or her departure, he or she is certainly more aware of his or her return. That pilgrimage is the search for the spiritual beauties of life. In many poems, the return is always the greatest inspiration and the most meaningful of the poet Dau Phi Nam.

I return to visit the garden of memory

The betel nut is no where to be seen

The areca stump is now the past

In the corner a pot of slaked slime

Rolling into the yearning

That hurts my heart

Mother, rosy lips of those old days

Simple verses are read aloud and for me they are represent the calling of mother. A space of everyday life has now become an art space. When the poet creates an artistic space, the beauties, memories, and loves can be fully expressed and most sustainable. When I read these verses or when I enter this “artistic space” of Dau Phi Nam, I meet my mother, who had passed away for ten years. Because in this space, Dau Phi Nam has led us back to our own memories through her own path as a poet. This is one of the wonders of art, especially poetry. For most Vietnamese in the generation of Dau Phi Nam and earlier, the image of a betel nut, a pot of slaked lime, and a garden is a common denominator related to the mother. Poetry, in my opinion, is to revive the deceased and renew the old. Poet Dau Phi Nam’s mother retains the images of betel leaves and a tender garden. And each of us always has a way to return to our mother, to live with her again, to be loved and to be at peace.

I don’t know anything about Village Mỗi. A village somewhere in this world suddenly appears in the endless purple color of myrtle. I asked a question: “If there is no myrtle flower, is life missing something?” And my answer is: “No”. But now that the village has appeared with the color of myrtle, I now realize that: without that flower colour, we will lose something very vague but also very big. Because the color of the myrtle flower or the mustard flower, or the cornflower, or the bamboo grove, or the hot wind and white sand, or the golden rice fields… have become our legacy of memory. It has nourished my soul, attaching me to that land.

Purple myrtle flowers oh in the afternoons

The heavy debt of earning a living makes us feel guilty

Now I’m in search of them

Returning to my past

Where the myrtle petals of Village Mỗi

Newly-finished road has been built, so as the factory

Searching for flowers but deep in sadness

Where’s the purple myrtle, where’s the hide and seek of the past

Return to find that purple flower colour, that purple flower season, return to find life of the past with love, happiness and sadness. And now, I feel like each village is my village. And I touched the loss, the sadness and joy of the people in that village. Myrtle flowers or ripe myrtle fruits cannot become any material value for life, but spiritual one. Poetry has the power to turn meaningless things into meaning, turning things that have no material value into cultural values. That is also a great reason for poetry to exist and save souls.

Tomorrow I will return to Viet land

Soulfully recall the temple gate

I was silent for a long time after these two verses sounded. This poem Dau Phi Nam wrote during a visit to a foreign country. I also often wander the country. And when standing in front of a cultural heritage of the country, I think of my hometown. The poem ” Soulfully recall the temple gate” is haunting and strangely suggestive. This is a great comeback. The return in the mind, back to the roots, back to the long-standing culture of one’s country, the return is sacred and as a ritual of the spirit.

Urbanization is causing the disappearance of many natural and cultural lands. Many intellectuals, writers, poets, culturalists have warned this. There are two countries that we need to look at to rethink our “urbanization”: Japan and South Korea. These two countries have become two countries with spectacular economic development, but the beauties of nature and traditional culture are still very carefully preserved. Dau Phi Nam’s verses sound like alarm bells about the path of “urbanization” in Vietnam:

Phú Lợi Village once beautiful

Shiny blue stream with clouds in the sky

But on my last visit nothing stayed the same

An entire fishing village, sunk in the sea

I’m back to the villge, me with me

Though caltrop root replaced tea

People looking around with blank faces

Which way to town, they tried to say

When I read the verses “An entire fishing village, sunk in the sea” I felt shivers. A beauty has disappeared. It feels like a “catastrophe” has just swept over and washed away the legacies we have built up over thousands of years, to the bottom of the sea. Poet Dau Phi Nam returned to the old place and cried out in tears. All has disappeared. All that remains is the “beautiful wilderness” on the ground.  And here, a cry of pain resounded in the poet’s soul:

In the modern time

Five fruits for offering are made of plastic

Feeling sad, he goes to the field

This year year holds the spirit of him

Will you be able to go somewhere far?

Yellow canola flowers stretch along the river

Flower car passing by leaving dust stains over the horizon end

The village is about to deliver festivals

A lot will admire Dong Ho paintings

It turned out that it’s exciting with the Rat’s Wedding

The true beauty has been and is leaving people. The sacred has left the human soul. Poet Dau Phi Nam is the one who searches for the true values of this life. The beauties are being forgotten, passed over and “deceased”. Each poet has a way to find lost or threatened beauty in his own way. And the poet Dau Phi Nam has been walking on that path as a pilgrimage of the soul.


Poet Dau Phi Nam

Poet Nguyen Quang Thieu

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