xuan hong cover

Ho Xuan Huong

While I was looking for information for my post about Huong Thanh, I came across a dozen other references to things I didn’t know about Vietnam. One of these was to a woman named Ho Xuan Huong (Hồ Xuân Hương) who was probably born in the period from 1775 to 1780 and lived till 1822. Ho Xuan Huong was married twice. In her second marriage, she was a vo le, a wife of second rank (“like the maid, but without the pay”, she complained). However her second husband died after only six months and after that she lived alone in Hanoi, making a living by teaching and receiving visitors, including poets, for Ho Xuan Huong was an outstanding poet herself, in fact, if she had written in one of the world languages, I think she would be on  T-shirts everywhere.

Many of her poems contain sexual double-entendres, like this one:

Weaving at Night

Lampwick turned up, the room glows white.

The loom moves easily all night long

as feet work and push below.

Nimbly the shuttle flies in and out,

wide or narrow, big or small, sliding in snug.

Long or short, it glides out smoothly.

Girls who do it right, let it soak.

This is from Spring Essence, a book of her poetry turned brightly into English by John Balaban. 

Here she is writing a different kind of poem, which I find very beautiful:

        Country Scene

        The waterfall plunges in mist

        Who can describe this desolate scene:

        the long white river sliding through

        the emerald shadows of the ancient canopy

        ... a shepherd’s horn echoing in the valley,

        fishnets stretched to dry on sandy flats.

        A bell is tolling, fading, fading, fading

        just like love. Only poetry lasts.

I have only just begun to find out about her so all I can do is point those who are interested in her general direction:

a page with the New York Times review of Spring Essence

John Balaban’s page and an interview with him about Ho Xuan Huong for the NPR programme Fresh Air


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