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A love that echoes through the ages in poetry

Update: February, 09/2020 - 07:56

Màu Tím Hoa Sim (The colour of myrtle flowers) is considered one of the most touching poems composed by poet Hữu Loan (1916-2010).

It is a lament dedicated to Loan’s first wife Lê Đỗ Thị Ninh, who drowned in her homeland of Thanh Hóa Province in 1949.

Poet Hữu Loan (1916-2010). File Photo

Hearing the news on his way marching to battle, Loan wrote the poem that still touches millions of Vietnamese people today.

The poem features a sorrowful love during the war between a beautiful woman and a soldier. They fell in love and got married. Right after the wedding, they parted ways and the soldier marched to battle. He is worried about her future if he dies in the war. But when he returns home safe, he learns that his wife has died.

In his nostalgia, he remembers old memories, with the gentle figure of the young wife as he passes hills with violet myrtle flowers, which his wife loved when she was alive.

Poet Hữu Loan, born as Nguyễn Hữu Loan in 1916 in Vân Hoàn Village, Nga Lĩnh Commune, Nga Sơn District in the central province of Thanh Hóa.

He graduated from high school in 1943 and worked as a teacher. He joined the Việt Nam League for Independence (Việt Minh) in Thanh Hóa.

Before 1945, he was a freelance writer for Văn Học (Literature) magazine published in Hà Nội.

After the August 1945 Revolution, he worked as a member of the Administrative Committee of Thanh Hóa Province in charge of education, information, commerce and industry.

During the war of resistance against the French, he joined the Việt Nam People's Army, and wrote poem Màu Tím Hoa Sim in 1949.

His first poem titled Đèo Cả (Cả Pass) was among the most popular poems during the anti-French war.

Màu Tím Hoa Sim was among the first poems to have its copyright in Việt Nam bought by VTB Vietronics Tân Bình Company in HCM City. The company paid him VNĐ100 million (US$6,400) in 2004.

Though the poet lived in the north, the poem was popular among poetry lovers in the south even before the country's reunification in 1975.

The poem was only printed in newspapers, books but also turned into songs to be broadcast on radio and live shows on stages, especially in the 1960s.

Myrtle flowers. Photo zicxa.com

The following is the poem translated by veteran translator Dương Tường:

The colour of myrtle flowers

 

Her three elder brothers were in the people’s army

the youngest of her siblings still a babbling urchin

when her hair was at its greenest

 

A soldier away from home I loved her

with that love one devotes to one’s younger sister

 

The wedding day she did not claim for a bridal robe

I came straight back from camp

my soldier’s boots coated with dust from marches

She smiled nicely beside her original man

 

I rejoined my regiment right after the wedding

From the battled area I pitifully thought of her

To get married in war-time

if I’d never be back… it pained me

picturing up my young wife

desperately awaiting at home

                           each sun-setting

 

Yet it was not the warring man but

his beloved in the rear that got killed

 

I got back

too late to see her alive

Her mother seated herself by her daughter’s tomb

wrapped in darkness

The vase for flowers on the wedding day

now served as incense urn

with cold ashes all around

Dearest

your hair was still too short

to be knotted into a full chignon

Dearest

the last moment

we’re not given the mere chance

to cross eyes once nor to exchange one word

dearest…

 

The early autumn wind rippled the shivering surface of the river

The little one growing up

gazed at his sister’s photo-portrait, bewildered,

when the early autumn wind rose

withering up the grass about the tombstone

 

In a forest doused with rain one afternoon

the three soldiers on the northeastern front heard of

their sister’s death before news of her wedding reached them

In days not long ago

she loved violet myrtle flowers

she wore violet blouses the colour of myrtle flowers  

In days not long ago…

 

The sun was setting and we kept marching

through hills upon hills of myrtles

unending hills covered with those violet myrtle blossoms

which dyed the sylvan dusk in an infinite violet

Somewhere someone sang out:

My shirt came unsewn at one side

"I’ve taken no wife and my mum is too old to mend it yet[1]

Glancing at my shirt torn at the shoulder

bathed in the colour of the blossoms I echoed in petto:

My shirt came unsewn at one side

"I’m away from mum and orphaned of wife.” VNS

 

Illustration by Đỗ Dũng

[1] from a Vietnamese folk song.

 

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