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Vietnamese Folk Poetry


Ca Dao Viet Nam:

Vietnamese Folk Poetry

John Balaban (Translator)

“Go out one day, come back with a basket full of knowledge.” This proverb begins the exciting collection, Ca Dao Viet Nam. This intriguing project offers a type of poem never before seen in the United States. John Balaban returned to the States after the Vietnam War, but the beauty of Vietnam still haunted him, calling him back. More than the physical beauty of rivers and fields was the beauty of the ca dao, the oral folk poetry.

These poems are sung, but never accompanied or written down. Instead, they pass orally from person to person. In this book, Balaban selects the best of over 500 collected poems and translates them into English. They range from comic to soulfully tragic, romantic to meditative. The imagery stands out more than anything else, painting an entire culture in a few words describing rice and bells, phoenixes and fish.

The book’s structure is very instructive, with several lengthy introductions explaining the origins of the poems and how they came to be collected. After each poem, the Vietnamese words appear in transliteration, so that Vietnamese speakers and non-Vietnamese speakers alike can read the problems aloud and hear the beauty of the words.

“Autumn” paints a dreamy picture of romance, tranquil and still. In the sweet “Lullaby” more than any other poem, I felt the absence of the accompanying music. “Mother Egret” reminded me of an Aesop’s Fable, while “The Carp” evokes a haiku.

This collection offers a special treat for those familiar with Vietnam and its culture. These simple poems evoke the world of the Vietnam countryside, with small boats sailing down the rivers, and birds from pheasants to larks twittering in the background. For those new to Vietnam, the poems demonstrate a contemplative lifestyle far away from the rigors of modern life.

Balaban introduces Ca Dao Viet Nam as the conclusion to a lifelong study of Vietnamese literature. His recent translation of Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan Huong won national acclaim. Rather than reprinting folk songs, now no more than a curiosity sung by folk groups and students in Vietnam, Balaban traveled among the people, leaving the cities to visit farms and remote villages, with only the company of a Buddhist monk. Balaban visited farmers and seamstresses, laborers and fishermen. He simply asked each of them, “sing me your favorite poem.” The best of these, the most exotic and varied, representing every aspect of rural Vietnamese culture, appear here. Balaban treats his readers to the best of over 500 ca dao, flowing from romance to humor to tragedy with these unique lyric poems.

- Valerie Frankel

Please visit: http://www.johnbalaban.com/ca-dao.html for Ca Dao in English

Another interesting site: http://chujoe.net/archives/000126.html


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Last modified: 10/19/17