A Final Wrap-Up: Words to Carry to the Grave

Source: “Phung Hien” by Giang Bui


Ngày sẽ hết tôi sẽ không ở lại

Tôi sẽ đi và chưa biết đi đâu

Tôi sẽ nhớ trần gian này mãi mãi

Vì nơi đây tôi sống đủ vui sầu.


Days will end, and I will not stay

I’ll go, know not where to go

I’ll miss this mundane world for days

‘Cause here I’ve lived full: joy, sorrow.


With this stanza written by a famous Vietnamese poet who has later in his life gone mad, I would like to end my journal here. In my English translation, I also tried to keep the eight-syllable lines as well as the ABAB rhyme scheme in the original stanza. While it is not a well-written translation, I was able to keep the word-by-word meaning unchanged. 

As for the poem, especially this first stanza, I was surprised when I learned that the poet was considered insane at the time he wrote this poem; the message here is quite sane to me. Stylistically, the stanza’s use of first person with simple diction sets up a friendly, approachable footing that readers can relate to. In addition, even though the stanza seems to be like the speaker’s reflection of life, his lack of emotion, together with his indifferent tone about death, is intriguing. Opposite to Hamlet who in his “To be or not to be” soliloquy shows fear about the unknown world after death, this speaker makes an interesting choice of making his talk about death understated. Perhaps, in this whole stanza, the only intense moment is in the last line, “‘Cause here I’ve lived full: joy, sorrow.” Here, the speaker appreciates life’s two contrasting aspects, “joy” and “sorrow,” which in some ways marks his persona in the poem: a person who has been through many things. Such a composure attracted me to this particular stanza and also transformed my reading of this poem when I knew that he has lost his sanity when writing the poem. I cannot help but wonder: how can an insane man write such “sane” lines?

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