Hồ Xuân Hương

Hồ Xuân Hương

Hồ Xuân Hương (1772-1822) (Hán Tự: ) was a Vietnamese poet born at the end of the Lê Dynasty who grew up in an era of political and social turmoil: the time of the Tây Sơn rebellion and the reactionary rule of Nguyễn Ánh. She wrote poetry using the Chữ nôm script. She is considered one of Vietnam's greatest poets, such that she is dubbed "the Queen of Nôm poetry" by Xuân Diệu, a prominent, modern Vietnamese poet.

The facts of her life are difficult to verify but this much is well established. She was born in Nghệ An province near the end of the rule of the Trịnh Lords, and she moved to Hanoi while still a child. The best guess is that she was the youngest daughter of Ho Phi Dien. Clearly, she obtained a superior education and became locally famous as a poet who could compose poems that were subtle, witty, and hard to find fault with. She is believed to have married twice as her poems refer to two different husbands: Vinh Tuong (a local official) and Tong Coc (a slightly higher level official). She was the second-rank wife of Tong Coc, in Western terms, a concubine, a role that she was clearly not happy with ("like the maid/but without the pay"). However, her second marriage did not last long as Tong Coc died just six months after the wedding.

She lived the remainder of her life in a small house near the West Lake in Hanoi. She had visitors, often fellow poets, including two specifically named men: Scholar Ton Phong Thi and a man only identified as “The Imperial Tutor of the Nguyen Family.” She was able to make a living as a teacher and was able to travel as we have poems written by her about several places in the north of Vietnam.

A single woman in a Confucian society, her works show her to be independent-minded and resistant to societal norms, through her social-political commentaries and use of sexual humour or expressions. Her poems are usually irreverent, full of double entendres, but erudite. The sexual allusions in her work are not hard to figure out, though this may be more a result of the translation.

By composing the vast majority of her works in Nôm she helped elevate the status of Vietnamese as a literary language in Vietnamese literature in the 1800s. However, recently some of her poems have been found which were composed in classical Chinese, so she was not a purist. In modern times, chữ nôm is nearly a dead script having been supplanted by Quốc ngữ during the period of French colonization. For details see Vietnamese language. Some of her poems were collected and translated in John Balaban's work "Spring Essence" (ISBN 1 55659 148 9).

Another important Vietnamese poet and her contemporary is Nguyễn Du.


"High up along the road, he travels on a red hammock"
"Here below, we, poor women, wash our skirts." (a critique of a wealthy man's procession)

"In the dead of night, nightwatcher's drums resound"
"I awake and find myself lonely in the vast world"
"After many an inebriating farewell cup, I come to my senses"
"The slanting moon on the wax is shaped like a crescent"
"The ground is overgrown with tufts of moss"
"On the horizon, cliffs rise up to the sky"
"I can no longer endure the flight of spring time"
"Shall my love be requited?"

External links

* [http://perso.limsi.fr/dang/webvn/ehoxuan.htm Hồ Xuân Hương - the greatest Vietnamese poetess]
* [http://www.johnbalaban.com/huong.html John Balaban's translations of Hồ Xuân Hương's works into English]
* [http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/15/arts/15POET.html?ex=1120276800&en=ed9dbc5246b9eca9&ei=5070 New York Times review of the translation, with background information]
* [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1116548 NPR Interview with John Balaban]
* [http://www.aprweb.org/issues/sept00/balaban.html Hồ Xuân Hương biography]


"Outstanding Vietnamse Women Before the 20th Century" published in English by The Gioi Publishers, 2006.
"Ho Xuan Huong, nha tho cach mang" ("Ho Xuan Huong - A Revolutionary Poet") by Hoa Bang, 1982.

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