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The Golden Bough

K.R. Narayanan

By Mireille Gansel Translation by Elizabeth Hodgkin and Mary Jameson
Foreign Languages Publishing House, Hanoi, 1978, pp. 175, price not stated.


“But life itself is poetry; it is the most living poetry, and with us there are no clear limits between life and poetry.” So says To Huu, the poet of modern Vietnam, in one of the interviews with which this slender volume of selections from his poetry are interspersed—interviews in which he speaks about his life, political struggles and poetic experiences in prose that is as lyrical and sensitive as his poetry. The poetry of To Huu is not just a reflection of life or merely “emotions recollected in tranquility” in the traditional manner, but something that flows with an easy directness and immediacy from life itself, like the sap of a tree bursting into tender leaves or like blood blossoming into flowers of the flesh. This is indeed a rare collection of poems in English translation coming from that glorious, tortured land of Vietnam, and as the translators say contains that “blend of militancy and tenderness” so typical of the Vietnamese.   Of Vietnam To Huu writes “No, our people have known a terrible grievous fate all through their long history. What will save them most of all is their love of mankind, their humanity. We have never known any long period of tranquility. No, there have always been invasions from the north, south, sometimes even the west. Ours is a tragic history… And then there have always been floods and typhoons. At every period this made the life of the people so hard; deaths, misfortunes, calamities of every kind… But it is necessary to live, survive, and for that you need a certain friendship, solidarity, comprehension, a mutual confidence; love of what is close, love of what is familiar.” It is of this predicament of Vietnam that To Huu has written, not in tragic sorrowful tones or in rough proletarian rage, but with glowing divine indignation against tyranny and injustice and a melting love for the familiar things of life, for the mountains, rivers, rice-fields, potatoes, cassava, for a bird dead in the prison cage, a servant boy leaving a house with insults from his mistress raining all over him, for a nurse who has to leave her own baby uncared for in order to look after the master’s child, for mothers waiting for their sons gone underground to fight for the liberation of the land.   To understand the poetry of To Huu it is necessary to ...

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