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10.Nguyen.doc - Virginia Review of Asian Studies HO XUAN...

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Virginia Review of Asian Studies HO XUAN HUONG: CHANGING A NATION WITH HER WORDS ELENA NGUYEN MARY BALDWIN COLLEGE The Vietnamese poet, H Xuân H ng, was and still is considered one of Vietnam’s ươ greatest and most controversial writers. During a time when a woman’s societal position was becoming more and more diminutive as a result of Confucian influence, H ’s propensity to write alone was enough to upset the public. What made H ’s writing even more appalling, however, was its caustically subversive commentary, concealed sensuality, and raunchy wit that defiantly broke social conventions and gave a voice to Vietnamese women as well as the Vietnamese language. The poetical devices and techniques utilized in H ’s poems go beyond simple metaphor and simile. In a way, H ’s poems are like complex puzzles with not just one underlying meaning, but two—the first being of a playful, erotic nature and the second being more serious and inducive of social change. Oftentimes, what may seem like a scenic description of the Vietnam landscape is actually saturated with lewd sexual innuendos. “Three Mountain Pass” is a prime example of such a poem and is translated here by John Balaban: A cliff face. Another. And still a third. Who was so skilled to carve this craggy scene The cavern's red door, the ridge's narrow cleft, The black knoll bearded with little mosses? A twisting pine bough plunges in the wind, Showering a willow's leaves with glistening drops. Gentlemen, lords, who could refuse, though weary And shaky in his knees, to mount once more? To the virgin mind, this poem would appear to be an innocuous retelling of a mountain hike led by a group of government officials. On the other hand, less “pure” individuals will immediately see the analogy to a woman’s genitals as well as copulation (in Vietnam, pines are symbolic of men while willows are symbolic of women).
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