Huỳnh Thúc Kháng – Feelings in Prison



Hùynh Thúc Kháng (黃叔抗, 1876-1947) was an anti-colonialist and leader of the Modernization (維新, Duy Tân) movement during the final years of Nguyễn dynasty. His was born in the village of Thạnh Bình (晟平) of Tiên Phước (仙福) district in the modern-day province of Quảng Nam (廣南). His pen-name (號, hiệu) was Mính Viên (茗園). Though he passed at the top of the imperial examinations, he did not serve as a mandarin. Instead, he cooperated with other anti-colonialists in promoting modernization of the country and breaking free from the French. For these activities, he was imprisoned by the French on Côn Lôn (昆侖) island for thirteen years from 1908 until 1921. Several of his poems (both in Chinese and Vietnamese) survive.




Tù trung huống

Trường dạ man man trệ thự huy
Yêu vân thành trận mãn không phi
Kỷ hồi a bích ngâm Ai Dĩnh
Hựu thử trung nê phú Thức Vi
Mã xỉ thôi nhân tần cố ảnh
Thiền thanh đáo chẩm nhất triêm y
Đăng san lâm thủy vô cùng ý
Khách dữ hàn thu nhất độ quy

Feelings in prison

The long night is endless, daybreak faraway.
Ominous clouds gather, filling the sky.
How many times have I talked to the wall, reciting Ai-ying
Once again, stuck in this filth, I sing Shi-wei
Horses’ teeth compel one to look at his shadow
The sound of cicadas reaches my pillow, tears soak my robe.
Climbing mountains and crossing rivers, my thoughts are endless.
A traveler returns along with the cold autumn.



– Ai-ying (哀郢, Ai Dĩnh), the title of a poem written by Qu Yuan (屈原, Khuất Nguyên) before being exiled.

-Shi-wei (式微, Thức Vi) the name of a poem from the Book of Poetry (詩經, Thi Kinh):


Thức vi thức vi
Hồ bất quy
Vi quân chi cung
Hồ vi hồ nê trung

Reduced! Reduced!
Why not return?
If it were not for your person, O prince,
How should we be here in the mire?

(translation by James Legge)

– Horses’ teeth (馬齒, mã xỉ), in ancient times the age of a horse was determined by looking at its teeth, the expression “horses’ teeth” refers to aging


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