Hồ Huân Nghiệp – A death poem

family picture

Hồ Huân Nghiệp (胡勳業, 1829-1864) was a scholar and among the first Vietnamese to give up his life fighting the French in southern Vietnam. He was born in the village of An Định (安定), which is located in modern day Saigon. His courtesy name (字, tự) was Thiệu Tiên (紹先). After his father’s death, he built a temporary house by the grave from which he maintained his father’s grave, took care of his mother, and gave private instruction to students. Following 1859, he assisted the martial officialTrương Định (張定, 1820-1864) in waging a guerrilla war against the French in defiance of the Treaty of Saigon, signed in 1862 by emperor Nguyễn Dực Tông (阮翼宗, 1829-1883), better known by his reign title (年號, niên hiệu) Tự Đức (嗣德). This treaty surrendered the city of Saigon, the Côn đảo (昆島) islands, and three southern provinces to the French. Before leaving to assist the rebellion, he married so that his mother would have someone who could take care of her. After Hồ Huân Nghiệp was captured and apprehended in 1864, he refused to submit and was beheaded. Before his execution, he washed his face, straightened his robes, and recited the following poem. He was 35 years old.



Tuyệt mệnh thi

Kiến nghĩa ninh cam bất dũng vi
Toàn bằng trung hiếu tác nam nhi
Thử thân sinh tử hà tu luận
Duy luyến cao đường bạch phát thùy

A death poem

Seeing what is right, how can one not do it with courage
Relying only on loyalty and filial piety, I have been a real man
What need is there to discuss my life and death
I only regret that my mother’s hair has turned white and thin


-The first line of this poem is a reference to a quote from The Analects (論語, Luận ngữ): 「見義不為,無勇也。」 (Kiến nghĩa bất vi, vô dũng dã). James Legge translates: To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage.

-Cao đường (高堂), literally ‘lofty hall’ is a term of respect used to refer to one’s parents.

-The illustration is a picture of a family from Hà Nội (河內) in northern Vietnam

-This poem has been translated into Vietnamese by Bảo Định Giang (寶定江):

Thấy nghĩa lòng đâu dám hững hờ
Làm trai ngay thảo, quyết tôn thờ
Thân này sống chết không màng nhắc
Thương bấy mẹ già tóc bạc phơ


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