Nguyễn Thụy Đan – Traveler’s Thoughts on a Winter Night

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冬夜客感

羈旅歲三週
友朋天一涯
夜長燈火滅
雲薄月華開
謀國頻無命
顯親猶不才
苦寒唯屈指
孤館學心齋

Đông dạ khách cảm

Ky lữ tuế tam chu
Hữu bằng thiên nhất nhai
Dạ trường đăng hoả diệt
Vân bạc nguyệt hoa khai
Mưu quốc tần vô mệnh
Hiển thân do bất tài
Khổ hàn duy khuất chỉ
Cô quán học tâm trai

Traveler’s Thoughts on a Winter Night

Wandering for three whole years
Friends and acquaintances each at separate edges of the sky
Long night, the candlelight dies
Clouds thin, moonlight shines through
Worrying for the country, good fortune is never to be found
Trying to glorify my parents, I remain useless
In the bitter cold I can only count my fingers
In a lonely room, practicing “fasting of the mind”

Notes:

– “fasting of the mind” (心齋 , tâm trai) refers to emptying the mind and spirit of movement and thought. The term comes from the Taoist book, Chuang-t’zu (庄子 , Trang tử). 「若一志,无聽之以耳而聽之以心,无聽之以心而聽之以氣。聽止於耳,心止於符。氣也者,虛而待物者也。唯道集虛。虛者,心齋也。」(Nhược nhất chí, vô thính chi dĩ nhĩ nhi thính chi dĩ tâm, vô thính chi dĩ tâm nhi thính chi dĩ khí. Thính chỉ ư nhĩ, tâm chỉ ư phủ. Khí dã giả, hư nhi đãi vật dã. Duy đạo tập hư. Hư giả, tâm trai dã.) James Legge translates: ‘Maintain a perfect unity in every movement of your will, You will not wait for the hearing of your ears about it, but for the hearing of your mind. You will not wait even for the hearing of your mind, but for the hearing of the spirit. Let the hearing (of the ears) rest with the ears. Let the mind rest in the verification (of the rightness of what is in the will). But the spirit is free from all pre-occupation and so waits for (the appearance of) things. Where the (proper) course is, there is freedom from all pre-occupation; such freedom is the fasting of the mind.’

– my mentor, professor, scholar, and translator, Đàm Quang Hưng (譚光興 , 1930-  ) has kindly translated this poem into Vietnamese:

Ba năm làm khách trọ
Bè bạn tận chân trời
Đêm dài dầu cạn đĩa
Mây loãng ánh trăng soi
Xót nước long đong mãi
Thương thân chưa đủ tài
Lạnh căm tay bấm đốt
Quán vắng học tâm trai

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