Hoàng Ngọc Tiêu – Thinking of my mother

Cao Tieu

Recently,during one of my weekly visits to my teacher’s house, I noticed a collection of poetry entitled “Selected Poetry of Cao Tiêu” (高蕭詩選 , Cao Tiêu thi tuyển) on his bookshelf. I inquired about the book and my teacher, professor Đàm Quang Hưng (譚光興 , 1930- ) explained that the author of the collection, Hoàng Ngọc Tiêu (黃玉蕭 , 1929-2012) was a good friend of his and had given him this book before passing away only a few years ago. I asked permission to borrow the book and respectfully read the poetry of this man from my grandparent’s generation.

Hoàng Ngọc Tiêu (黃玉蕭 , 1929-2012) was born on 16 January 1929 in the village of Dưỡng Thông (養通), in the district of Kiến Xương (建昌縣 , Kiến Xương huyện) of Thái Bình province (太平省) in northern Vietnam. He went by the pen-name (號 , hiệu) Cao Tiêu (高蕭) and was a friend of the famous modern poet Vũ Hoàng Chương (武煌章 , 1916-1976). He served as a colonel in the South Vietnamese army before seeking refuge in the United States after the Communist victory in 1975. He passed away in southern California on 14 February 2012. His poetry collection, “Selected Poetry of Cao Tiêu” (高蕭詩選 , Cao Tiêu thi tuyển) consists of his classical Chinese poetry which he also rendered into Vietnamese poetic translations. The poems in this collection date from during the Vietnam War before 1975 and also after 1975.

念母

我生逢亂世
投筆著征衣
辭家執母手
母餞在柴扉
欲行難去步
母子淚同垂
戰陣南至北
安危無限期
別母音書斷
母歿信來遲
離國頭已白
半紀未回歸
天涯仰雲月
憶母不勝悲
寸草心難報
念母雙淚垂

Niệm mẫu

Ngã sinh phùng loạn thế
Đầu bút trước chinh y
Từ gia chấp mẫu thủ
Mẫu tiễn tại sài phi
Dục hành nan khứ bộ
Mẫu tử lệ đồng thùy
Chiến trận nam chí bắc
An nguy vô hạn kỳ
Biệt mẫu âm thư đoạn
Mẫu một tín lai trì
Ly quốc đầu dĩ bạch
Bán kỷ vị hồi quy
Thiên nha ngưỡng vân nguyệt
Ức mẫu bất thăng bi
Thốn thảo tâm nan báo
Niệm mẫu song lệ thùy

Thinking of my mother

I was born in a time of chaos
Casting aside my brush, I donned battle garments
Parting with my family, I held my mother’s hands
My mother bade farewell beside the log gate
I wished to depart but could not move
Mother and son together shed tears
Battles led me south to north
Safety and danger were undetermined
After parting from my mother, letters were cut-off
When she passed, the news arrived late
When I left the country my head was already white
For half a century I have not returned
At the edge of the sky I gaze at the clouds and moon
Missing my mother I cannot overcome sadness
My heart, like a blade of grass, cannot repay my debt
Thinking of my mother, tears fall

Notes:

-“Casting aside my brush” (投筆 , Đầu bút) is an expression used to describe a scholar abandoning his studies to enter the military (投筆從戎 , đầu bút tòng nhung)

-“log gate” (柴扉 , sài phi) is an expression used to describe the dwelling of a poor family

-“half a century” (半紀 , bán kỷ) is an abbreviation of 半世紀 (bán thế kỷ), which is less ambiguous, given that 半紀 traditionally means six years

-“blade of grass” is a reference to the extremely famous poem “Song of a traveler” (游子吟 , Du tử ngâm) by Meng Chiao (孟郊 , 751-814): “Who says that a heart like a blade of grass, can repay the debt of three months of spring’s sunlight” (誰言寸草心,報得三春暉。Thùy ngôn thốn thảo tâm, báo đắc tam xuân huy).

-The author translated this poem into Vietnamese:

Con sinh gặp phải thời loạn lạc
Bỏ sách đèn để khoác chiến y
Ngày lìa nhà, Mẹ tiễn đi
Con cầm tay Mẹ tái tê lòng sầu
Mẹ đưa con ra đầu cổng ngõ
Bước dùng dằng con khó rời chân
Mắt con mắt Mẹ lệ đầm
Giữa khi Nam Bắc ầm ầm sung ran
Lúc trận mạc nguy nan nào xiết
Trông thư càng biền biệt âm hao
Trong khi Mẹ mất từ lâu
Hung tin đến muộn con đâu có ngờ!
Rồi xa nước, tóc giờ đã trắng
Năm mươi năm con chẳng về nhà
Phương trời vọng bóng trăng xa
Niềm thương nhớ Mẹ thiết tha bồn chồn
Lòng tấc cỏ chưa tròn báo đáp
Vò ruột gan gió táp từng cơn
Cúi đầu khấn Mẹ lệ tuôn

30-4-2000

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