ly bach



Trung thu ngẫu thành

Trung thu thời tiết tối nghi nhân
Vạn lý trừng không nguyệt nhất luân
Ỷ trượng lâm phong đương vịnh chí
Cử bôi yêu nguyệt thả vong bần
Khách trình phiêu bạc đa nam bắc
Quốc vận chi ly nại khổ tân
Lư hạng nhi đồng giai tiếu ngã
Bồi hồi hạnh đới Nguyễn nho cân

Randomly improvised on Mid-Autumn

The weather and festival of Mid-Autumn is most pleasing
Across ten-thousand miles of clear sky hangs the moon, a single orb
Leaning on a staff, facing the wind one should sing of one’s ambitions
Raising my cup, I invite the moon to drink, forgetting my poverty
This traveler’s journey has been tossed about north and south
The country’s fate in ruins, one must endure bitterness and suffering
Children in the streets all laugh at me
Pacing slowly back and forth, still wearing a Confucian’s turban from the Nguyen dynasty


This poem has been kindly paraphrased into Vietnamese by my friend, Đoàn Vĩnh Thắng (段永勝), courtesy name (字 , tự) Nguyệt Sinh (月生):

Trung thu thời tiết hợp lòng người
Muôn dặm trăng treo sáng giữa trời
Trước gió ngâm thơ dựa gậy đứng
Dưới trăng rót rượu nâng ly mời
Hành trình nam bắc bao xuôi ngược
Quốc vận hưng suy mấy nổi trôi
Khăn vấn nhà Nho ta chẳng ngại
Mặc tình trẻ nhỏ có chê cười!



Li Ch’ing-chao (李清照 , 1084-~1151) was a famous female poet from the Song dynasty (宋朝 , 960-1279). She lived a turbulent life and met with the praise and criticism of many scholars, both of her generation and later generations. Born into an affluent scholar family, she gained fame for her skill in poetry even before her marriage. She was initially married to a scholar from another affluent family with whom she had a happy marriage and shared many poetic and artistic interests. However, due to the turbulent times and the continuing war between the Song dynasty and the barbarian Jurchen tribes, she and her husband had to flee south along with huge numbers of other refugees. Her husband passed away soon after their flight to Nanjing (南京 , Nam Kinh). According to some sources, she re-married and subsequently divorced, extremely unbecoming behavior to more prudish Confucians. Her lyric poetry (詞 , từ) is marked by its sensitive musicality and high levels of refinement.




Ức Tần Nga

Lâm cao các
Loạn sơn bình dã yên quang bạc
Yên quang bạc
Thê nha quy hậu
Mộ thiên văn giác

Đoạn hương tàn hương tình hoài ác
Tây phong thôi sấn ngô đồng lạc
Ngô đồng lạc
Hựu hoàn thu sắc
Hựu hoàn tịch mịch

To the tune of “Yi Chin O”

Gazing down from a high tower
Jagged mountains, flat plains, thin veils of mist
Thin veils of mist
After the crows have returned to roost
Horns blast in the darkening sky

Puffs of fragrance, dying fragrance, the heart’s feelings are cruel
In the West wind the Wu’tong leaves fall
Wu’tong leaves fall
Once again the colour of autumn
Once again desolate silence


-Horns were blown at evening and various parts of the night/early morning to mark the passage of time

-Vietnamese scholar and author, Trần Quang Đức (陳光德 , 1985 – ), courtesy name (字 , tự) Thí Phổ (施普), pen-name (號 , hiệu) Vân Trai (雲齋) has translated this lyric into Vietnamese:

Nom lầu gác
Núi giăng nội trải hơi chiều lạt
Hơi chiều lạt
Quạ về nương đậu
Tù và xao xác

Hương thưa hương tàn tình đời ác
Gió tây lay bứt ngô đồng rạc
Ngô đồng rạc
Về đâu thu sắc
Người đâu trầm mặc


“Great Scholar of the Bamboo Grove” (竹林大士 , Trúc Lâm đại sĩ) was a pen-name (號 , hiệu) of Emperor Trần Nhân-tông (陳仁宗 , 1258-1308), the third ruler of the Trần dynasty (陳朝 , 1225-1440). In addition to being a skilled ruler who successfully dealt with invasions from the Mongol Yuan dynasty (大元 , 1271-1368) and boasted impressive military feats, Emperor Trần Nhân-tông was also famous for his refined poetry and profound knowledge of Buddhist studies (佛學 , Phật học). In the year 1293, he abdicated the throne and having installed his son as his heir, he became a Buddhist monk and wandered the countryside, seeking instruction from learned monks and eventually founding his own school of Zen (禪 , Thiền) Buddhism, called the Bamboo Grove school of Yên-tử mountain (竹林安子 , Trúc-Lâm Yên-tử). He lived the rest of his days on Mount Yên-tử (安子山 , Yên tử sơn) in Quảng-ninh province (廣寧省 , Quảng Ninh tỉnh) in northern Vietnam.



Sơn phòng mạn hứng

Thị phi ngôn trục triêu hoa lạc
Danh lợi tâm tùy dạ vũ hàn
Hoa tận vũ tình sơn tịch tịch
Nhất thanh đề điểu hựu xuân tàn

Inspired in a Mountain Hut

Words of right and wrong wilt and fall with morning flowers
Desires of fame and fortune grow cold along with the night rain
Flowers gone, rain cleared, the mountain is still and quiet
In the sound of a crying bird, once again spring has faded away


-I translated this poem from the version printed in “The Dream-records of Nam-Ông” (南翁夢錄 , Nam Ông mộng lục) a Ming dynasty book written by Lê Trừng (黎澄 , ~1374-1446). He was the son of Lê Quý Ly (黎季犛 , 1336-1407), founder of the short-lived Hồ dynasty (胡朝 , 1400-1406). After the Ming dynasty intervened in the conflicts surrounding the chaos in Vietnam that followed the Hồ rulers rebellion against the Trần dynasty, Lê Quý Ly and his sons were taken captive to China. Lê Trừng was an engineer and had profound knowledge of firearms. He eventually rose through the ranks of the Ming court and became a prominent official. In his later years, he compiled the “Dream Records of Nam-ông”, which is a rather short work containing various sketches of history, important figures, and poetry from Vietnam. I am currently in the process of translating this work into English and hope to have it published relatively soon. Lê Trừng had this to say about this particular poem:


(Kỳ tiêu sái xuất trần, trường không nhất sắc, tao tình thanh sở, dật túc siêu quần, hữu “Đại Hương Hải Ấn tập”, phả đa tuyệt xướng, tích kỳ địa tao binh hỏa, bất đắc lưu truyền. Dư chỉ ký tụng nhất nhị nhi dĩ. Hu! Khả tích tai!)

How lofty and pure, escaping from the dust of this world. Like the uniform color of the vast heavens, the refined poetic sentiments therein are clear and bright, cool and severe. His skill rises far above the common multitudes. His works included the “Đại Hương Hải Ấn collection”, which contained quite a few poems of unmatched excellence. Regrettably, his lands met with the ravages of war, and his works were not passed down. I can only remember but a few poems. Alas! How regrettable!


Vũ Phạm Hàm (武范邯 , 1864-1906), courtesy name (字 , tự) Mộng Hải (夢海), pen-name (號 , hiệu) Thư Trì (書池) was a Nguyễn dynasty scholar from the province of Ha Dong (河東省 , Hà Đông tỉnh) in northern Vietnam. He was noted for being extremely intelligent from youth and graduated through the highest ranks of the civil examinations beginning at age 21. Later in life he began to oversee civil service examinations and was known for coming up with extremely challenging questions involving clever wordplay that would result in the total failure of those taking the test. During some point of his life, his fame reached the ears of a French official stationed in the coastal city of Hai Yeung (海陽 , Hải Dương) who had an appreciation for Classical Chinese and liked to display calligraphy in his residence. Vũ Phạm Hàm complied with the French official’s request and presented him with a plaque with the phrase “Looking bland and soft as a piece of jade” (溫其如玉 , ôn kỳ như ngọc) taken from the Odes of Chin (秦風 , Tần phong), a chapter in the Classic of Poetry (詩經 , Thi kinh). Soon after, the French official proudly showed his new present to his educated Vietnamese acquaintances. Knowing that Vũ Phạm Hàm was famous for his ingenious wordplay, the Vietnamese guests were all extremely embarrassed and explained to the French official that this phrase was in fact meant to be insulting. The Odes of Chin were written in praise of various nomadic barbarian tribes; quoting from this chapter of the Classic of Poetry, Vũ Phạm Hàm intended to compare the French to the pesky barbarian nomads that were a continual nuisance during past dynasties. Not only that, the word “jade” (玉 , ngọc) could also be understood to be short for “jade stem” (玉莖 , ngọc hành) – a euphemism for the male reproductive organ. The Frenchman, furious at being cleverly called both a barbarian and a dick, subsequently had the plaque removed.

The following poem was written at the Liên Hoa cave (蓮花洞 , Liên Hoa động) in the province of Ninh Bình (寧平省 , Ninh Bình tỉnh) in northern Vietnam. It was here in this cave that a famous scholar, Phạm Văn Nghị (范文誼 , 1805-1884), pen-name (號 , hiệu) Nghĩa Trai (義齋) had retired in seclusion after failing in various attempts to oppose French interference in the imperial court.



Đề Liên Hoa động

Hoa Lư thành ngoại Liên Hoa động
Hoa dĩ nhân hương động cánh u
Đại cục vị hoàn năng nhất chiến
Danh sơn hữu chủ túc thiên thu
Thì gian tử đệ tập nhung mã
Sự khứ giang hồ lão điếu chu
Kim thế dĩ vô ẩn quân tử
Thạch bàn thư giá thủy không lưu

Written on Lien Hoa cave

Outside of Hoa-lu citadel there is Lien-hoa cave
The flowers receive their fragrance from man, but the cave remains secluded and dark
Tremendous turns of events not yet complete, he was able to fight his battle
Having their master, these famed mountains will be known for a thousand autumns
In treacherous times, disciples and students must practice with weapons and steeds
Events having past, retire on a fishing boat among rivers and lakes
This generations no longer has its scholar recluse
Beside a stone table and bookcase water still flows to no end


-Phạm Văn Nghị (范文誼 , 1805-1884), after retiring to the mountains took on the name of “The Master of Lien Hoa cave” (蓮花洞主 , Liên Hoa động chủ). The second and fourth lines suggest that the flowers and mountain scenery receive their fragrance and fame from their master, Phạm Văn Nghị.

nguu lang

Châu Hải Đường (周海棠) is the pen-name of translator and calligrapher Lê Tiến Đạt ( 黎進達), courtesy name (字 , tự) Minh Thành (明成). He is a native of Vĩnh Bảo district (永寶縣 , Vĩnh Bảo huyện) located in Hải Phòng (海防), northern Vietnam. His home village is located close to the birthplace of Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm (阮秉謙 , 1491-1585), a famous poet of both classical Chinese and Vietnamese poetry. As a child, Châu Hải Đường studied classical Chinese under his grandfather, after which he continued to study both classical Chinese and Mandarin. He has translated several books from Mandarin into Vietnamese, including The Ugly Chinaman (醜陋的中國人 , Xú lậu đích Trung Quốc nhân) by Bo-yang (柏楊 , Bá Dương) and The Despicable Sage: T’sao T’sao (卑鄙的聖人:曹操 , Ti bỉ đích thánh nhân: Tào Tháo) by Wang Hsiao-lei (王曉磊 , Vương Hiểu Lỗi) . The Vietnamese titles of his translations are, respectively, Khoe Bàn Chân Nhỏ  (誇盘蹎㳶) and Tào Tháo: Thánh nhân đê tiện (曹操: 聖人低賤). Renowned for his calligraphy, he also teaches Chinese calligraphy and classical Chinese at the Nhân Mỹ school of calligraphy (仁美學堂 , Nhân Mỹ học đường) in Hà Nội (河內), the capital city of Vietnam.

In addition to practicing calligraphy and working as a translator, he also writes his own poetry in a variety of classical Chinese and traditional Vietnamese forms. The following poem was writing on the Chi-hs’i festival, or Double Seventh festival (七夕 , Thất Tịch), a festival celebrated across China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The festival, which is a romantic occasion similar to modern-day Valentine’s Day, is traditionally associated with the story of the Herd-boy and Weaver-girl, two lovers who are separated on opposite sides of the Milky Way. Each year they meet only once, and shed tears together which fall to earth in the form of the rain that usually falls during this season. Interestingly, there are two stars associated with these lovers that in fact do cross paths only once a year around this time.



Thất tịch vô vũ ngẫu tác

Chức Nữ, Ngưu Lang sự hữu vô?
Thế gian thính thuyết chính mô hồ.
Kỷ kinh Thất tịch vô phong vũ;
Khải thị niên suy lệ dĩ khô?

Improvised on a rainless Double Seventh Festival

The Herd-Boy and Weaver-Girl, is this story true or false?
Hearsay of the world is truly vague
How often has the Double-seventh festival passed without wind or rain
Is it that in old age their tears have dried?


-The author has also translated this poem into Vietnamese:

Chức Nữ, Ngưu Lang chuyện có không?
Nhân gian nghe nói những mông lung.
Mấy phen Thất tịch không mưa gió;
Há bởi già nua lệ cạn dòng?

da du cung

This page, according to description given on Facebook, is a “personal blog”. The significance of this “personal” adjective  is amorphous. I have not posted  much personal information on this blog in the past, and I do not intend to do so in the future. Yet, at the same time, I have never shrugged from posting my personal poetry, through which, according to a traditional Oriental view of poetry’s significance, an astute reader can capture and understand the essence of my character, my ambitions, my strengths and flaws, my very “person”. Yet, I have never viewed myself as a “poet” in the Western sense of an eccentric caricature with crazed eyes and wild hair, prone to flights of fancy and Bohemian lifestyles. The great poets of the Far East were largely occupied with far more serious affairs; they were high officials, reclusive scholars, battle-hardened generals. Poetry was turned to as a medium through which they could give vent to the myriad of worries and cares weighing down on their hearts in a manner both refined and becoming of their masculine bearing. Verse was no frivolous past-time for idle dreamers; it was through the immortality of the written word that their names and characters would be known and judged by future generations. With fear and trembling, I meditate upon volumes of useless words uttered in haste and poor judgement, meaningless rhymes conceived in mediocrity and ignorance. I hope only that history will prove forgiving and spare future readers the occasion of laughing at my feeble pretensions to cultivation and erudition. For the similarly obscure Confucian of a future generation, sufficient to judge my person and know my heart will be the few scattered poems of mixed quality which I have hitherto presented. Disenchanted and disoriented by crude Modernity, with which my consciousness has been unwillingly and hopelessly contaminated, I have sought only to live according to the Way of my forefathers. Let then the understanding souls of both Present and Future pass judgement accordingly.

This blog began as medium through which I solely intended to present the classical Chinese poetry of Vietnamese authors. Since then, the scope of this blog has expanded to including various works of prose of historical importance or simply of my own liking. Yet, including even those works from the early 20th century and my own classical Chinese poetry, I have hitherto been silent on my Vietnamese modernity and post-modernity. Simply put, this blog is outdated and severely limited in its scope and contemporary significance. This blog now has an expanded and international readership; my translations have been printed in weekly newspapers distributed widely in the Southern California region; I have made appearances on various Vietnamese television networks in Texas and California. Pushed rather unknowingly and unexpectedly into the public sphere, I now feel compelled to present my countrymen with works of high quality. This has several implications – first, I will be expanding my posts to include subjects and works relevant to Vietnamese modernism and post-modernism. The revised purpose of this blog is to promote Vietnamese culture in all its myriad time periods and manifestations. Works written in Vietnamese will be translated and annotated in English. Relevant works written in English will be translated and posted in Vietnamese. However, of the frequency of such posts I cannot be sure. I intend to move onto working on publishing printed works alongside online writings which I will continue to make available. Rest assured, translations of classical Chinese works, both verse and prose, will continue on a regular basis – I have collected the classical Chinese poems of a living Vietnamese scholar and will translate and post them in the near future. I hope that the readership will have patience with the rather arbitrary and obscure nature of this blog’s posts – a trilingual blog is a task both to read and to maintain. However, I have a good feeling about this new direction and have high hopes for the projects with which I am presently occupied.

Stay tuned!


– The illustration is calligraphy of one of my poems, which I wrote previously this year. The calligrapher, who in this work has signed his pen-name as Hòai Chân (懷真) lives in Vietnam.

bang gia vo dao



Xuân nhật ngộ vũ

Yên thụ hàn nha bạc mộ chung
Lạc hoa độc lập kiến xuân không
Bang gia vô đạo thân hà dụng
Vi vũ bế môn phú Đại Đông

Spring day meeting with rain

Misty trees, cold crows, the tolling of evening bells
Standing alone amidst fallen flowers, beholding the emptiness of Spring
The realm has lost the Way, of what use can I be?
In the light rain, I shut the gate, singing a Ta Dong song


-A “Ta Dong song” (大東 , Đại Đông) is a reference to chapter in the Classic of Songs (詩經 , Thi kinh) with the same name, expressing sorrow at chaotic times:


Hữu mông quỹ sôn, hữu câu cức chủy
Chu đạo như chỉ, kỳ trực như thỉ
Quân tử sở lý, tiểu nhân sở thị
Quyền ngôn cố chi, san yên xuất thế

Well loaded with millet were the dishes,
And long and curved were spoons of thorn-wood.
The way to Zhou was like a whetstone,
And straight as an arrow.
[So] the officers trod it,
And the common people looked on it.
When I look back and think of it,
My tears run down in streams.


Tiểu đông đại đông, trữ dữu kỳ không
Củ củ cát lũ, khả dĩ lý sương
Điêu điêu công tử, hành bỉ Chu hành
Ký vãng ký lai, sử ngã tâm cứu

In the States of the east, large and small,
The looms are empty.
Thin shoes of dolichos fibre,
Are made to serve to walk on the hoar-frost.
Slight and elegant gentlemen,
Walk along that road to Zhou.
Their going and coming,
Makes my heart ache.

English translation by James Legge (1815-1897)

-I wrote this poem exactly one year ago

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