When I come to these lines it is eleven in the morning. People are battling with each other right next to my boarding house. The cause of it all. The rubbish from foreign-operated trucks stationed near the rubber plantation. They hope and so I do. But my hope is only that I would be able to write a story about their hard life, their relentless struggle for life in this hard-core prostitute-infested area. After probing deeper into their motives I no longer feel nauseous. They are just human beings. Let us struggle for life, no matter how much sweat we will have to shed. I wrote about them in Khu rác ngoại thành ( The rubbish tip in the outside city) .
How to sum up my experience in ten years of writing? What makes me so bitter was just the sheer lack of courage on the part of the so-called intellectuals, writer, artists, enginneers of the masses' soul - in short the backbone of any viable society - those who were ready to do anything, no matter how dregading it was, to achieve a sort of petty satisfaction. They knew this damn well. What makes me still hate them like hell is simply their hypocritical preaching about humanity's love and so on. And I wrote,
Be assured, intellectual worms who cling to the
When you die, you'll occupy three-meter-long tombs
And these bitter lines of poetry:
Suddenly I waqs dumb-struck by the fact my country
was in full plight
I live in Saigon the year round without a warm coat
Witnessing my people searching for food around the
foreigner-operated rubbish dump
I am standing pensively at the Bảy Hiền crossroads
Watching kids growving on bread scattered on the earth
And the older boy presenting his brother with a
piece of chocolate picked up from the roadside
I cannot contain my anger...
Why on earth did they dare consider art as mere ornament
The white-collared students by day turned artists by night
The visiting-card supported poets are so numerous
the printers cannot promptly carry out
All of them are using literature the same way as bar hostesses
Look! The millionaire's poet son is expressing his pity for beggars
The ex-sub prefecture chief is expounding a new way of life
Can we believe in the love for humanity expressed in his book
With a fervid tone which can be matched by a judge's voice
While he keeps giving his dog a daily ration better than a Viet's
When I visit Thái settlers in Tùng Nghĩa ( Dalat )
I was struck by this scene:
Thái kids have water in their months, craving for sticky rice
And they cry because this Tết they won't have firecrackers
When their parents share their sadness, who is in a position
to tell them to be cheerful
Thinking of what the future holds for them, I give this conclusion:
...And this society, this life, this sun is still is dark
as night itself...
I believe my sane statements scattered here and there will shed
light on reality, and consequently will help politicians to do
something about this shocking state of affairs.
O the people who have lived through so many years of ordeal due
to the communists and colonialits and the Fanoti rulers:
The million square meters of cultivated land
belong to my countrymen
The million lines of poetry which can become
directives for this nation in the future
Should be preceded by the million lines of poetry
cataloguing the hardships of today...
( Trước mắt nhìn thi sĩ,
Under the poet's eyes.)
After a full breakfast onsisting of steak and crasse-croute a friend of mine, aged 50, gave me this "advice" reassuringly: " Go one liks this for sometime, man. After you get married it won't be long before you understand us better and then it's entirely up to you to hate or pity us." I was really upset, although for a very brief moment only.
A lot of indecent intellectuals who used to be very keen on doing good to the public in pre-war times tried by any means to achieve wealth in the post-war period. And their famous excuse was that they did such and such a thing because of wives and kids. What a same for them. And what a pity for the women who are their wives and the boys who are their children! Unsuccessful writers have the potential to become efficient censors or alert informers.
I think I will get married. This year I am thirty-two. According to Shin Nai Am who wrote that masterpiece of Chinese fiction, All Men Are Brothers. I should not get married at this late age. But if I do, I will strive to feed my wife and children by the sweat of my brow. I am no different from you because I have the guts to say that I have been a bloody liar or I have robbed a needy friend. I am not a coward and I known what I am doing for my country's literature. And this is the reason, I could not help writing this short account of my life as a writer. I am not simply a man beset by narissim.
In 1959 writer Thiên Giang wrote an open letter to Nguyễn Ngu Ý discussing my case. Mr Ý has shown me the letter. He also expressed his desire to see me in his residence at Xóm Chuồng Ngựa, Gia Định Province to have the opportunity to praise my efforts in promoting the national literary output. That is enough for me. I want to say thanks to the journalist who jokingly said, " Never think that there are such words as Thếphong in the Vietnamese language. Never mention them".
( TENGGARA, Oct.1968-Volume 2.No:2, Kualua Lumpur,Malyasia).
CRITIQUE OF LIFE, POET IN SOCIETY
In this century, the life of a man
in a week, small country
Still leaves much to be desired
(The world broke in two or three long time ago
There is little we can do about it )
For an ordinary man
it would take him a long time
Before he can have a cool look at himself and his society
He must have a wife and kids
just to be called a responsible citizen
I live as bravely as a big tree in the forest
Braving rain and thunder and all...
still without a family
I feel pity for all, for everybody
in this wretched land
is full of injustice
It must be destroyed by fire and water
did I weep
In 1945 when the Revolution broke out
and the day I lost my Father
I lived enough
I 've suffered enough
In this stagnant society
am I needed?
What can I do
besides writing poems?
I give this critique of life
out of concern for it
I want to be true to myself
and to others...
Why are there more prisons than schools
more cops than people out in streets
have just been unearthed
To be put under the glittering sun)
Well, in this society
monks and spies look the same
Poets only produce what has been ordered
The sky today is cloudless
I feel like crying now
But isn't it much better
to suffer lilently
I grew up with the midst in the highland
In my home place the straight
standing trees outnumbered spikes
My first love left me
when the Revolution broke out
O mountains and forests
I am still alone
Is my mind being taken away from me
I have been over the abyss before
have been full of sweat and tears
The thousand love poems
are not love poems
I've learned sorrow
since I first went to the graveyard
Just to pluck a flower
on an unknown tomb
My parents left me
a long time ago
Far from me, with no one to weep for them
In my childhood house
on that highland
I've only the sun as friend
(Apart from passing girls
as silent as shadows)
I've grown up
with love since that time
Now that I'm a man
I'm not too concerned with it
pure, noble love
does not mean a thing for me
make me truly sad
But I've become so mature
and so much wiser
I've realized my lot
ob being in this land
Let me be without memory.
rugged land far exceeds fertile part
I grew up in difficult times
I refuse to hear soothing words
Life is stripped of liberty
Every line of poetry should be a bullet
To bring down walls of calumny and hyprocrisy
Even the grass we grow in public gardens is imported from Europe
I feel estranged in my country
and turn a foreign visitor
Let me evade the world I never made
When I cast a glance at the desolate expanse...
The best way to travel is to walk by onself
I choose Autumn, pine forest and sad sunshine;
I give up writing poetry
and will not torture myself anymore
Do me a favor, my solemn-faced and wise wife
Say to me,
"Burn a fire! Hang the mosquito-net!"
I am the voluntary slave who is fully contented
Let us have a long sleep
O wife, sons and daughters!
w e' ll wake up early
set out to groww vegetables
Outside the hedge
near the farm gate
We'll put up a board
" Tresspassers Will Be Prosecuted"
In all languages of the world.
Saigon November 8-12, 1963
These Uplipting Poems * - with the exception of two- were written during the stormy days before the oppressive regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem was brought down in late 1963. A full decade has passed. I sadly realize how I have changed but Vietnam itself is little changed since that and it is still the Waste Land.
Now I must go through darkness again before a new day is born.
We publish this collection of poems with the hope that our country will soon can change for the better.
All of us should be better.
And I will write happier poems.
September 7, 1974.