Xuân Diệu (1916 – 1985) was a 20th- century writer whose poetry in the decade before 1945 was at the forefront of Vietnam’s Thơ Mới (New Poetry) movement, with influences from French Symbolist poets.
After his death, discussion of Xuân Diệu’s homosexuality came out in the open, casting a fresh light on his poetry, long celebrated for their lyrical depiction of heterosexual love.
Nguyệt Cầm Trăng nhập vào đây cung nguyệt lạnh , Trăng thương, trăng nhớ, hỡi trăng ngần. Đàn buồn, đàn lặng, ôi đàn chậm! Mỗi giọt rơi tàn như lệ ngân. Mây vắng, trời trong, đêm thuỷ tinh; Linh lung bóng sáng bỗng rung mình Vì nghe nương tử trong câu hát Đã chết đêm rằm theo nước xanh. Thu lạnh càng thêm nguyệt tỏ ngời, Đàn ghê như nước, lạnh, trời ơi... Long lanh tiếng sỏi vang vang hận: Trăng nhớ Tầm Dương, nhạc nhớ người... Bốn bề ánh nhạc: biển pha lê. Chiếc đảo hồn tôi rợn bốn bề Sương bạc làm thinh, khuya nín thở Nghe sầu âm nhạc đến sao Khuê. Xuân Diệu - Gửi hương cho gió (1945)
Moonlight haunts the muted strings.
Oh luscious moon, love, longing!
In sorrow the lute bends,
Each quaver a silver drop.
The clouds have left the sky. A limpid night.
Wisps of light shiver upon hearing
That on the new moon in untamed waters
The song’s maiden has died
In the autumn air the moon dazzles all the more;
Music glides like water, oh god, it is so cold!
Burbling pebbles echo the anguish:
The moon mourns the river, the lute mourns love lost…
On all sides, music: A crystalline sea;
My soul is an island roiled on all sides…
The silver dew stays silent, the night holds its breath
As the elegy reaches Andromeda.
(Translation by Mứt)
nguyệt cầm = moon lute
(nguyệt = moon; cầm = chordophone). Also known as đàn nguyệt (đàn = musical instrument) or đàn kìm (in the Southern Vietnamese dialect).
The moon lute is a Vietnamese traditional instrument with a round sound box, a long neck, and high frets. Its two strings are typically plucked with a plectrum. Notes can be bent for a mournful tone.
Tầm Dương is the Yangtze River, a reference to “Song of the Pipa” by Bai Juyi (772-846). The poem describes a chance encounter between the poet and a pipa player whose virtuosic performance moved him to his core, as did her tale of lost fame and hardships. In Xuân Diệu’s Nguyệt Cầm, there is no explicit mention of a performer. Instead, the moon becomes the lute becomes the poet.