Song for Cuội

Thằng Cuội

Bóng trăng trắng ngà
Có cây đa to
Có thằng Cuội già
Ôm một mối mơ
Lặng im ta nói Cuội nghe
Ở cung trăng mãi làm chi

Gió không có nhà
Gió bay muôn phương
Biền biệt chẳng ngừng
Trên trời nước ta
Lặng nghe trăng gió bảo nhau
Chị kia quê quán ở đâu

Các con dế mèn
Suốt trong đêm khuya
Hát xẩm không tiền
Nên nghèo xác xơ
Đền công cho dế nỉ non,
Trời cho sao chiếu ngàn muôn

Sáng rơi xuống đồi
Sáng leo lên cây
Sáng mỏi chân rồi
Sáng ngồi xuống đây
Cùng trông ánh sáng cười vui
Chị em ta hãy đùa chơi

Các em thích cười
Muốn lên cung trăng
Cứ hỏi ông Trời
Cho mượn cái thang
Mười lăm tháng Tám trời cho
Một ông trăng sáng thật to

Nhạc và lời Lê-Thương,
Bài Hát Trẻ Em, Tập I, 1963

On the ivory moon
is a big banyan tree.
And there’s old Cuội
holding on to a dream.
Let’s quiet down and tell Cuội,
Why stay forever on the moon?

The wind has no home.
To faraway corners,
restlessly it wanders
over our land and sky.
Listen to the moon and the wind ask each other,
Where are you from?

All through the night,
the crickets sing
their peddlers’ songs.
They are dirt poor, for no one will pay.
To reward the crickets’ melody,
Heaven lights up myriads of stars.

The light falls on the hill.
The light climbs up the tree.
Tired from walking,
the light settles next to us.
Let’s play together
looking at the merry light.

If you want to laugh
up on the moon,
just ask to borrow
a ladder from heaven.
On the fifteenth of the eighth month,
heaven will give us a big bright moon.

(Translation by Mứt)

[1] Chú Cuội, the Vietnamese version of the “Man in the Moon”, is a woodcutter who came upon a magic banyan tree. After uprooting it, Cuội replanted the banyan in his yard, tending to it only with water he fetched from the cleanest brook. As the tree grew, Cuội used its leaves to heal people from near and far. One day, tired and distracted, Cuội poured dirty water onto the tree. The tree’s roots burst from the ground. Cuội grabbed its trunk and held on as the tree floated high in the sky, all the way to the moon.

[2] Hát xẩm are songs, typically with a narrative or moral, performed by traveling musicians. The word xẩm stems from xâm xẩm tối, meaning dusk. Source: Phạm Duy, Musics of Vietnam, Ed. Dale R. Whiteside, Southern Illinois University Press, 1975.

[3] Tết Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn Festival) is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Viet lunar calendar, when the moon in full. This falls between mid-September and early October on the Gregorian calendar.

[4] Lê Thương (1914–1996) was a musician whose compositions included adaptations of poems by his contemporaries, collections of children’s songs, and a song trilogy about wartime separations, Hòn vọng phu, for which he is best known. He also taught high-school history and geography. Lê Thương withdrew from the music world after 1975.