John Balaban, an accomplished poet, has translated the poems of Hô Xuân Huong, an eighteenth century Vietnamese concubine who wrote subtly risque poems as a vehicle for social criticism and commentary. Hô Xuân Huong, whose name means “Spring Essence,” used her literary talent to defy the conventions of her time. This book received wide-ranging attention, including a citation by President Clinton during a state dinner in Vietnam.
Gray sky. A rooster crows.
Bitter, I look out on thickets and folds.
I haven’t shaken grief’s rattle, yet it clatters.
I haven’t rung sorrow’s bell, though it tolls.
Their noise only drags me down, angry
with a fate that says I’m much too bold.
Men of talent, learned men, where are you?
Am I supposed to walk as if stooped and old?
“It’s not every day that a poet gets to save a language, although some might argue that is precisely the point of poetry.” —Publishers Weekly
“Move over, Sappho and Emily Dickinson.” —Providence Sunday Journal
“Sometimes books really do change the world… This one will set in motion a project that may transform Vietnamese culture.” —Utne Reader
“In the simple landscape of daily objects–jackfruit, river snails, a loom, a chess set, and perhaps most famously a paper fan—Ho found metaphors for sex, which turned into trenchant indictments of the plight of women and the arrogance, hypocrisy and corruption of men… Balaban’s deft translations are a beautiful and significant contribution to the West’s growing awareness of Vietnam’s splendid literary heritage.” —New York Times Book Review
“Hanoi is a city of poets, and one of my favorites is Ho Xuan Huong, whose daring and thought-provoking poems have been translated and published in ‘Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan Huong'” — New York Times
“Even though she is so far removed from us in space, time and culture, her poems speak to our basic human natures, giving us as much pleasure as they surely did her contemporaries.” —Netsurfer Digest
“This woman’s words, written so long ago and in a far-off place, speak to me clearly, ironically, and personally.” —Caroline S. Close, from a “Reader Comment” card