Spring Essence

Hô Xuân Huong, John Balaban, trans.

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.

ISBN: 9781556591488

Format: Paperback

Confession (I)

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?

About the Author

Hồ Xuân Hương, whose name means “Spring Essence,” was an eighteenth-century poet who wrote subtly risqué poems that used double entendre and sexual innuendo as a vehicle for social, religious, and political commentary. Her attacks on male authority were shocking and risky, but she and her work survived because of her exquisite cleverness and skill at poetry.

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About the Translator

John Balaban is the author of thirteen books of poetry and prose, including four volumes which together have won The Academy of American Poets’ James Laughlin Award, a National Poetry Series selection, and two nominations for the National Book Award. His book Locusts at the Edge of Summer: New and Selected Poems won the 1998 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. In 2003, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 2005, he was a judge …

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“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