Thursday, November 5, 2009

Poem by Vietnamese Prof. Vu Thi Kim Dung and Translations by Students

Prof. Vu Thi Kim Dung, Dean of the School of Philosophy/Social Science at Hanoi National University of Education visited San Jose State University this month and discussed aesthetics with me through translators. (I can thank my good friend Prof. Chanh Phan for providing translations for our second conversation.) Upon leaving, she sent me this poem. I have asked my students whether they could translate it, and so far two have come up with translations. They are included below. After the translations I will make a couple brief comments.

Phi logic
(Vu Thi Kim Dung)
Chỉ vì phi logic
Ma khien ta chanh buon
Troi chang chang nang đỏ
Bong ao at mua tuon
Vang trang dang sang tron
Bong khuyet lien theo do
Nguoi ngỡ suot doi nhớ
Lai lùi vào nguôi quên
Đá cứng tưởng chắc bền
Lại dễ thành nát vỡ
Mong manh giọt suong nhỏ
Mà da diết một đời
Một logic khong lời
Chỉ con tim mới hiểu
Lý trí sao soi thấu
Những mạch ngầm xa xôi

Bao nỗi đau trong đời
Đều ngỡ phi logic!

Because there’s no logic
Makes me feel sad
Bright sunny day
Suddenly rain pours heavily
The bright sun
Certainly rain pours heavily
The moon shines
The moon starts to disappear
Thoughts will be remembered forever
But gradually disappear
Though the rock will stay hard forever
But easy to break into small pieces
Early morning moisture
Light layer of moisture can destroy
On silent logic
Only way to be understood is from the heart
Only the heart can realize the truth
Mind is blind
Our deep vessels
All the pain in life
There’s no logic!

Translated Jose Burgueno, 2009


Because of Phi Logic
It causes us to (chanh buon)
The red sunlight is shining upon us
Suddenly hoping for rain
The moon is bright and round
Then turns crescent right after.
Person you think you would never forget
Retreat far back in your memory
Rock that you think would be sturdy and strong
Suddenly get broken so easily
Small clear dew
Last a life time
A logic with no spoken word
Only the heart can comprehend
How can logic see through it
The nerved underlying so far

All the pain in life
Thought it was phil logic

Translated by Rachel Chan, 2009

The two translations are quite different, however I do have a sense that this poem is similar to many translations I have read of Asian poems. The theme of the temporariness of human existence is common amongst Japanese and Chinese poets for example, as also is the reference to natural phenomena. The criticism of logic is a somewhat unsusual aspect of this poem. I surmise that Prof. Vu (as they put it in the Vietnamese tradition) was suggesting that the aesthetic dimension of human experience is not captured by philosophical logic partly because it cannot capture apparent contradictions (the dew that seems to last a life-time, the rock that is broken easily). Perhaps she is suggesting that the aesthetics of everyday life is a worthwhile endeavor but not if subordinated to discursive reason. As she puts it, "only the heart can realize the truth" at least in these matters. On the other hand, perhaps there is an alternative logic, a "silent logic" that will do the trick here. It is interesting that after all the references to pleasurable natural phenomena the penultimate line refers to all the pains in life. Perhaps the pains of life make the attempts to capture the changes in nature in logical language sad and hopeless.

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