Lê Vĩnh Tài | 3 verses (147)

bells ringing
resounding afloat drifting in thick fog

By Lê Vĩnh Tài, translated by Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm


bells ringing


resounding afloat drifting in thick fog


chirping birds

whipping gale

a lone wooden boat in the middle of the sea


crashing waves

foaming isle

boats and barrels swimming in tides of tears


the people’s voice

the word thought to be PATIENT

to think it should be HEART 



tiếng chuông

giai điệu

mênh mang chiếc phao trôi giữa sương mù


tiếng chim

gió ném

chiếc thuyền độc mộc giữa biển khơi


tiếng sóng

sủi bọt hòn đảo

thuyền thúng bơi trong thủy triều nước mắt


tiếng dân

tưởng là chữ NHẪN

ai ngờ chữ TÂM..



white light

continuous flashing

a black and yellow buoy in the fog


NB. Through the translation of this poem I had to do a mini research on the evolution of the Vietnamese language. A fulfilling aspect of discovering new vocabulary. The “NHẪN TÂM” had always implied cruelty, and I’ve never given it more thought. The Vietnamese written text was in classical Chinese, the character patient is the sum of two characters: the character representing a knife balanced on top of the character representing the heart. Hence without this balance, without fortitude or forbearance the heart is severed, we end up with “NHẪN TÂM”, we’re heartless, we become cruel, and pain a consequence. Thus, sadly my translation has lost an aspect of the original text.


NHẪN: the knife is balanced atop the heart; patience; forbearance; fortitude


TÂM: heart


NHẪN TÂM: the knife cuts the heart; heartless

By Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm

There's magic in translating a body of work from one language to another.

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