Symbolism, Baudelaire and the Vietnamese ‘New Poetry Movement’
French Symbolist poetry, as well as the Latin language and French architecture, still exist nowadays in Vietnam199. In my view, the influences of French Symbolism on Vietnamese society in the 1930s, and of French Symbolist poems on Vietnamese poets’ ideologies, were stronger and longer than those of any other Western theories on Vietnamese modern literature. In Thi nhân Việt Nam (Vietnamese poets)200, Hoài Thanh and Hoài Chân recognised a ‘new poetic era’ in Vietnam from 1930. They also characterised ‘new’ Vietnamese poets who tended to follow Symbolism and considered Baudelaire as spiritual poetic leader. Thus, in this chapter, I study some ideas of Symbolist poetry regarding beauty, correspondences and music to see how they were applied in Vietnamese poetry. I then aim to explore, from the attitude of Symbolism, the achievement of Vietnamese poets in finding their personalities. Through an understanding of French Symbolism in general and Baudelaire in particular, I also reveal a conflict for Vietnamese poets in the ‘New Poetry Movement’ (1930-1945) that Vietnamese critics, with their ethnic pride, have never mentioned. On the one hand, Vietnamese ‘new’ poets desired to escape the war in Vietnam and showed an enthusiasm for the Vietnamese language, while on the other, they actually loved French Symbolism. Vietnamese ‘new’ poets pursued images in Baudelaire’s poems and music in Verlaine’s writings. They dreamed the dreams of French poets and they lived in an imagined society. Even the music they evoked in their poems was from Western instruments. In my view, that caused a real conflict in Vietnamese poets’ minds, in which Vietnamese poets were losers in the competition with dominant French ideologies but were winners themselves in terms of the modernisation of Vietnamese poetry. French Symbolism, therefore, was more than a theory. It has become like a religion in Vietnamese poetry, even until now.
The Appearance of Symbolism
In my view, in order to understand about French Symbolism from its appearance in Vietnam, it is essential to make a comparison between French society in the 1880s and the Vietnamese context of the 1930s.
In the appendix to the newspaper Figaro201, Jean Moréas wrote a Symbolist manifesto on 18 September 1886, although Stéphane Mallarmé had written a summary of experiments in composing Symbolist poetry even before that.
There are two important characteristics of this appearance of French Symbolism: the bourgeois and the ideal world. The reason they are significant is that both of them were forbidden in Vietnam, at least, during the time of the Vietnamese ‘New Poetry Movement’ and during the Vietnamese revolution from 1945 onwards. I aim to show the reality that Vietnamese poets in the 1930s had no similar conditions to those of French poets in 1880s, yet they wrote poems like they were Baudelaire in the 1880s, in imagined free spaces that they could never enter.
Being an artistic tendency appearing in the late nineteenth century, and spreading to become a cultural phenomenon in Europe, the era of Symbolism was the era of bourgeois society’s crisis in ideology and culture.
Moreover, the concept of Symbolists seemed to be against reality:
The Realist had no use for that belief in a superior world above the senses which has been familiar in Europe since Augustine absorbed the doctrines of Neo-Platonism; they had a stern conviction that what mattered was truth and that truth could be found empirically in this world.202
The Symbolist was equally hostile to the realistic or scientific view of art because by its very nature it denies or destroys the ideal world which is the centre of his activities.203
As such, I think of this mentioned ideal world as the world of imagination, which was based on the construction of the real world but contained a message of unconsciousness. This helped to change the position of the poet from a ‘secretary of time’ to ‘a kind of seer, who could see through and beyond the real world to the world of ideal forms and essences.’204 Through symbols, poets connected the inner world, which was supreme, and the external world, which was real and physical. Also through symbols, Symbolist poets awakened unconscious dreams. It was felt that a dream
…makes us understand through a common and frequent experience how our consciousness can be invaded, filled, made up by a group of productions which differ remarkably from the mind’s ordinary reactions and perceptions. It gives us the familiar example of a closed world where all real things can be represented, but where everything appears and is modified only by variations in our deep sensibility. (…) That is, it is thoroughly irregular, inconstant, involuntary, fragile, and we lose it as easily as we acquire it – by accident.205
Moreover, by escaping a reality that contained human pain, sorrow and wickedness, Symbolism tried to reach the ideal beauty:
To this belief they clung with a conviction, which can only be called mystical because of its intensity, its irrationality, its disregard for other beliefs and its reliance on a world beyond the senses.206
Therefore, images in Symbolism were in contrast to objective descriptions. Symbolic images were vague and uncertain. Those images showed the existence of the ‘Idée’ (Stéphane Mallarmé)207, of ‘the invisible power’ (Maurice Maeterlinck).208 Poetry also had to have music because music could crescendo to convey various ‘nuances’ (Paul Verlaine).209 Hence, Charles Baudelaire made one of the first imprints when he poeticised badness and evil in Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil).210 In this collection, besides the visible and sensible world, which was full of symbols,211 and even the ideal world, which was ‘more real than that of sense’,212 there were some main features which created ‘a shift from a romantic to a modern ironic aesthetic’.213
Correspondences appeared for the first time in The Flowers of Evil214 as a new look at the universe and life, poetry and natural symbols. ‘The poem is compounded of object and idea, presence and absence’:215
As the long echoes, shadowy, profound,
Heard from afar, blend in a unity,
Vast as the night, as sunlight’s clarity,
So perfumes, colours, sounds may correspond. 216
Most things belong to one or another kind, according to the way we speak of them and the companions we give them, for symbols, associated with ideas that are more than fragments of the shadows thrown upon the intellect by the emotions they evoke, are the playthings of the allegorist or the pedant, and soon pass away.217
Thus, it could be recognised that whereas Romanticism was represented by contrasting images, Symbolism expressed the relationship between man and objects in correspondences.
Music was the second aspect:
Symbolism, then, was in origin a mystical kind of poetry whose technique depended on its metaphysics and whose first popularity was due to the importance that it gave to the poet’s self and to the element of music in his art.218
Baudelaire also acknowledged the influences of Edgar Allan Poe in various literary opinions, among which were the certainty that poetry flowed from ‘exaltation of soul’ and the ‘insistence on the importance of rhyme’.219 The harmonies of words expressed in unexplainable subtlety could, therefore, be seen as a feature of poetic content, not only as a feature of poetic form. Following Baudelaire, Mallarmé pursued pure ideality,220 in which he released poetry from pragmatic factors and advocated verse to be magic words, music and harmonies. Thus, later Symbolist poets conveyed their works in keeping with their own ambiguity and mystery. Moreover, I think that this mysterious harmony influenced Symbolist poets’ self-consciousness. The uncertainty of the ego in finding itself, and the leading of music before awareness, might have caused poets to get lost in their self-made maze of symbols and be alone in their creations. While this approach could be seen as a demand to move away from the descriptiveness of Romanticism, it also created an artistic world of decoding symbols, and human spirits which could not be reached or identified. As they created this world, Symbolists
…awakened an acute consciousness of language. Language was no longer treated as a natural outcrop of the person but as a material with its own laws and its own peculiar forms of life.221
According to this, the reconstruction of language also reconstructed the ‘emotion defined by the first meaning of the word.’222 Thus, language in Symbolism should
…convey a supernatural experience in the language of visible things, and therefore almost every word is a symbol and is used not for its common purpose but for the associations which it evokes of a reality beyond the senses.223
Charles Baudelaire and The Flowers of Evil
In The Flowers of Evil, there were ideal journeys of a person, ‘I’. This person, in my view, saw the external world, reality, and contrasted it with his own imagined world. This person had gone through ‘spleen and the ideal’, ‘Parisian scenes’, ‘wine and flowers of evil’224 and finally found himself in an ultimate relief, which was the realm of death. I believe that the confirmation of a person who had self-experienced the world of thoughts struck a chord with Vietnamese poets who were struggling to find a possible way to raise their voices in a society transforming from feudalism to modernism.
Moreover, I think of The Flowers of Evil as an original collection of symbols that Vietnamese poets wrote towards and actually lived in during the period of the ‘New Poetry Movement’ from 1930 to 1945. I also think that if Vietnamese readers could not understand a symbol in a Vietnamese Symbolist poem, they could consider the poetry collection of Baudelaire as a Symbolist poetic dictionary. I believe that this process of creation also happened in Vietnamese poets’ minds when they looked for ‘new’ materials for Vietnamese poetry, which I consider to be a re-creation of Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil. Some of the similar ideas that I could derive from both this poetry collection and the poems of ‘new’ Vietnamese poets were the conflict of two worlds and the horror symbols that helped to contribute to a dark reality. In The Flowers of Evil, Baudelaire created the image of reality as a world of painfulness and persistent sorrow, in which the city was seen throughout the obsessing faces of women. Falling deep into this horror world, the poet gradually lost himself in an anxious personality. He also seemed to conceal himself in the third part of the collection. From this point, I raised questions about why Vietnamese poets chose Baudelaire to modernise their poetry and why the symbols of a horror world became a main trend in Vietnamese poetry for more than fifteen years. Despite the fact that some old Vietnamese critics tried to analyse Vietnamese poets’ creations based on their biography, social behaviours or some personal issues. I think that the reason why Baudelaire and The Flowers of Evil had a very strong influence on Vietnamese poetry from 1930 was because of the attractiveness of the poetry itself. Indeed, in The Flowers of Evil, there were two common scenes: the ideal world, including beauty, art and love, and the world of dark and horrific reality. Poets lived in both those scenes. However, I think that unlike the normal understanding of beauty in poetry, the poet in this collection found beauty in obsession, in pain and even in death. This happened regularly in the attitude of ‘new’ Vietnamese poets. Vietnamese critics in the 1930s could not explain why Chế Lan Viên wrote about the collapse of a kingdom,225 a death area, with passionate rhythm like when Lưu Trọng Lư, one of the first Romantic poets, wrote about the interest of a person waiting for the coming of autumn.226 In my view, death and horror symbols in the Vietnamese ‘New Poetry Movement’ should not just be seen as some negative things from a group of Vietnamese Western intellectuals who were deadlocking in the change of Vietnamese society. I think of this ‘negative’ concern as an encouragement of writing poetry. Thus, Vietnamese poets approached French Symbolism only because they were fascinated by Symbolist poetry.
One example of considering life as sorrow, and humanity as a tragic entity in Baudelaire’s poems is:
And burned by love of beauty, I
Will not achieve my poignant wish,
To give my name to the abyss,
The tomb below, to which I fly. 227
It can be seen from this example that by overcoming the strictness of poetic rhythm, Baudelaire uses prose poetry to imply the long journey of the protagonist ‘I’. In an era of crises, the idealists (if they had existed in the form of love and beauty) have been destroyed and disappeared. What remains in three verses of a four-verse-stanza are tragedy and death, which are written as the destiny of human beings: ‘The tomb below, to which I fly’. The tone of voice throughout this example is also the common tone for most poems in this collection: a painful voice.
I also explored The Flowers of Evil in terms of its contrast with what Eastern poets had normally pursued from the past until modern times: the ideology of nature. Eastern countries were familiar with agricultural societies. Thus, from the poetry of the Tang Dynasty in China to the Haiku form in Japanese and Vietnamese traditional poetry, the common subject was ‘nature’. Poets demonstrated their activities and behaviours, their thoughts and emotions, throughout descriptions of nature. In Vietnam, Nguyễn Du, the great Vietnamese ancient poet, wrote in The Tale of Kieu that ‘Người buổn cảnh có vui đâu bao giờ’ (if a person was sad, the scene was no longer happy).228 In the following discussion in this chapter, I also examine a long poem of Đặng Trần Côn, in which he wrote about the sadness of a woman through the sights seen in front of her eyes. Baudelaire’s poems were different. They did not regard nature. Nor did they come from any familiar ideas of writing poetry such as ‘taking an emotional photo’ of the scenes in words, like previous Eastern poets did. Baudelaire's aesthetics were against nature and art. For example, to achieve such ecstasy, he found Artificial Paradises229 and sank in opium and hashish.
A room that resembles a day-dream, a truly spiritual room, in which the stagnant atmosphere is lightly tinted with rose and blue.
Here the soul takes bathes in laziness, flavoured with regret and desire. It is something like twilight, bluish and pinkish; a dream of sensual delight during an eclipse.230
Moreover, in ‘Correspondences’, the perfumes that Baudelaire wrote about did not belong to nature; they were the effect of flesh stimulation. This idea was repeated many times when Hàn Mặc Tử, a Vietnamese new poet, wrote about the perfume from the dead body of a virgin as the most incredible perfume of the universe.231
Thus, Baudelaire’s poems not only suggested to Vietnamese ‘new’ poets a new kind of language, the language of the ‘evil’ side, but also made an abundant change in refusing the traditional way of writing a poem. This new approach was without nature, and nature was not beautiful itself. Instead,
Baudelaire gives certain of Poe’s general ideas on art the exquisite sense of the beautiful, which is ‘an immortal instinct, deep within the spirit of man’.232
As I understand it, Baudelaire desired to find the beauty in human instinct. This could be seen as a paradox. On the one hand, he placed his ego in various symbolistic worlds, while on the other, he aimed at a very concrete image of poetry: the human, the ego, the man himself. In terms of the writing habits of Vietnamese poets, respecting humans without concern for where they lived, where they breathed or any other relevant contexts was a new opportunity for the poets to explore themselves and explore poems in a modernised way. Thus, despite not writing about a beautiful woman, regarding nature or hiding emotions under some movements of trees or blooming of cherry flowers, poets wrote about poets on their own journeys. Similarly, as Baudelaire wrote in ‘Correspondences’, ‘nature is a temple’ which may ‘breathe confusing speech’.233 Thus, the creative process of writers was the effort of decoding symbols to reach a connection with the lofty and spiritual realm. However, those meanings of personality could not have been openly said to public audiences in the 1930s in Vietnam; instead, Vietnamese poets in the ‘New Poetry Movement’ chose to talk about them through symbols.
Derived from those innovations in writing poetry, Theophile Gautier’s idea of ‘art for art’s sake’234 was proposed to reflect the highest demand for creativity in this period in Vietnam. Thus, it could be said that the poetry collection of Baudelaire was more than an introduction of Western theory to Vietnamese intellectuals. The Flowers of Evil, from the point of view of my Vietnamese research, was the starting point for publishing the pride of being human in Vietnamese society. The changing of poetic language into symbols was the changing of objects and subjects in Vietnamese ideologies. These changes, I think, started with Symbolism in the 1930s in Vietnam, and these achievements were followed by Surrealism and Conceptual art after 1975, which will be written about in Chapter 6 of this thesis.
Chế Lan Viên wrote about the interest of his contemporary poets in the period of the Vietnamese ‘New Poetry Movement’ from 1930 to 1945: ‘We almost only talked about Baudelaire’ and both Chế Lan Viên and Hàn Mặc Tử were ‘strongly influenced by Baudelaire’.235 This could be analysed as the desire of Chế Lan Viên to approach French poetry in order to avoid the Chinese poetic tradition which had influenced Vietnamese poetry for a thousand years until the beginning of the twentieth century.236 Indeed, not only Vietnamese ‘new’ poets but also Vietnamese ‘new’ critics like Hoài Thanh and Hoài Chân mentioned Baudelaire in almost every page of the New Poetry Movement’s introduction. The appearance of Baudelaire with his poetry collection and the idea of correspondences immediately attracted the new generation of Vietnamese poets who had been looking for a ‘new breath’.
From Symbolism to the ‘New Poetry Movement’ in Vietnam
3.1 The context of Vietnamese poetry on the edge of modernism
The ‘New Poetry Movement’ in Vietnam lasted for fifteen years from 1930 to 1945. Before this period, there were some poems of Tản Đà237 or Trần Tuấn Khải238 which contained some features of modern poetry (e.g. free verse), but I think that their experiments in poetry modernisation were neither intentional nor popular in Vietnam. From 1930, the ‘New Poetry Movement’ appeared with more than forty-four poets participating.239 This movement considered Baudelaire as a marshal and officially introduced French ‘modern poetry’ to Vietnamese readers; in reverse, Vietnamese Symbolist poems were presented in both Vietnamese and French language.
Besides Baudelaire, the achievements of other French Symbolist poets were also taught in Vietnamese schools (e.g. Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarmé and Valéry). However, Vietnamese poets were following French Symbolist poetry forty-four years after its first manifesto.240 Moreover, Baudelaire was considered to be the representative of Parnasse, while Verlaine was mentioned in relation to Impressionism.241 This inconsistency became a very complex condition in terms of how to apply French and Western theories in Vietnamese poetry in the 1930s and what poetic theory should be named in the ‘New Poetry Movement’. In my view, for fifteen years from 1930 to 1945, Vietnamese poetry combined the processes of French poetry modernisation which lasted for nearly a century. Thus, in the 1930s, Vietnamese poets like Xuân Diệu and Thế Lữ wrote Symbolist poems, whereas from 1945, Hàn Mặc Tử and Xuân Thu Nhã Tập wrote Surrealist poetry. Even the Symbolist poems written in the 1930s did not exactly follow French Symbolism. I consider this context as a mixture of Romanticism and post-Romanticism. Most Vietnamese poetry achievements in this period were derived from Baudelaire’s poetry, but with a leaning towards Eastern orientations that should be analysed in relation to the history of Vietnamese literature. Knowing about this will help to clarify why the coming of Western poetry and theories were essential in Vietnam, how they were a reaction against Vietnamese heavy feudalism and so became a monopoly in Vietnamese literature.
What happened to Vietnamese society and literature from 1930 to 1945 never re-appeared in Vietnam. This also answers the question of whether there was another poetry revolution in Vietnam like that which happened in the 1930s. At this period, there were two main conflicts: between Chinese feudalism and Vietnamese modernism, and between Vietnamese modernism and French modernism. The changes of Vietnamese poetry, therefore, not only represented the change from traditional principles to modern ways of writing poetry, but also the jump from medieval ideologies to modern thinking in terms of social aspects.
Firstly, Vietnamese ideology was dominated by the notion of vulgar opinion, which it regarded as a product of the bourgeoisie, which in turn was seen as a symbol of negativity, debauchery and harm to the proletarian revolution. As such, it needed to be refused and replaced by another poetry movement rooted in the agricultural civilisation. That was the reason why this movement became popular and completely overwhelmed the new poetry which had only existed for fifteen years before the proletarian revolution in August 1945. The expression of Romanticism in ideology and a few references to the reality of war moved the ‘New Poetry Movement’ into a situation in which it was banned. From 1954 to 1990, only researchers had an opportunity to read about this. The new dominant ideology was evidenced in poetry from 1945 onwards, when further encounters with Western theories were made.
Secondly, the ‘New poetry movement’ was neither a phenomenon of literature nor a temporary movement promoted by a small group of Western intellectuals. It marked major changes in Vietnamese society and culture with the appearance of modern Vietnamese scripts.242 Before 1930, Vietnamese literature retained a medieval type of script. Then the achievements of this poetry movement opened up a new era of composition according to modern rules.
Having been dominated by China from the tenth century, Vietnam had been trying for nearly a hundred years to be independent by finding its own language and refusing Chinese characters. After five centuries, the ‘Nom character’ appeared in Vietnam as a combination of Chinese in writing and Vietnamese in reading. However, it attracted only feudal intellectuals, who needed to participate in a national examination of language to qualify for work. This national examination was based on ancient Chinese language and existed during the nineteenth century in Vietnam. People who passed this could become officials in the dynasty or at least work as teachers for other feudatory students. In my view, there was no choice or precedent before the twentieth century for the Vietnamese to think about other language. All literary rules at that period came from Chinese literature. The talent or value of poets and poems were seen by how strictly they followed those rules.243 Deviations were considered to be failure in writing. By basing their work on an instant form of poetry, and writing about typical objects and emotions, the Vietnamese did not have an individual lyrical genre of their own.
By the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the Chinese examinations had been abolished and the Vietnamese national language was spreading. Until the 1930s, the conflict became one between traditional Vietnamese ideologies and the dominance of the French language.
Though French was imposed at school, Vietnamese language gained the opportunity to develop. Improving one’s Vietnamese became an expression of patriotism by opposing the unique position of the French language. In this period, small groups of Confucian intellectuals writing in Vietnamese appeared. This was the final generation of Sinology; they aimed to learn the national language and find a new livelihood.244 They were also the first generation of national language poets, though poetry still looked towards the past with the old poetry’s structure and tone.
In my view, how French poetry changed the traditional Vietnamese way of writing was not the Symbolist manifesto but a suggestion of poems’ titles. For example, in the trend of ‘Vietnamese traditional poetry’, when a poet wrote about a ‘chilly day’, that would mean ‘loneliness’ or ‘missing home’:
Giữa chiều lạnh
Một người đàn bà ngồi đan bên cửa sổ
Vẻ vừa nhẫn nại vừa vội vã
Nhẫn nại như thể đó là việc phải làm suốt đời
Vội vã như thể đó là lần sau chót
Không thở dài
không mỉm cười
Chị đang giữ kín đau thương
Hay là hạnh phúc
Lòng chị đang tràn đầy niềm tin
Hay là ngờ vực
In the chill afternoon
a woman sits by a window, knitting.
She seems so patient and so anxious.
Patient, for she has the rest of her life.
Anxious, for these may be her last moments.
Is it grief she hides,
is she filled with hope,
In this poem, before Y Nhi wrote about the situation of a woman knitting while being ‘patient’, with ‘no sigh’, ‘no smile’, those descriptions could be foreseen by the phrase ‘chill afternoon’. Thus, all the adjectives in this poem should have a similar layer of meaning and should not stray far from the initial idea of the poet. Moreover, the poet, in this case, also followed an invisible rule of Vietnamese poetry writing: meaningful poems from meaningful, familiar, stable images of objects. Ý Nhi wrote this poem in 1985. However, in the 1800s, Nguyễn Du wrote:
Throughout the seventh month, rain sobs and wails.
The chill of wind gnaws into aged bones.
An autumn evening—what a dismal scene!
Reeds drown in silver, plane trees strew gold leaves.246
It can be seen from these two poems that the understanding of ‘chill’ did not change and was no different from the original meaning of ‘chill’. In Vietnam and other Eastern nations, poets did not express themselves or what they thought or felt directly. Thus, nature and seasons would demonstrate for them. This also applied in Haiku poetry or Chinese poetry with ‘precious terms’ (e.g. ‘cricket sound’ for autumn or ‘breeze’ for spring). In this case, ‘chill’ was a term to talk about the sadness and emptiness of the soul. In Vietnam, ‘Nostalgia’, ‘Missing home’, ‘Missing friend’ and ‘Self-mocking’ were common titles. Alternatively, those titles were described by common phrases or terms in a strict form of Chinese and Vietnamese traditional poetry. All of them made poems in Vietnam, even in 1985, conform to the tradition. I think that only when poets like Y Nhi did not consider a word like ‘chill’ as it used to be and should be considered, when they dared to write about ‘chill’ as ‘chill’, not as something sad or lonely, could Vietnamese poets really write modern poems.
I think that French Symbolism did not influence Vietnamese poetry directly. I suppose that the process was from French Symbolism to Vietnamese society and from Vietnamese society to Vietnamese poetry. Thus, the spreading of French Symbolism in Vietnam cannot be understood without an awareness of the establishment of urban civilisation in Vietnam in the early twentieth century. From an agricultural country in provinces, Vietnamese people came to the city and formed an urban life. They were new students, Western intellectuals and civil servants. With professional publication including private publishing houses, urban Vietnamese people accepted French literature as not only something to read and learn, but also something for them to base ideas on and thus refuse framed Chinese conceptions. In particular, French theoretical ideas focused on literary aesthetics and a devotion to freedom. Urban readers waited for translation poetry from Baudelaire or novels of Victor Hugo, Xuân Diệu’s poems and Hồ Biểu Chánh’s rephrased novels of Les Misérables247 as new ways to express human senses, new ideas of the outside world, new ideologies and philosophy.248 Especially through the consciousness of the ego, the poet himself, the individual now had an independent value from family and union. Trần Dần wrote: ‘I will be come my self’.249 People discovered themselves, their souls, their personalities and their own value of worthiness. Thus, poets of the ‘New Poetry Movement’ saw poetry through their own eyes, wrote by their own hands and felt with their own emotions. Although under French governance there were limitations in poems’ titles (e.g. Vietnamese patriotism), at least Vietnamese poets were allowed to write like a human and about humans. That was the reason why the ‘New Poetry Movement’ won the competition with the traditional Vietnamese poetry which lasted for a thousand years.
Some characteristics of the ‘New Poetry Movement’ and its interactions with oriental culture and ideology.
The ‘New Poetry Movement’ was a poetic revolution that had never ever existed before in Vietnam, the main idea of which was the new romance, which took place in the new framework. To understand the true revolutionary content, it must be looked at in relation to prosody because the ‘New Poetry Movement’ created a new conception of poetry, ‘new poetry’ form, new system, ‘new poetry’ threads, new emotions, new language, new symbols, new style and new system of rhetoric.250
Firstly, ‘New Poetry’ expanded the soul and developed personality. It was now no longer the expression of emotion based on moral stories. It also did not simply repeat the traditional lyrical gestures, lyrical tone and classical rhetoric. Moreover, ‘New Poetry’ belonged to the person and used the voice of the person spoken beautifully and romantically. However, in my view, when the beauty and romance were closer to the reality of the Vietnamese war, New Vietnamese poets tended to write about their hurt and depression discreetly with metaphors and symbols to avoid the censors of the French governor. That was how Vietnamese symbolist poetry was derived.
Secondly, if poets had taken the Chinese rules which controlled the textual material of poetry, creating a constant structure and turning poetry into a product of painting in a world of virtual silence, it would rarely have had a human voice. On the contrary, the ‘New Poetry’ followed totally different principles. In my view, it took the voice and live breath of human beings as the material of poetry, which made up a world of spoken poetry tones with lots of calling, saying and confiding. Those kinds of forms created changes in space, in which verses or stanzas were not frozen but freely making individual lines which rolled or jumped with no restriction. With that perspective, the language forms also varied in category. It seems that for a period around five years, the ‘New Poetry Movement’ turned back to the existing traditional forms of poetry (sonnet, five words, eight words) as a revival of Classicism., Actually, however, verses changed fundamentally. Despite expressing poetic form in a single verse paragraph, poetry stanzas and verses in ‘New Poetry’ were expanded freely according to the needs of emotions. The change of forms was fundamental for the renewing of lexis and content. Importantly, Chinese rules were no longer used in composing. The ‘New Poetry Movement’ also marked a system of poetry which created new forms of pure Vietnamese lyricism. In this system, Chinese poetic elements would only be dependant elements of Vietnamese poetry, rather than Vietnamese poetry being dependent on Chinese rules as before.251 I make a comparison below between a Vietnamese medieval poem by Đặng Trần Côn:
Endowed with grace and charm in youthful bloom,
we formed a couple bound by ties of love.
Who has the heart to break young lovers up
and build a mountain wall between the two?
No orioles yet on willows—you set out
and promised you’d come back when cuckoos sang.
Cuckoos have followed orioles grown old—
before the house some swallows chirp and peep.
Plum trees were wind-shy still when you went forth
and promised you’d come back as peaches bloomed. Peach blossoms now have fled with their east wind—
beside the river, roses fall to shreds.252
and a poem from the ‘New Poetry Movement’ by Vũ Hoàng Chương:
Musicians and we poets share one fate:
they snap strings off, we crumple pages up.
Plain rhymes and rhythms mar the splendid thought,
and it’s betrayed when set to notes and tones.
Music and poetry may delight the ear,
yet they cannot escape terrestrial bounds.
Their sound still bears the weight of earthly dust:
how could it faithfully speak the Absolute?
Oh, how a passionate man rues his mean art!
He gives one woman fair his love, his all.
His dream of beauty soars above the earth:
huge wings beat at Reality, the cage.253
The first poem is a long poem of a woman waiting for her husband, who was a solider in the kingdom fighting in a war but did not come back. This poem, I think, is an apt example of a Vietnamese traditional poem. It was written in Vietnamese in original seven/eight verse form, an accepted and popular poetry form before the twentieth century. Although in the form of poem, it was intended to tell a full story with all details of the lives of the woman and the solider. There was also a narrator in the verses. I call this kind of narrator a ‘know-all-storyteller’. This kind of narrator, in my view, also exists in both poetry and novels in Vietnam until now. There were a few writers who, having read ‘The Death of the Author’,254 had an ideology about refusing this kind of storyteller when they began their modern writings. However, writing ‘without author’ was only accepted from the 2000s in Vietnam. In Dang’s poem, he uses a lot of metaphors, most of them from nature. They symbolise human actions and feelings. For example, ‘youthful bloom’ represents their youth and childhood; ‘a mountain wall’ is a very popular metaphor in Vietnamese poetry for the power which separates love; while the ‘cuckoos song’ has no relation to sound or music but is a standard metaphor for ‘someone coming back home’ in Vietnamese traditional culture. I think this poem also helps to explore a case of ‘woman poetry’ in Vietnam. This was written by a male writer as the stream of thought of a woman. Woman in medieval times in Vietnam had no right to raise their voice or show their feelings. That was why their emotions were transferred through male writings. However, even a male poet did not write directly about a woman. This helps to explain why Dang uses the image of ‘plum trees’ being ‘wind-shy’ as a metaphor of a weak and lonely woman forever standing in the same place, waiting for her husband. In the last stanza, the image of ‘peach blossom blooming’ was a kind of ‘precious term’ in not only Vietnamese poetry but in Eastern poetry about ‘spring’ and ‘happiness’. In this poem, ‘peach blossom’ blooms but the solider does not come back, which creates a paradox between expectation and reality for the woman and strengthens her hurt and hopelessness. Thus, by following strictly the familiar, permitted, traditional poetic phrases and images, this poem was taught in Vietnamese high schools in 2017 as a standard model of a Vietnamese traditional poem.
The coming of French culture and French poetry changed all those standards. In the poem by Vũ Hoàng Chương, he writes about familiar images in reverse. Despite the subjects of humanity and love, he writes about music and poetry as independent objects. ‘Music’ is not a metaphor for anything or any feeling. It is music itself. Unlike the previous poem by Đặng Trần Côn, who wrote about a woman’s feelings throughout images of nature, Vũ Hoàng Chương writes about himself, a poet, without any metaphors or symbols. By writing about ‘the ego’, he raises the poem’s position to a higher, modern level: ‘the ego of the poet’. Turning back to the history of Vietnamese literature, being a ‘poet’ had not previously been considered a career. No-one before the ‘New Poetry’ poets had been proud that he could write poems. Under the pressure of feudalism, individual feelings were not allowed to be expressed in public. However, in the 1930s, in his poem, musician and poet were talked about openly. Also influenced by Baudelaire, Vũ Hoàng Chương was also concerned about correspondences. However, unlike Xuân Diệu and Chế Lan Viên, who showed correspondences in an ideal space, he required the relationships of rhymes and words on earth, in his current life. Vũ Hoàng Chương also desired the ‘Absolute’, which is covered by earthly dust. The paradoxes of ‘Reality’ and ‘ideal’, ‘life’ and ‘Absolute’, ‘speak’ and ‘unspoken’, the use of language as it is not supposed to be used, in my view, turns his poem into one of the poetic manifestoes of modern Vietnamese poetry during the ‘New Poetry Movement’.
The poetics of the ‘New Poetry Movement’ was an open system because it did not belong to any principles. I consider it another version of Baudelaire, but set in Vietnamese nostalgia and Eastern culture. In spirit, ‘New Poetry’ was a product which opposed the conflicts and injustice in Vietnamese 1930s society. It represented a new generation of intellectuals in Vietnam who grew up in French schools, read French literature and loved French poetry but resisted French domination. The contradictory attitudes of the new Vietnamese poets helped them to both follow and escape from the ‘French’ in general. For that reason, soon after its inception, ‘New Vietnamese poetry’ embraced Symbolism, Surrealism and modernism. ‘New Poetry’ from 1932 to 1940 was wired towards Symbolism, then from 1940 it approached some features of Surrealism before independently expressing itself in various kinds of modern poetry from 1946 onwards, including blank verse, Language poetry and some other American poetry forms and theories. The ‘New Poetry Movement’ not only made a deep imprint on contemporary writers and readers, but also opened the prospect of long-term, infinite development in Vietnamese poetry:
The writers of ‘New Poetry’ (Tho Moi) were in an analogous situation, discarding Chinese and Nom meters only when it became obvious that Verlaine or Baudelaire could not be adequately translated in that manner. 255
Some specific Vietnamese cases
From the early 1930s, Xuân Diệu, Lưu Trọng Lư, Hàn Mặc Tử and many others used the idea of ‘correspondences’ between sound, colour and smell as a discovery of a new poetic land to talk about. Vietnamese poetry used to be ‘based on folk verse meters and on Chinese patterns’.256 However, in my view, it was not only a dependence on poetry form but also a dependence on traditional ideology in poetry. For example, before ‘New Poetry Movement’, if a Vietnamese poet aimed to express nostalgia, he would use afternoon sky, cooking smoke and a country river as metaphors. Thus, things were written in poetry as equations or specific models. More importantly, what they wrote was supposed to be real. Therefore, it could be any river which represented nostalgia, however, it must be a real river that anyone could imagine and seem to know about. Thus, Vietnamese critics and readers were surprised and at first, found the images in Han’s poems unacceptable, such as ‘moon river’, ‘blood moon pond’ or ‘cloud drowning in a quiet river/ its body running into a boundless far away’.257 These images fraudulently changed common understanding about objects, and they also failed to evoke any concrete portrait of the poet as a subject. They even made readers question what they could think of and how they might actually feel after reading such verses. To the surprise of the Vietnamese, dreams were first mentioned in Vietnamese poetry as poetic subjects, in which poets were struggling in their loneliness, in their traumas. The first time in Vietnamese poetry that a poet had dared to write about his own trauma was in a poetry collection named Hurt, which used to be called by the alternative name Crazy Poetry, by Han. However, for more than fifty years after 1930, Vietnamese critics tried to analyse this collection from a biographical view point. Accordingly, they pointed out that Han was a poet with leprosy. Thus, all ‘crazy images’ in his poems were reactions to the hurt, in an abnormal spiritual mind in a banished leprosarium nearby a forgotten beach. In that way, critics somehow admitted that Hàn Mặc Tử, a Vietnamese intellectual, was close to Baudelaire and Poe, while on the other hand, his presentation of Symbolist poetry could not have been conscious but was passive due to his personal circumstances. That was why ‘hurt’ must refer to an actual ‘body pain’ and ‘crazy’ must be related to mental illness, rather than a manner of poetic expression. Thus, I think that Vietnamese critics tended to read new Symbolist poems in Vietnam as they were in reality, not as works of art. This attitude, I suppose, both prevented and unconsciously encouraged the new generation of Vietnamese poets to pursue Symbolism.
The above example case of Han helped me to explore Vietnamese ‘New Poetry’ from 1930 to 1945 with the perspective of a reader in 2017, not the historical point of view of critics in Vietnam, whose resistance to poetic debate made them consider each new poet a mental patient.
Among the new Vietnamese poets who appeared in the 1930s, Hoài Thanh regarded Xuân Diệu as ‘the newest’.258 I regarded Xuân Diệu as ‘the first’ poet of modernisation in Vietnamese poetry. After 1940 - ten years after he was first introduced in Vietnamese Poets, he was no longer new, and Hàn Mặc Tử and Chế Lan Viên with their move to Surrealism might have ‘usurped’ Xuan Dieu’s ‘throne’ in Vietnamese ‘New Poetry’. However, his pioneering achievements were undeniable. In my view, Xuan Dieu followed the idea of Baudelaire in confirming the supreme power of being a poet. Baudelaire wrote a statement for a new poet coming into existence:
When, by an edict of the powers supreme,
The Poet in this bored world comes to be,
Free as a bird, he plays with clouds and wind,
Sings of the Passion with enraptured joy;259
In considering this declaration, Nicolae Babuts felt that ‘The dynamics of Baudelaire’s struggle to reach his identity as a human being is intimately connected to the urgency of defining his mission as a poet’.260 Placing this analysis in the context of the Vietnamese ‘New Poetry Movement’ in 1930, I recognised the connections between being a human and being a poet. Moreover, as Baudelaire wrote, a poet should be in ‘ecstasy’ with the joyfulness of being free in nature. I found that under the domination of the French in Vietnam, the only way people could write independently was about something that was far away from reality, however, by becoming a poet with unlimited ability within his own ‘fancy’ world, he could maintain his existence as a human being without being pressed by social disciplines. It also helped to understand the different places and positions that Vietnamese poets chose in order to avoid his freedom being censored (e.g. being drunk like Vũ Hoàng Chương and Nguyễn Vỹ, or mad like Hàn Mặc Tử, Chế Lan Viên and Bích Khuê). In reaction to Baudelaire’s ‘Benediction’, Xuan Dieu wrote ‘Cảm xúc’ (Emotion):
Làm thi sĩ, nghĩa là ru với gió,
Mơ theo trăng, và vơ vẩn cùng mây.
Để linh hồn ràng buộc bởi muôn dây,
Hay chia sẻ bởi trăm tình yêu mến.
(Being a poet means singing lullaby with wind
Dreaming towards the moon and wondering with clouds
Letting soul gathering with many strings
Or sharing by hundreds of love)261
If in the above first two lines, Xuân Diệu interprets Baudelaire’s ideas of a poet’s free life, in the remaining verses, he uses his own words in expressing correspondences between his poetic soul, the sensitive strings of the outside world and the love that he has achieved. Such strings, which cannot be counted, seen, heard or touched, become the desire running throughout Diệu’s poetry career. With the enthusiasm of trying to understand the strings of life, he ‘throws’ himself into nature, but because these correspondences are so fragile that they might be torn away or disappear, he uses the sensitivity of a poet to keep them alive. This could explain a dilemma in Diệu’s poetry: longing for spring, youth and love but at the same time, refusing their coming to ensure that time can never pass and youth, love and spring can never be old.
Xuân Diệu could be considered as a very typical Vietnamese Symbolist poet. His first collection, Thơ thơ (Poetry poetry) (1938), was at the peak of the ‘New Poetry Movement’ and his second, Send Perfume to the Wind, published in 1945, closed a profound gate of Vietnamese poetry opened by Symbolism. Deriving from the influences of Symbolism’s marshals (e.g. Paul Verlaine, Stephane Mallarmé and Arthur Rimbaud), he followed Baudelaire in the concept of correspondences between perfumes, sounds and colours. I suppose him to be the first Vietnamese poet whose poetry had a consciousness of natural landscape alongside the traditional Eastern poetic ideology of the time. Moreover, his work had a clear aspect of being in sympathy with nature. He placed the poetic protagonist into a realm of ecstasy, which was very similar to real nature but was full of love and emotional connections that he named ‘strings’. He wrote ‘Long lanh tiếng sỏi vang vang hận’ (Glittering gravel voice echo echo anger) in ‘Nguyệt cầm’ (Moon zither),262 in which he combined the ‘music in poetry’ of the East with Western modern concepts. In this verse, he listened to the sound of a pebble falling into a water surface and making an echo. However, I think that he described sounds (gravel voice) throughout colours and sights (glittering) and listened to the echo with a contrasting emotions of quietness and anger. Thus, each symbol evoked other symbols without any connection. In my view, ‘Moon zither’ portrayed an imaginative realm in which Diệu, through the concept of ecstasy, made all human senses correspond in only one verse.
In traditional Vietnamese poetry, instant understanding of words created the meaning of verse. The rhythm of a poem was formed by being chosen and arranged into available poetic lyrics.263 Therefore, meaning and music were always separate. Moreover, because words were used with a conventional understanding, the content of the poem became trivial because the sound of words were mixed into available lyrics so the music seemed to be empty. In contrast, in the ‘New Poetry Movement’, the fluctuation between sound and meaning became an important principle of creating. By reading the verse in Vietnamese, the sound chains made by words helped to express something in the poet's own soul. After that, both music and words in Xuan Dieu’s poems were part of the subtle rhythm of the poetry rather than a feature of poetic form. Helen Abbott pointed out the following with regard to music in Baudelaire’s poetry:
Music, after all, has voices which interact and converse in strange and mysterious ways – and this is inherent to the aesthetic ideal for poetic composition that Baudelaire and Mallarmé seem to yearn for. 264
In my view, Baudelaire and other Symbolists consciously operated this kind of musical approach to create the poetic environment. With regard to the aspect of feelings, it should be pointed out that Romanticism displayed sympathy with the universe and nature mainly through direct perception and specific descriptions of emotion. Xuan Dieu’s work belonged to this type of expression and he combined it with Symbolism to create correspondence through non-specific symbols. Bathed in a particular environment and mood, words contained new connotations and evoked surprise meanings. In my view, music or melody itself in ‘New Poetry’ contrasted with the vast mediocrity and emptiness of traditional poetry. ‘New Poetry’ could not attain the correspondences of Baudelaire, but it could use symbols for synaesthesia, as Baudelaire focused poets on paying attention to mysterious relationships which created a deep and murky unity of the universe and went beyond superficial senses.
Responses of Vietnamese critics and readers to the poems of Xuân Diệu, in my view, reflected the Vietnamese history of modern poetry. After the debate surrounding Poetry Poetry’s response to medieval Vietnamese poetry in 1938, Xuân Diệu became ‘the king of love poems’ in Vietnam. His poems were considered as a dictionary of love, where readers could discover themselves or a part of their young life inside. For the first time in Vietnam, love was mentioned in poetry without any restrictions and readers were allowed to talk about love poems without fear of their personality being re-evaluated or even being charged. However, this ‘love period’ lasted for little more than a decade. After 1945, love poems and Diệu’s Symbolist and Romantic poems were banned in Vietnam. Thus, Vietnamese poets came back to traditional poetry forms, and love was again marginalised in both poetry and real life.
In the case of Chế Lan Viên, the influences of Baudelaire could be recognised in poetry titles in which he chose to make evil poetic. In the preface of his first collection, he wrote:
Thi sĩ không phải là Người. Nó là Người Mơ, Người Say, Người Điên. Nó là Tiên, là Ma, là Quỷ, là Tinh, là Yêu. Nó thoát Hiện Tại. Nó xối trộn Dĩ Vãng. Nó ôm trùm Tương Lai. Người ta không hiểu được nó vì nó nói những cái vô nghĩa, tuy rằng những cái vô nghĩa hợp lý.
(Poet is not human. He is dreamer, drunker, madman. He is fairy, ghost, evil and demon. He escaped from present. He disordered the past. He covered the future. They can not understand him because he wrote nonsense, although it is reasonable nonsense).265
Chế Lan Viên saw the ‘New Poetry Movement’ as a new era for Vietnamese poets; he stated that: ‘It [Vietnamese poetry] renewed itself and gave new content and significance to life, to death, to the face of a loved one or a rose’.266 He, as well as the ‘Crazy poet group’ that he organised, regarded poetry as a realm of mystery without any marks of reality, in which, there were only four poetic elements: moon, flower, music and perfume. In the above analysis of Xuân Diệu’s verse in Moon zither, there was a glimpse of ‘the other world’, which was quiet enough to listen to the sound of a pebble, dark enough to see glittering and cold enough to feel inner anger. In Chế Lan Viên’s poems, however, ‘the other world’ was reversed to become a realm immersed in terror and death.
Chế Lan Viên raised the level of the senses higher with horrible images (e.g. grave, tomb, the human skull, the dried-up bone):
A skull, a human creature owned you once!
Beneath all that thin crust of bone on top,
What do you still remember in the dark?
What hopes or wishes do you entertain?
‘The human skull.’267
In my view, the correspondences in Chế Lan Viên’s poetry were the next step up from those in Xuân Diệu’s poems. Whereas Diệu’s sensory images were still familiar and human in terms of sound (from a human voice), colour (from reflection of a human image) and perfume (from memories about women, e.g. wife or virgin), Chế Lan Viên kept his senses away from humanity. I think that Xuân Diệu was close to Baudelaire in the concept of correspondences, but Chế Lan Viên was the Vietnamese poet who could touch the mysteriousness in Baudelaire’s ideologies. Chế Lan Viên not only wrote about the face of death but also the sound of death, the shape of death and the fragrance of death. He, in my imagination, definitely belonged to the world of the Symbolists.
To analyse Chế Lan Viên’s attitude, which used to be thought of as craziness, I read his ‘Manifesto-poem’:
Give me a planet full of frost and ice,
A star that shines alone where ends the blue.
There, living out my days and months, I’ll hide
From all the pain and anguish I have known
‘Silk threads of memory.’ 268
While on the one hand, he wishes to hide in a solid and chilly place, on the other, he praises the position of loneliness, of being himself. Thus, among the blue sky, the shining star, the frosty planet and the hurt of sadness, he emerges as human. The pronoun ‘I’ rarely appeared in Vietnamese poetry before the 1930s, but now was being repeated continuously in Che’s and Xuan Dieu’s poems. The ‘Silk threads’ in Che’s poem are also similar to the ‘strings’ in Xuan Dieu’s; both are used as slight, sensitive links to connect themselves to the world. Thus, in my view, despite the fact that they could write about love or anger, life or death, angel or devil, they looked towards the ‘self’, which set up a foundation for modern Vietnamese poets to rebel against a thousand years of poetic conventions.
Another ‘crazy’ Vietnamese poet in the ‘New Poetry Movement’ was Bích Khê. Readers had enjoyed the notion of the ‘dream’ from other poems, too, but if Diệu’s poems were a dictionary of Vietnamese love, Bích Khê’s poetry was a phrasebook of the ‘dream’. In terms of the subject feature, he was fairy, human and genius dream. For the object feature, he dreamed a visual, homesick dream. Even more interesting was the way he combined different features that did not belong to dream. For example:
In the mixture of nude.269
In the 1960s, Trần Dần for the first time dared to write about nudity, sexual organs and sexuality in terms of what was actually known about them but could not be spoken about. Nearly thirty years before that, Bích Khê had first placed the word ‘nude’ in Vietnamese poetry.
Bích Khê’s dreams presented various conditions of imagination. As such, among the more than seventy times Bích Khê mentioned dreams, at no time could a dream be just a dream. This evoked Baudelaire’s idea of correspondence, whereby the poet could sink into a world of mixed ideas. In Bích Khê’s poems, he sank into a mixture of nudity-dream in which he himself could feel shape, see colour, taste and smell, but it was impossible to consider it as normal dream. In my view, it was a way of importing senses to the subject. Thus, feelings, memories, vague symbols, subconscious images and illusions were the products of dream.
While Xuân Diệu and Chế Lan Viên were drunks in mysteriousness, Bích Khê was consciousness in dreams. This paradox turned Bích Khê, in my view, into a dream-inventor with unlimited dream-combinations e.g. ‘wavy silk space night’, ‘drunk chasing dream muse’ and ‘lines of pearls’. In his abnormal sense of the word, a dream could hear, feel or even burst into tears. Dream was covered by colours: dream fell like emerald, dream was comprised with ivory. Dream, I think, in Bích Khê’s poems, was himself in response to himself as a human in reality, and because he pretended to be ‘crazy’ in his real life which was dominated by the oppressive environment, he needed to be conscious in dream. I also think that this was one of the most positive forms of humanity that Bích Khê brought into modern Vietnamese poetry.
In Bích Khê’ poetry, dream was ‘further further shore’, ‘cherry blossoms cavern’ and ‘galaxy river’, which were symbols of a permanent area like the Western concept of heaven. However, in my view, while Western poets tended to make faraway lands familiar to readers through images of transportation like trains, boats or stairways, Eastern poets turned faraway lands into places of abnormality and horror. In Eastern thought, there was a disintegrating border between reality and imagination, human life and an animal’s or object’s life. Moreover, in such paradoxes, humanity and reality were considered as standards for others. I think this ideology in the East controlled which subjects could be chosen in literature and why it was difficult for objects or abnormal subjects to be regarded as protagonists of writings.
Along with dreams, night became a world which awakened spirituality, full of fragility, mystery and vagueness. Like the description of dreams, night appeared in the feeling of silk, velvet and jewels. As a result, lyrical characters in poems were no longer in a state of consciousness but immersed in ecstasy and torpidity. They got drunk to reach the peak which the soul could reach, and experienced this feeling in various statuses such as silent drunk, full drunk, dream drunk and dying drunk. Thus, they got rid of any physical constraints and sublimated into dream, into the mystical realm of art. It could be said that the night or dream itself was a stimulation of creativity. In other words, it led the poet to poetry through the correspondence of colour, sound and sensitivity.
Like other Symbolists, Bich Khe featured the role of music in poetry. Music was not used as material for making poetry, but considered as an object that a poem was honoured to write about. To him, ‘all of outsides are music’:
Beauty, don’t touch, there’s music in strings
Music makes flowery dream,
spreads cloud sky.
Music adorned Bích Khê poems with ‘coral sparkles in dreams’ and ‘moon weaves brocade’. Music, smell, the senses of skin and breath were soluble and metabolically resonant with each other. For example, to Bích Khê, smell had weight, warmth, light and sound. All appeared in a beautiful virgin who was the symbol of poetry and art: ‘a girl appeared in the moon’ after the movements of wind, poetry and a song (‘Appearance’).271
Tôi qua tim nàng vay du dương
Tôi mang lên lầu lên cung Thương
Tôi không bao giờ thôi yêu nàng
Tình tang tôi nghe như tình lang
Yêu nàng bao nhiêu trong lòng tôi
Yêu nàng bao nhiêu trên đôi môi
Đâu tìm Đào Nguyên cho xa xôi
Đào Nguyên trong lòng nàng đây thôi
Thu ôm muôn hồn chơi phiêu diêu
Sao tôi không màng kêu: em yêu
Trăng nay không nàng như trăng thiu
Đêm nay không nàng như đêm hiu
Buồn lưu cây đào tìm hơi xuân
Buồn sang cây tùng thăm đông quân
Ô! Hay buồn vương cây ngô đồng
Vàng rơi! Vàng rơi: Thu mênh mông.
(I found her through melody
I brought upstairs to music realm
I never stop loving her
'Rhythm' I heard like Lovers
How much I love her in my heart
How much I love on the lips
Needn't looking for distant Dao Nguyen
Dao Nguyen was in her heart
Autumn hugs psychedelic souls
Why I do not mind calling: darling
Moon without you tonight blue moon
Night without you gloomy night
Sadness dwelled peach tree finding spring smell
Sadness transferred to Cedrus tree visiting spring queen
Oh sadness lingered Jatropha podagrica
Yellow falls yellow falls enormous autumn)272
According to Bích Khê’s poems, the poetic world was a remote heaven with endless and permanent space. Poetry was the quintessence, the mystery of the earth, the rhythm of the universe and the fellowship of all beauty. Poetry was also a magic illusion. In conclusion, it was an eternal world of dream and spirituality. As such, the artistic structure in his poetry could be considered in the realm of Symbolism. According to this, whilst music was raised, even in illusion, a magical sky fell down, bringing along the smell of hyacinth, the breath of roses, silk space, autumn eyes which are green like jade. All movements of people in this real world were sources of music. The rhythm was measured by the agitation of natural scenery led by beauty. That was considered the source of creativity.
Thế Lữ also created such mystery in his poems. Unlike Bích Khê, he tended to discover visible music instruments and play music notes on words rather than listening to vagueness, depression and dreams (e.g. ‘vibrating sound’, ‘choking sound’, ‘dropping sound’, ‘muting sound’ and ‘broking sound’ in ‘Poetic’ by Bích Khê273). Thế Lữ used verse with only one tone, repeated initial consonants, and added chorus to enhance the music. There is coincidence between music, poetry and painting as well as correspondence between colour, music and beauty in this poem:
I’m just a man who desperately loves
Who craves for beauty’s myriad shapes and forms
I borrow from the muse her fairy brush,
Her wondrous lyre – with both I’ll paint, I’ll sing. 274
Like Baudelaire, Vietnamese poets used lots of symbols in their poems as an individual way of making metaphor. This is reminiscent of the desire of Symbolist poets and artists for ‘newly meaningful equivalents with which to replace worn-out images and lead him to hidden, personal metaphors’.275In my view, the symbols were not stable or singular. They also transferred metaphors from invisible to visual images, from colours to sounds and vice versa, and from sound to smell. It was a harmonious world of correspondences.