[SHC World Poetry Month] “Áo lụa Hà Đông (The White Silk Dress)” by Nguyên Sa

by Harry Pham

Nguyên Sa (1932–1998). Photo credits: Van Hoc Saigon.

The poem depicts the feelings of a man who falls in love with a woman at first sight. It begins with the excitement in the first several times he meets her, then his resentment as she is away without a word. In the end, the poet describes the man’s regret for not expressing himself earlier and vividly.

This poem is distinct from other contemporary war-themed poems. It was written in the 1970s when the Vietnam War was still ravaging the country. At this time, poets were discouraged from writing about love but patriotism instead.

The main image in the poem is the silk dress (i.e. the Vietnamese traditional áo dài) in white silk from the Village of Hà Đông which is famous for its silk weaving industry for more than 1000 years.

Even today, most people still think that Vietnam is a country of patriotic men and wars, so through this poem, I would like to show a softer and romantic side of Vietnam.

“Áo lụa Hà Đông (The White Silk Dress)” by Nguyên Sa. Recited by Harry Pham.

“Áo lụa Hà Đông (The White Silk Dress)”

by Nguyên Sa (Vietnam)

(English translation)

Walking under the hot Saigon sun, I suddenly felt so refreshed

because you’re wearing a Ha Dong silk dress.

How I’ve loved the colour of that attire,

my poetry still retains the colour of pure silk white.

I still remember you sitting there in short hair,

and the expanse of the autumn around you is boundless,

I hasten to draw in my mind your portrait,

and hurriedly placed it inside the wide open window of my soul.

I’m so happy to see you if just for once in a day.

If I see you two days in a row, that would really be a feast.

I can stack my debutant poems into a mountain,

and your dreamy eyes produced wine to make me intoxicated.

You don’t speak, and a marvellous melody rises in the air.

You haven’t started looking, and the clear blue sky already opens up.

I reach up to you with my devoted eyes,

and with your arms in white, you’ve entered my wondrous verse.

You came and go all of a sudden, oh yes I’m quite aware of that,

just like the weather, rainy or sunny without a cause.

but why won’t you tell me when you leave,

so I’d call out for you, and my poem echoes my sadness.

I look silly in the eyes because of my soreness.

I’m angry because my poem seems unable to utter the right sound

After you’re gone, regret runs up to my lips,

On my shoulders, the sad days and months seem to bear down.

Where are you now, o my autumn of short hair?

Please keep for me the colour of your Ha Dong silk dress

I still love the colour of that lovely apparel so much,

so retain for me this love poem the colour of pure white silk.

Recited by: Harry Pham (Year 3, Faculty of Engineering)

Produced by: Editorial Team of the SHC Media Club, Nicolo Ludovice, Sean Suntoso, Aurell Sulaiman, Chong Sze Teng

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