Nửa Vầng Trăng

The Moon In Vietnamese Cultural Life As Reflected Through "The Tale of Kieu"

The moon has a familiar significant place in every Vietnamese life.

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Traditionally, we follow the lunar calendar & celebrate the Mid-Autumn Harvest Moon festival (Tet Trung Thu). I still remember that, as a child, I used to lớn sing a favorite tuy nhiên with these simplistic lyrics depicting children carrying lanterns to the opulent palace on the moon where the beautiful moon goddess Hang Nga dwells within:

Tung dinh dinh, cát tung dinh dinhem ruoc den ni den cung trang

The symbolic imagery of the moon figures prominently in Vietnamese literature as reflected in the "Tale of Kieu," written by Nguyen Du (1765-1820). This masterpiece of Vietnamese classic epic poetry is best known & loved by all Vietnamese because its subtle verses express well the Vietnamese national character, thoughts và aspirations.

Here are just a few examples khổng lồ illustrate where the moon"s image is cleverly incorporated và interwoven into the "Tale of Kieu:"

Sharing the betrothal vows under the moon with someone.(Tuong nguoi duoi nguyet chen dongDen khuya vào bong trang tron sinh doi)Someday when we find someone special, we can be sure that the moon would be our trusted friend in whom we could confide our thoughts as expressed in the above verse.

The image of blissful marriage is reflected in this verse:

Spending hours together, mingling our shadowsbeside a lamb late at night, jor walking side by side in the full moonlight.(Den khuya phổ biến bong, trang tron sinh doi)In old age, as the closing years of life approach, we hope lớn be able to enjoy the pleasure of:

A glass of wine, a trò chơi of chessAdmiring the beauty of flowers,waiting for the moon khổng lồ rise(Khi chen ruou, lúc cuoc co;Khi coi hoa no, khi mang lại trang len)The above verses from the "Tale of Kieu" vividly portray the Vietnamese hopes và dreams.

The major characters of the "Tale of Kieu" are as follow:

Thuy Kieu: The main character, the beautiful daughter of a well-to-do country gentlemanThuy Van: Kieu"s beautiful younger sisterKim Trong: A young scholar, Kieu fianceeDam Tien: A fortune telling ghost, an apparition of a young womanMa Giam Sinh: Kieu"s first patronTu Hai: Kieu"s third patron, a heroGiac Duyen: A buddist NunIn the story, the author compared the beauty of Thuy Van, Kieu sister, khổng lồ that of the moon:

Her face is like the moon,her eyes brows are two full curves.(Khuon trang day dan, net ngai vàng no nang)The moon is used lớn describe the gentleness & innocence of a young woman. But the tác giả employed vivid natural phenomena khổng lồ describe Kieu"s vicarious charm:

Eyes lượt thích rivers in the autumn,brows like mountains in the spring.The flowers are jealous of her beauty,the willows are left green with envy.(Lan thu thuy, net xuan sonHoa ghen thua trận tham, lieu hon kem xanh)Kieu was indeed a beautiful, talented, và well-bred young woman but she had khổng lồ sell herself as a concubine khổng lồ save her family and was betrayed into becoming a prostitute. Yet, she still maintained her own sense of honor until at last, after many adventures both romantic và sordid, she was finally reunited with her family and with her true love. The moon was witness to all the dramatic events in her life. Kieu found Dam Tien grave và met her beloved Kim trong on the same day and the moon was a silent witness to lớn the secrets of her soul torn between hopes & fears.

When Dam Tien, a ghostly apparition of a young woman, appeared lớn let Kieu know that her name was in the book of damnation và predicted that her life will be miserable.

Moonlight reflecting on the river.Splashing ripples of gold across the water,Trees projecting dark shadows on the courtyard.(Guong Nga chenh chech dom songVang giao ngan nuoc, cay long bong san.)On her nocturnal clandestine visit to lớn see Kim Trong, she observed:

Shadowy patches of moonlight filtering throughthe branches, illuminating the courtyard path.(Nhat đại bại guong gioi dau canh.)Traditionally, seeing a man at night in his own apartment was a very shameful thing for a girl to do; Kieu needed dark shadows khổng lồ conceal herself from prying eyes, yet the moonlight was bright enough khổng lồ help her see the path that leads to his apartment. The flickering moonlight also reflected her nervous anticipation of seeing him. The new moon rising on the night she came to lớn visit her love for the first time symbolized her first love. The moon was flitting, & wandering on đứng đầu of the willow tree just as she tiptoed and approached the wall. The moon và Kieu seemed to nói qua the same sentiment.

At a crucial moment of their secret rendezvous, in a chorus Kieu and Kim trong makes a lifelong vow of love. Again, the moon was the only witness to lớn the secret in their hearts. They both pledged the union of their very souls under the moon:

With the moon shining brightly from aboveIn one voice we pronounce our eternal loveOur innermost sentiments fine as silk threadsWill unite us forever - this we pledge.(Vang trang vang vac giua troDinh ninh hai mieng, mot loi song songToc to can van tac longTram phái nam tac mot chu dong den xuong)Because they shared their vows under the moon, it became a reminder lớn Kim vào not to lớn forget his love whenever he looked at it:

Our betrothal moon appears with constancyAs your face is etched deep within my heart(Trang the con do tro troDam dau thân quen mat, ma thất bại tho long.)Tragically, she had to break her promise her promise with her love và was sold as a concubine lớn save her family. She was betrayed và forced into becoming a prostitute. Looking at the moon in the dark sky, she was painfully reminded of her betrayal that:

The moon, a witness to her vows, cried shame(Dam khuya ngat tanh mu khoiThay trang ma then nhung loi non song.)When Kieu was a prisoner of the brothel, the moon alone shared her sadness:

In Crystal-Blue Pavilion pleasure tower;only the moon & mountains were her friends.On every side her ranging eyes could see thedawns of gold, the trails of red dust.She dully spent her days watching clouds, hernights staring at the lamp, her soul half sick forlove, half sorrowed by the view.(Truoc lau Ngung Bich koa xuanVe non xa, tam trang gan o chungBon be bat ngat xa trongCat vang nhỏ no, bui hong dam kia.Be bang may som den khuyaNua tinh, nua canh nhu phân chia tam long.)While working at the Crystal-Blue Pavilion pleasurer tower, she met a man named Thuc Sinh who bought her lớn be his concubine. When he had to return khổng lồ his wife, the moon again witnessed the poignancy of Kieu and Thuc Sinh"s grief when they had khổng lồ part:

She is left khổng lồ face the night along.He rides off down an endless road.Who separated the moon?Half shone upon her pillow,Half lit the way along his journey"s road.(Nguoi ve sầu chiec bong phái nam canhKe di muon dam, mot minh xa xoiVang trang ai xe pháo lam doiNua in goi chiec, nua soi dam truong.)While separated from his love, gazing at the crescent moon, Thuc Sinh imagined it was Thuy Kieu eyebrows:

Whose eyebrow follows the curve of the crescent moon?The flush of powder & the scent of perfume.(May ai trang moi in nganPhan thảm bại huong cu, boi phan xot xa.)After separation from Thuc Sinh, she was sold back lớn the Crystal-Blue Pavilion. There Kieu met Tu Hai, a anh hùng from a far frontier who granted her every wish, whom she grew khổng lồ love và respect deeply on a moonlit autumn night. At this time, she recognized that all of the major events of her life happened on a moonlit night!

(Lan thu gio mat trang thanhBong dau teo khach bien dinh quý phái choi.)However, Tu nhì met his doom because he "let a woman warp a her"s will" (bend a hero"s determination). Unwittingly, Kieu led him to lớn his death. Deeply affected by the untimely death of Tu Hai, Kieu wanted khổng lồ commit suicide:

The moon sank behind the mountain.Alone she nervously paced back và forth.She heard waves crashing on the rocksand learned of the river Tien Duong.(Manh trang da gac non doaiMot minh luong nhung dung ngoi chua xongTrieu dau noi tieng dung dungHoi ra moi biet rang song Tien Duong.)Then she remembered that the ghost of Dam Tien, a fortunetelling spirit, had told her that they would meet at this very river. She then attempted to drown herself and her sorrows in the rivet.

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After plunging into the water, she was rescued by the nun Giac Duyen.

After being saved, Kieu stayed with the nun và her life turned down a happier path-with the moon and nature joining her peaceful life, as described by these verses:

Now, day after day, they chia sẻ one roof.They cool their faces in the wind & moon andcleanse their hearts living on salted greens.Around them, on all sides, the sea waving, thewind howling and the clouds embracing.(Mot nha chung thân phụ som truaGio trang mat mat, muoi dua chay longBon be bat ngat menh mongTrieu dang hom som, may long truoc sau.)The little grass hut was a microcosm of their sisterhood. They found support, và friendship in each other & felt safe as well as protected by this cozy environment. The moonlight and soft breeze gave them a peaceful interlude from the troubled outside world. There, they found a bond of sisterly love. Day by day, they cleansed their hearts and purified their spirits with a simple vegetarian diet. Their grass hut was surrounded by the vast sea và was engulfed with trắng clouds. They spent their days contemplating the moon và rising tide in the evening, & the framing clouds in the morning. The vastness of the surroundings gave Kieu và the nun a feeling of stillness; that brought about a Zen-like meditative state of mind. Kieu was truly contented:

All the youthful passions of life have faded from her heart. Why should she plunge herself into the red dust world?(Su doi domain authority tat lua longCon chen vao chon bui hong lam chi?)After many adventures both romantic & sordid, she was happily reunited with her family and her love one. Having been so fortunate khổng lồ have been found by Kim vào again, she consented to lớn their joining in wedlock; their marriage, a symbol for their constancy. However, they remained chaste and everlasting friends. Their relationship continued khổng lồ be pure. Once again, with heaven, symbolized by the silver moon as their witness, they renewed their vows khổng lồ remain faithful to each other in their platonic relationship.

The link of love is not borkenThe fading silver moon is still there as a witnessof their oaths of olden days(Con duyen, may lai con nguoiCon vang trang bac, con loi nguyen xua.)Kieu and Kim trong found pleasure in their remaining days drinking wine, playing chess, admiring & contemplating the beauty of flowers. The moon again was part of their happy lives-waiting for the moon to rise was one of their favorite hobbies:

A glass of wine, a game of chessAdmiring the beauty of flowers,waiting for the moon to lớn rise(Khi chen ruou, khi cuoc coKhi coi hoa no, khi cho trang len.)Most of our readers are at an age to lớn love và be loved. We might have all experienced a broken heart. The "Tale of Kieu" offers, among other things, ways khổng lồ encounter "unpredictable adversities in life & love including a broken heart:

Surely that Heaven shapes our lives, but so bởi we.Happiness can be found in renunciation, and passions lead only to lớn sufferings.(Co troi ma cung tai taTu la coi phuc, tinh la day oan.)From the "Tale of Kieu," I learned that longings of the heart are just a fleeting fancy. Kieu met Kim trong when she was sixteen. At that time và throughout fifteen years of adventure, she thought of him và wanted to marry him so much. By the time Kieu reunited with her love, she only wanted khổng lồ be his friend. Therefore, the expression "Winning or loosing someone"s heart is just the thought at that passing moment" can be true for us. The person who may be right for you at one time can turn out lớn be the wrong person for you at another time or vice versa.

This article only focused on the moon theme as a recuring motif constantly appearing throughout the "Tale of Kieu." But Nguyen Du"s "Tale of Kieu" is a much richer literary work. Contrary lớn the modest conclusion of its author in the epilogue:

May these plain words, strung one by one,entertain you for an hour or two night...(Loi que chap nhat dong daiMua vui cung duoc mot vai vào canh.)The "Tale of Kieu" is indeed a major gem in Vietnamese literature. Discover this great masterpiece by reading it for yourself.