Ho Chi Minh’s Poetry

(Translation of Dang the Binh, re-phrased by fowpe sharma)

In August 1942 Ho Chi Minh went as the people’s delegate to China. Japan was attacking China and had occupied Vietnam. He was arrested at the border:

Cruel irony: In Glory street great humiliation I faced,
Deliberately they arrested me and I was disgraced;
They accused me of being a spy without assigning any reason,
I was put in jail and I was undone.

And also

I came as a Vietnamese delegate, its people to represent,
In order to meet the authorities I had been sent.
Why, when it is so calm here, a storm breaks over my head?
Instead of greeting me as a comrade, they throw me in prison instead.

A British delegation in China

November 18

The Americans have gone, now the British are here,
Warmly they are received everywhere,
Though I, too, came on a visit as a friendly delegate,
To meet a peculiar reception has been my fate.

In prison he wrote poems in Mandarin in the style of Tang dynasty poets (Tang dynasty 618-907). The prison guards did not allow him to write in Vietnamese, which they did not understand.

My desire for chanting poems was never very strong,
But what else can I do, when in chains I am bound.
This long time I will spend in composing song after song,
And I will sing these songs till freedom comes around
Chess as well about the whole gamut of guerilla warfare:

In order to pass the time we learn to play chess,
Pawns and knights are arrayed in full harness.
If you move fast in attack and defence you will succeed
If you are nimble and agile you won’t have to concede.

Both sides are engaged in unrelenting warfare,
Victorious will be one, the other will lose the game.
Advance and retreat: plan your strategy with care.
Win and as a great commander you will win acclaim.


Liouzhou, Guilon and once again to Lizhon jail I go,
Kicked back and forth like a soccer ball.
Though innocent I am dragged over Guangsi to and fro;
When will this shuttling end, when will there be an end to it all.

Sad In Test

The state provides food for me in its palaces I reside;
Guards keep me company – working in relays.
Enjoying the scenery: streams and mountains wonderful, I have
Having such privileges fills me with pride.


Four Months Have Passed

‘A day in prison – outside a thousand years’
Are equal – so thought the ancient seers.
It seems that four months of this subhuman life
Have aged me more than ten years of outside strife,

For four months just a little food I had;
For four months – sleepless – I lay awake;
For four months in selfsame clothes I was clad;
For four months not a single bath I could take

And so
I had even to part with a tooth;
My hair turned grey, forsooth:
Scabies played havoc with my body
– A dark hungry demon: that’s me.

Stubborn am I, I persevere,
Not even a little will I yield.
Though my suffering may be severe,
An unflinching spirit is my shield.

Upheaval in Vietnam


Death, rather than servitude, a revolt has broken out,
In Vietnam flags of insurrection fly,
I feel so sad – I could cry.
I wish I were free and could take part in enemy’s rout.


Visiting the Husband in Prison

The bars separate them: the husband stands here,
On the other side the wife stays, over there.
So close, yet so far apart, is the pair.
A deep gorge between them lies
The message that their lips try to impart
Is expressed by their eyes.
Before a word is spoken, tears start
Seeing their distress my heart cries.


Autumn Night

At the gate stand the guards, each with rifle;
Far above sails the moon, with shredded drifted cloud banks.
Swarms of bedbugs manoeuvre like tanks,
Squadrons of mosquitoes attack and retreat, with us they trifle.
My heart travels towards my land,
Sadness overpowers me, my dreams go round and round.
Though I am an innocent man: in chains I am bound,
On captivity I write poems – tears flowing on the inkstand.


The Weather Is Clearing Up

Things evolve: such is the law of nature;
After days of rains, fine weather is having its heyday;
The earth casts its damp clothes – far away.
Over great distances spreads the lands brocade curvature.
Under soothing breezes and a warm sun, smile the flowers with rapture
The birds on strong boughs of tall trees their songs rehearse
Full of joy is a man’s heart, full of joy is the universe.
After bitterness comes the sweet, such is the course of nature.

Advice To Myself

Without the desolation of winter and its chill
The warm splendour of the spring could there never be
Calamities harden me. They temper me
Like steel I have become – ready my purpose to fulfil.



Everywhere, with the flames of war, the world is ablaze.
To fight on the frontline the prisoners want to be sent.
But, fretfully, each one in his cell stays;
Their eagerness and desire is not worth a paltry cent.


The Eleventh of November

Formerly, in the days gone by, on the eleventh of November, the armistice day,
In Europe they celebrated the anniversary.
Bloody battles are being fought on four continents today,
The criminal Nazis are now the adversary.

For six years China has carried on the fight,
All over the world its heroism is well known.
Even as the victory is now in sight
– In the counter offensive everything must be thrown.

All over Asia anti-Japanese flags are flying high,
Big Flags, little flags flutter in the sky,
The big banners are just what we need,
But to the little flags one must pay head.

During the fight against the Americans and their puppets he could write in Vietnamese;

We are a family, though mountains and frontiers between us stand
We are all brothers, proletarians of each and every land.

(From the opening speech at the Third National Congress of the Vietnamese Workers’ Party, September 5, 1960).


New Year Greeting, Spring 1965

Last year we had brilliant success,
This year greater victories will be won.
For the sake of independence, in order to be free
Fight on till the Americans and their puppets are overthrown.
Fight on, compatriots, forward – fight on
A happy spring will it be when once again North and South become one.

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