The Old Man and the Sea

Coincidence is sometimes very beautiful

Nearly three years ago, I found myself browsing the online pages of Thomas L Le – a scholar and translator of Vietnamese and French poetry. I was so moved by one of the poems that it inspired a small painting of a Hoi An fisherman skilfully riding the surf in his coracle as he brought his small catch back to the girl waiting on the beach to take it to market. I wrote some lines from the poem directly onto the painting and it quickly sold at my Hoi An Exhibition in May 2014. The poem was by Xuan Dieu but being new to Vietnam, I found it difficult to commit the name to memory.

Some months later, I found myself living on Xuan Dieu in Hanoi. More recently, I found myself in a specialist printing shop on Xuan Dieu in Ho Chi Minh City, D5 and I thought ‘there’s that name again.’ I realized that this is no ordinary poet. I discovered that Xuan Dieu was born and died in exactly the same years as my father (1916-1985). Had my father lived, he would be 100 years old in May this year. So I could immediately identify with this poet and compare his life with that of my own father. Xuan Dieu was coming to life in my imagination.

The poet had started writing while at university in Hanoi and over a lifetime contributed around 450 poems, short stories, diaries and essays as part of the Modern Poetry Movement that took off in the 1930s. Under the influence of Western education introduced by the French, Vietnam was emerging from a highly structured Confucian, family-centered culture to become more individualistic and expressive. The Modern Poetry Movement gave voice to the discomforts of this transition. I imagined these poets were viewed with equal disdain as rock ‘n roll, punk and hip hop artists were by their parents’ generation. Now, of course, many of the early movers and shakers of modern music have been honored by their governments and they will be revered by generations to come. Xuan Dieu’s poetry will live on and his words are just as poignant and relevant now as they were in his day.

I don’t deserve to be the ocean blue

But I want thee to be the white beach sand

The sandy beach stretching calmly its hue

Under the crystal sun

The comely beach of yellow sand

Extending to the rows of pine

So dreamily and quietly

For eons by the roaring brine

Let me be the clear turquoise swells

That kiss ceaseless thy yellow sand

The gentle kiss that often dwells

The quiet kiss that has no end

I will kiss thee again, again

From here clear to eternity

Till none of this wide world remains

Before my heat can beat calmly

There’s times when I would fain surge in

As if to crush thy edges dear

It’s when my billows roar passion

To drown thee is ceaseless love sheer

I don’t deserve to be the ocean blue

But want to be the turquoise sea

To sing eternal songs by thee

In endless love for thee dear true

So when the foam comes boiling white

And wind gusts in from everywhere

Insatiably I will kiss with might

Cause I love so thy sand edge bare.

BIO: A professional artist and author of A Week in Hoi An, Bridget Marchspecializes in urban landscapes and aims to reveal the hidden treasures of city life and small town cultures through her illustrations. Bridget offers art classes and sketching tours in Ho Chi Minh City. For more of Bridget’s work, visit bridgetmarch.co.uk

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