American Professor Translates Nguyen Trai’s Poems to English

A portrait of Nguyen Trai (1380-1442)

Paul Hoover, Professor of the literary creation faculty of the University of California, San Francisco, told Lao Dong Newspaper on December 27 that he and Vietnamese poet Nguyen Do have completed the translation of 18 short poems in Nom (ancient Vietnamese scripts) and Chinese.

Hoover said they are now translating Binh Ngo Dai Cao, an immortal literary work written by Nguyen Trai after Viet Nam, then called Dai Viet, won the 10-year resistance against Ming aggressors from China.

This work is considered a declaration of independence of Viet Nam in the old days.

Commenting on Nguyen Trai’s poems, the American professor said Nguyen Trai wrote about the life in a language of experience as universal as the meaning of light and shadow. “Like Nguyen Trai, I have experienced the ups and downs of life,” Hoover said.

He added he does not know Vietnamese, and Nguyen Do translates the literal meaning of the poems into English, which he converts into poetry. The professor said it is impossible to strictly follow the rhyme and maintain the poems’ emotional thrust, so he let the rhyme fall in English only when it matches well with the poetic context. 

Hoover and Nguyen Do plan to translate about 150 poems by Nguyen Trai to make an album, and it will take them one year to finish.

Hoover revealed that the University of Iowa Publishing House is considering publishing a book of about 175 pages by him and Nguyen Do about contemporary Vietnamese poetry.

Compiled by Tuong Thuy

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