VIETNAMESE POETRYtranslated and annotated

Dr. Đàm Trung PhápProfessor EmeritusTexas Woman’s University


“Tây tiến”

Quang Dũng


QuangDũng penned the ballad Tây tiến (Westwardmarch) in 1948, a year after his Capital Regiment (Trung Đoàn Thủ Đô) left Hà Nội.This regiment first saw kích hoạt on “the day for a nation-wide uprising” in 1946,when 8,000 intellectual youths of the capital city defense forcefaced 4,500French troops. The battle was the first effort by these young people to lớn preventthe return of the French colonialists <1>.

QuangDũng was the pen name of Bùi Đình Diệm (1921-1988), who was born inPhùngvillage, Phượng Trì district, đánh Tây province. His father was a literary manand a canton chief.Quang Dũng was the oldest child and had four sisters and onebrother. In 1954 his mother, one of his sisters, & his brother left North ViệtNam for South việt nam when the Geneva Accord halved the country.

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Heattended bòng High School and then the Normal School (Trường Sư Phạm) in Hà Nội.He graduated from the teacher-preparation institution, but he soon gave up his teachingcareer to lớn become the chief of yên ổn Bái railroad station. At this time he joinedthe People’s buổi tiệc ngọt (Quốc Dân Đảng); the French even went to his native villageto look for him, but all their efforts to lớn arrest him were in vain. Among theyoung people who supported the secret activities of the People’s tiệc ngọt was ayoung woman named Bùi Thị Thạch, who later became quang đãng Dũng’s wife.

Theballad Tây tiếnwas written by QuangDũng in his notebook. His fellow soldiers in the Tây Tiến Regiment <2>cherished it and it was widely circulated. It was the heartfelt appeal from notjust one thành viên of that regiment, but from almost every Vietnamese youth whoparticipated in the resistance against French rule, leaving behind their belovedcapital city.

Thefamed ballad was banned in the North, but it was valued in the South. Its author,because of his past affiliation with the People’s Party, was discharged fromthe military. Later, because of his participation in the Humanities – FineLiterary Works (Nhân Văn – Giai Phẩm) movement, he was imprisoned & forbiddento write. After that, he had to earn his living by working as a proofreader fora newspaper. While quang Dũng’s poetry was published, read, recited, and set tomusic in the South after 1954, his poem Tâytiến was not published in a poetic collection until 1986 in Hà Nội, twoyears before his death. The bed-ridden poet was too weak lớn autograph his booksfor his admirers.

Theanguished appeal radiating from the hearts of Hà Nội’s youths shines throughevery line of Tây tiến.But theirlives in the poem were totally different – they were now living, not in thatcapital city, but on a Northwest battlefield in the middle of deep jungles andhigh mountains. As the Westward March was winding down, quang quẻ Dũng startedhaving the sentimental recollection of this military expedition, the jungles,the mountain slopes, the ethnic minority hamlets, the worn-out troops. It wasthis nostalgic longing that inspired him khổng lồ write this exquisite ballad.

Tây tiếnis a matchless ballad about the Vietnamese people’s valorous resistance againstFrench colonialism. It recalls the daunting expedition of the Westward march soldiers.Each recollection of the expedition is a salient painting and a stirring songabout an unforgettable martial experience. Through such vicarious experiencesinvolving strong emotions & harrowing adversity, readers can catch a glimpseof the perilous selfless life led by the brave soldiers of the Westward March. Amongpoems on resistance written by different individuals between 1945 & 1954, Tây tiến stands out, head and shouldersabove the rest. It does not mention leaders, it does not touch on patriotism,yet every verse in it is imbued with an ardent love for the country, nature,friendship, và a determination khổng lồ go khổng lồ war to stamp out French colonialism.

Belowis my English translation of the entire ballad, stanza by stanza, followed byannotations & references.


SôngMã xa rồi Tây tiến ơi!Nhớ về rừng núi, nhớ đùa vơi sử dụng Khao sương tủ đoàn quân mỏiMường Lát hoa về trong đêm hơi


Waybehind us is the Mã River <3>, Westward march troops!Yet thinking of jungles và mountains is still a staggering nostalgiaIn dùng Khao <4> fog concealed the worn-out soldiersIn Mường Lát <5> on a steamy night the flowers returned

Dốc lên khúc khuỷu dốc thăm thẳmHeo hút hễ mây, súng ngửi trờiNgàn thước lên cao, ngàn thước xuốngNhà ai pha Luông mưa xa khơi

The upward slope was dauntingly tortuousAmong desolate banks of cloud, gun muzzles sniffed the skyA thousand meters ascending, another thousand descendingSomeone’s house in rainy trộn Luông <6> far away


Anh các bạn dãi dầu không cách nữaGục lên súng mũ không để ý đời!Chiều chiều oai phong linh thác gầm thétĐêm tối Mường Hịch cọp trêu người

A weather-beaten companion stopped marchingSlumping on his helmet và gun, he left life behind!In the evening thundered majestic waterfallsAt night in Mường Hịch tigers teased people <7>

Nhớ ôi Tây tiến cơm lên khóiMai Châu mùa em thơm nếp xôi

Oh Westward march, with the scent of steaming riceHer season of fragrant glutinous rice in Mai Châu <8>


Doanh trại bừng lên hội đuốc hoaKìa em xiêm áo tự bao giờKhèn lên Man điệu thiếu nữ e ấpNhạc về Viên Chăn xây hồn thơ


The barrack brightened up for a bridal galaLo và behold, she was already dressed upCoy she was as the pan pipe <9> played a Man tuneToward Vientiane <10> the music inspired poetry

Người đi Châu Mộc chiều sương ấyCó thấy hồn lau nẻo bến bờCó ghi nhớ dáng tín đồ trên độc mộcTrôi dòng nước lũ hoa đong đưa

Those of you who left for Châu Mộc <11> that misty eveningDid you notice the spirit of reeds along riverbanksThe allure of lasses in dugoutsFloating on swift-flowing water lượt thích flowers <12>

Tây tiến đoàn binh ko mọc tócQuân xanh color lá dữ oách hùmMắt trừng gửi mộng qua biên giớiĐêm mơ thủ đô dáng kiều thơm

Westward march troops went bald <13>Pale like leaves yet we stayed fierce lượt thích tigersWith wide-open eyes we sent reveries across the border <14>At night we dreamt of Hanoi và its charming beauties <15>

Rải rác biên cương mồ viễn xứChiến ngôi trường đi chẳng tiếc đời xanhÁo bào vậy chiếu, anh về đấtSông Mã gầm lên khúc độc hành

Scattered along the frontier were graves away from homeOf those who left for battlefields without regretting their youthShrouded in military uniforms instead of reed mats, they returned to earth<16>The Mã River roared a solo-journey dirge

Tây tiến fan đi không hứa hẹn ướcĐường lên thăm thẳm một phân chia phôiAi lên Tây Tiến ngày xuân ấyHồn về Sầm Nứa chẳng về xuôi

Westward march soldiers left without promisesTheir remote expedition meant in itself a separationThose who joined Westward March that springHad their minds mix for Sam Nua, not the plains <17>.



<1>There was a huge mismatch in weapons in this battle in Hà Nội. While theVietnamese youths armed themselves with small guns, sticks, và spears, theFrench used machine guns và tanks

 <2> Less than two months after the Hà Nộibattle, in early 1947, the youths in the thành phố defense force had lớn flee fromthe city. Some took refuge in đài loan trung quốc while others joined the Westward Marchcampaign as soldiers in the newly-formed Tây Tiến Regiment, leaving behind1,300 killed or missing in action and 2,500 injured

 <3> The Mã River starts in NorthwesternVietnam, winding from Điện Biên through sơn La, Laos, and Thanh Hóa beforejoining the sea at the Gulf of Tonkin.

<4>and <5> The town of Mường Lát và the village of dùng Khao are in Thanh Hóaprovince. The town và the village are separated by steep slopes và trickytrails. The area is also notoriously foggy. In such poor visibility at night,the troops had to lớn use torches, making them look lượt thích “flowers.”

 <6> The pha Luông mountain is in Thanh Hóaprovince. It was on this mountain that many worn-out Tây Tiến troops simply“slumped on their helmets and guns, leaving life behind.”

<7>and <8> The village of Mường Hịch is a short distance from the town of Mai Châuin hòa bình province. Mường Hịch was known for its daring tigers which brazenlystole pigs for food.

<9>The pan pipe (khèn) is a wind instrument consisting of bamboo tubes connectedto a wooden sound box. It is very popular with such ethnic groups in Vietnam asthe Thai, the Man, và the Hmong.

<10>Vientiane (Vạn Tượng) is the capital thành phố of Laos. It is in the central part ofthe country, on the Mekong River.

<11>Châu Mộc is a beautiful town in sơn La province. In this ethnically diverse place,festivals are organized every spring for boys & girls to lớn meet.

<12>Girls in dugouts often helped troops get across the river. Maneuvering theirdugouts on swift-flowing water, the lasses looked like floating flowers.

<13>A scourge for the troops, malaria was caused by anopheles mosquitoes thatinfested their area of operations. The disease made their hair fall và theirskin turn pale.

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<14>and <15> This elegant couplet became an albatross around the poet’s neck. His detractorscharged that the verses were too embarrassingly sentimental & thus couldadversely affect the troops’ morale.

<16>The dead soldiers’ burials were worse than those for paupers, whose corpseswould be shrouded in reed mats (chiếu) before interment.

<17>Sam Nua (also written as Xam Nua và Sam Nuea) is the major city of Huaphanprovince in Laos, adjacent lớn Vietnam’s tô La & Thanh Hóa provinces.