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Spring Essence: The Poetry of Hô Xuân Huong

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  163 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
Hồ Xuân Hương — whose name translates as "Spring Essence" — is one of the most important and popular poets in Vietnam. A concubine, she became renowned for her poetic skills, writing subtly risqué poems which used double entendre and sexual innuendo as a vehicle for social, religious, and political commentary.

"The Unwed Mother"

Because I was too easy, this happened.
Can you
Paperback, 140 pages
Published October 1st 2000 by Copper Canyon Press (first published 1800)
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Sep 17, 2015 Steve added it
Shelves: vietnamese, poetry

Little seems to be known about the life of Hồ Xuân Hương,(*) born between 1775 and 1780 and deceased by the mid-1820’s, or even if she had actually composed the poems attributed to her in the form that has come down to us. The received and much elaborated legend presents her as a professional concubine who ran a tea shop in Hanoi, had a series of relationships with a number of men in the upper class, and wrote risqué poems subversive of the paternalistic culture of late 18th and early 19th cent
PGR Nair
Mar 05, 2012 PGR Nair rated it it was amazing

Ho Xuan Huong (1772-1822) was a Vietnamese woman poet born at the end of the Later Le Dynasty (Period 1428'1788: the greatest and longest lasting dynasty of traditional Vietnam) who wrote poems with unusual irreverence and shockingly erotic undertones for her time. She is considered as one of Vietnam’s greatest poets, such that she is dubbed “the Queen of Nom Poetry" and has become a cultural symbol of Vietnam. I came across her name first in a travel guide where one her poems was
Feb 07, 2009 Ben rated it it was amazing
Ho Xuan Huong, whose name means "Spring Essence," was a concubine during the end of Vietnam's second Le Dynasty (1592-1788), a period of unrest and social decay. She was a woman who wrote poetry in male-dominated, Confucian tradition--a remnant, both social and artistic, of the Chinese who had once dominated Ho Xuan Huong's country. Though the poems are full of double entendre, sexual innuendo, and subtle attacks on all levels of male authority (social, religious, political, etc), she and her wo ...more
Nov 03, 2015 Kaion rated it really liked it
"Jackfruit" (t. Marilyn Chin)
My body is like a jackfruit swinging on a tree
My skin is rough, my pulp is thick
Dear prince, if you want me pierce me upon your stick
Don't squeeze, I'll ooze and stain your hands

Not much is known about the Vietnamese poet Ho Xuan Huong. She lived approximately 1775-1825, spending at least some of that time in Hanoi. Other details of her life —that she was married twice to minor officials, that she was a concubine, that she ran a tea shop where scholars studying for
Apr 09, 2014 Leola rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, poetry
I enjoy anything that has survived against the odds of history, and even more so if it's the work of a woman. There's a permanence to these poems, a sense that Ho Xuan Huong's spirit is alive in them still. She writes about mountain passes, wellsprings, rusted coins, willow trees; a second reading reveals the innuendos behind these nouns. So, too, we have poems about men and women, life and death, sexuality and love.

"Pluck the low branches, pull down the high.
Enjoy alike the spent blossoms, the
Ho Xuan Huong's clever way of loading her poetry with naughty double-entendres and delicate sexual undertones really resonated with me. Her poems on themes other than sex were comparatively uninteresting; I simply wasn't very moved by them. In light of the fact that Ho Xuan Huong is considered one of Vietnam's great poets, I would guess that the fault lies with the translator rather than with Ho Xuan Huong herself, though.
Apr 05, 2013 Penelope rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-own-this
I've been in the mood for poetry lately; went shopping in my poetry shelves and pulled out Spring Essence. Sat down in the morning and had it read by nightfall. Think I will keep it on my current stack for a while, so I can pick it up and re-read a poems now and again.

Ho Xuan Huang is my kind of poet. I have a strong affinity for certain types of poetry: Asian forms such as Haiku, Tanka (in the case of Ho Xuan Huong, the form is "lu-shih"), actually forms of all kinds, particularly Sonnets; wom
Jan 12, 2008 W.B. rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Fascinating, often sexual poems written by an eighteenth century concubine.

When I first read this book, I was sure that it was a hoax perpetrated by a scholar or a gaggle of them, but now I'm not too sure and I simply don't care because the writing is so interesting.

This was written in Nom, "(a) nearly extinct ideographic script." From the jacket: "This book is the first in history to have Nom printed as type, and features the 1,000-year old script alongside its modern Vietnamese equivalent, quo
Apr 02, 2014 Eric rated it it was amazing

it's tempting to compare the poet Spring Essence to some better known women poets who also wrote of their lives with passion and intelligence: Izumi Shikibu and Sappho come to mind. What distinguishes SE from her peers is her rawness and her social protest.

these brief poems will get you inside the mind and body of a vietnamese concubine of the 18th century. in a strictly confucian society, SE talks about what it feels like to be a second wife waiting on the occasional visits of her husband--and
Jan 04, 2008 Julie rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I love the subversive themes. She's very subtle about being very bold. I typically like more prosish narrative poems, but I respect the intent of these so much that I really enjoyed the book.

I love the fact that the work is translated, because it keeps me wondering where Xuan Huong stops and Balaban (the translator) starts. It's very interesting to read about his translation (read the introduction!). How much of the innuendo, implication was there, and how much did his environment / education /
Natalie Peeterse
Jun 10, 2015 Natalie Peeterse rated it really liked it
I'm so glad I know about Huong, a rock star of early 1800s Vietnam. Full of sex, sass and skill. A warrior poet.
Mar 29, 2014 ChromaLadyTones rated it really liked it
Not sure about these translations, preferred Lady Borton's in 'The Defiant Muse: Vietnamese Feminist Poetry'.
May 04, 2014 Heather rated it liked it
Dirty, dirty poems, with a nice introductory section on form, language & tonality, and translation.
David Orphal
May 02, 2014 David Orphal rated it really liked it
Simply beautiful. Definitely a keeper and a rereader.
Charles Liburd
Feb 23, 2016 Charles Liburd rated it it was amazing
If you don't know this rough, tough and beautiful Vietnamese poet, you should!
Sep 24, 2013 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
"A gentle spring evening arrives
airily, unclouded by worldly dust.

Three times the bell tolls echoes like a wave.
We see heaven upside-down in sad puddles.

Love's vast sea cannot be emptied.
And springs of grace flow easily everywhere.

Where is nirvana?
Nirvana is here, nine times out of ten."
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
Aug 05, 2008 Krista the Krazy Kataloguer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-poetry
What a fantastic poet! Her poems are fascinating to read because they can be read 2 ways-- all have double entendres!
The translator has certainly done justice to this poet's concise, carefully chosen words and images. Highly recommended!
Jul 02, 2008 Rich rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
While nuance cannot be translated sometimes, Balaban gives the reader a window into a classical figure in Vietnamese poetry.
Mar 22, 2011 Laren rated it it was amazing
Tom Robbins sent me this book. The poems grit and flutter. Amazing.
Mario Rivera
fuck you stupid ass website dont help for shit thank you :}
Apr 23, 2012 Christa rated it it was amazing
AMAZING! Intensely beautiful. Highly suggest.
Jun 14, 2007 Lauren rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Erotic protest poetry!

In translation!

Mills College Library
895.92211 H6786s 2000
Dec 06, 2007 S. rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, women-writers
Nice bite to these poems.
Alastair Kemp
Alastair Kemp marked it as to-read
Sep 27, 2016
Lytton Bell
Lytton Bell rated it really liked it
Sep 23, 2016
mim marked it as to-read
Sep 21, 2016
Arshad Khan
Arshad Khan marked it as to-read
Sep 19, 2016
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Orawan Cassidy marked it as to-read
Sep 16, 2016
Rich rated it really liked it
Sep 19, 2016
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Hồ Xuân Hương (胡春香; 1772–1822) was a Vietnamese poet born at the end of the Lê Dynasty. She grew up in an era of political and social turmoil – the time of the Tây Sơn rebellion and a three-decade civil war that led to Nguyễn Ánh seizing power as Emperor Gia Long and starting the Nguyen Dynasty. She wrote poetry using Chữ Nôm (Southern Script), which adapts Chinese characters for writing demotic V ...more
More about Hồ Xuân Hương...

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“Drop by drop rain slaps the banana leaves,

Praise whoever sketched this desolate scene:

the lush, dark canopies of the gnarled trees,

the long river, sliding smooth and white.

I lift my wine flask, drunk with rivers and hills.

My backpack, breathing moonlight, sags with poems.

Look, and love everyone.

Whoever sees this landscape is stunned.”
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