Thi Nhiệt

translated and annotated

Dr. Đàm Trung Pháp
Professor Emeritus
Texas Woman’s University


“Thi Nhiệt”

Lý Đông A


The poet and thinker Lý Đông A’s real name was Nguyễn Hữu Thanh. Born on January 3, 1921 in Hà Nam Province, he had attended elementay school and studied Chinese characters in his native village before he was sent to Hà Nội to further his education in a private school and in Quán Sứ Pagoda at age 16. A year later, he started frequenting the mountain-top Yên Tử Pagoda, where he used to meditate under an old pine tree. One day, while he was meditating, a bright red celestial light shone on him -- a supernatural act, reverently explained by believers as the “corporal permeation by the divine light” or “linh quang thần nhập thể,” which magnified his mental prowess manyfold. Soon afterwards, urged by a group of scholars-turned-revolutionaries, he joined Nguyễn Hải Thần’s National Restoration Force (Phục Quốc Quân). This force had to flee to China after they lost the Lạng Sơn Battle to the Việt Minh in 1940. For three years in Liu Zhou (Liễu Châu), Nguyễn Hữu Thanh taught at the Liu Zhou Military Academy and spent much time in the Liu Zhou Library to read and write books. He returned in 1943, disseminated his writings under the pen name of Thái Việt Lý Đông A, and founded the People’s Party (Đảng Duy Dân). His major publications included Huyết Hoa (a collection of essays in the humanities), Đạo Trường Ngâm (a collection of patriotic poems), and Chu Tri Lục (an in-depth discussion of the platform of the People’s Party). In early 1946, when the Việt Minh agreed in a treaty to let the French come back, he decided to confront the Việt Minh themselves at the Nga My Hill Battle Zone. His mystifying disappearance at the end of this battle left behind the legend of a short-lived genius, a superb political theorist, an amazing visionary with uncanny foreknowledge of what would happen to his country sixty years later. In light of his literary legacy, Lý Đông A is arguably the most righteous poet and thinker of Vietnam in the twentieth century.

The poem Thi Nhiệt (Poetic Passion), translated into English with annotations below, reflects his upright belief in the mission of writers, which urges them to inspire love (the blood nature of mankind), to infuse love in the ups and downs of history, and to extol selfless victories.

Thi Nhiệt

Ta đã về đứng bên bờ Pắc Nậm
Mặc heo may quấn quýt hồn cố hương,
Thấm hàng cây lấp ló những ven tường.
Hòa làn khói mơ màng bao nhớ ước.

Cách dòng nước ta là người mất nước,
Nước non ta, ai ngăn trở ta về?
Thấy người quê không được tỏ tình quê,
Rõ trước mắt mà tìm đâu cho thấy?

Hãy hét lớn hai bàn tay nắm lấy,
Hãy khua tan quân địch của Rồng Tiên
Hãy làm cho giống Việt lại đoàn viên,
Quê nước ở trong đáy dòng sống máu.
(4822 tuổi Việt)


Poetic Passion

I came back standing on the bank of Pắc Nậm [1]
In spite of the nostalgia-imbued north-west wind [2]
Which permeated lines of trees half-hidden along walls
Blending with a dream-like trail of smoke of memories and aspirations.

On this side of the stream I am a person who has lost his country, [3]
This land of mine, who prevents me from returning?  [4]
From sharing confidence with my fellow countrymen I see,
Clearly in front of my eyes, yet nowhere to be found?

Clasping our hands let’s shout,
Let’s wipe out the enemies of Dragons and Fairies [5]
Let’s re-unite the Viet race,
Whose native land is in the bottom of their blood lifeline! [6]
(Viet age 4822) [7]



 [1] Pắc Nậm is the name in an ethnic-minority language of a small river in the Cao Bằng and Lạng Sơn area, near the Vietnam-China border. Where Lý Đông A stood on the bank of Pắc Nậm River was just a few miles away from Hồ Chí Minh’s Pắc Bó Cave hideout.

[2] This north-west wind (gió heo may) is a cold autumnal movement of the air. It usually comes with a sad, overcast sky. When accompanied by dragonflies, it is a precursor for a storm, according to a time-honored Vietnamese proverb that says “Gió heo may, chuồn chuồn bay thì bão.” This cold wind exacerbated the poet’s sense of nostalgia and revived his memories and aspirations.

[3] The poet’s country was lost to the French colonialists, who were still ruling Vietnam (with Emperor Bảo Đại serving as a pitiful figurehead) when this poem was written in 1943.

[4] The subject of the verb “prevents” in this verse could be either the French or the Viet Minh, or both. The pain of a man without a country along with his unbearable frustration of not being in communication with his fellow countrymen spread through the second stanza of the poem.

[5] As the Vietnamese people’s mythological ancestors were dragons and fairies, the Vietnamese still frequently refer to themselves as “con Rồng cháu Tiên” (descendants of Dragons and Fairies) with pride.

[6] This powerful last verse of the third stanza, repeated as the conclusion for the poem, illustrates the language of the People’s Party (ngôn ngữ Duy Dân) made popular by Lý Đông A. This language includes such new coinages as “quê nước” (native land) and “dòng sống máu” (blood lifeline), as well as Lý Đông A’s fondness for the word “đáy” (bottom).

 [7] “Viet age 4822” was Lý Đông A’s innovative way to mark the year in which this poem was written (1943). According to historical records, the country named Văn Lang (or Việt Nam later on) was founded in the year 2879 BC; thus by adding 2879 to 1943, he came out with the Viet age of 4822.



Lý Đông A (1969). Chu Tri Lục. Saigon: Gió Đáy.

Lý Đông A (1986). Huyết Hoa. San José, CA: Nhóm Nghiên Cứu Văn Hóa Dân Tộc Việt.

Lý Đông A (1992). Đạo Trường Ngâm. Westminster, CA: Vạn Thắng Thư Cục.

Viên Linh (2010). Lý Đông A, Chính Khí Việt & Nghệ Thuật. Khởi Hành Literary Review, 15(170), 12-14.