Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Ho Chi Minh's Prison Diary for example

There is a poem 'Ho Chin Minh in Paris' by Poet-in-Residence to be found on this blogspot. The poem explores the subject of the poet in exile or in prison. And this is an important topic for as we all know poets often end up in these situations if they manage to escape the firing squad. You can always tell if something unpleasant is afoot - the poets begin to disappear.
For the dictator and his ilk the poet is the most dangerous person in the world. The career of the Greek poet Yannis Ritsos is a good example. Ritsos was born in 1909. In 1934 he published his first book of poetry 'Tractors'. In 1936 his 'Epitaphios', a lament for a worker assassinated in a strike in the tobacco industry in Salonika, was burned in a ceremony at the Temple of Zeus. In 1948 Ritsos was sent into internal exile in Lemnos and several other islands for a period of 4 years. His books were banned and he was not allowed to publish again until 1954. In 1967 he was sent into exile again and subsequently kept under house arrest until 1970. His works were again banned, this time until 1972. Here is a poem from Ritsos written with typical economy.

Awaiting his Execution

There, stood against the wall, at dawn, his eyes uncovered,
as twelve guns aimed at him, he calmly feels
that he is young and handsome, that he deserves to be clean shaven,
that the pale pink distant horizon becomes him -
and, yes, that his genitals retain their proper weight,
somewhat sad in their warmth - that's where the eunuchs look,
that's where they aim;- has he already become a statue of himself?
Himself looking at it, all nude, on a bright day
of the Greek summer, in the square above - looking at it standing upright
himself behind the shoulders of the crowd, behind the hurrying
gluttonus tourist women,
behind the three made-up old women wearing black hats.

(tranlation by Nikos Stangos)

If you have read P-i-R's poem 'Ho Chi Minh in Paris' you will be familiar with the grim tale of the man in chains who was marched from prison to prison for 4 long years, and of how he came to write a diary of poetry.
Ably translated from Chinese into English, by Dang The Binh, with an introduction by Phan Nhuan, this small notebook should enable us to understand its author much better than lengthy memoirs could do.
Like the poems of Yannis Ritsos, Ho Chin Minh's poems are short, memorable and to the point.
It is with great respect for the courage and fortitude of the world's unjustly imprisoned poets that a small selection from 'Prison Diary' is humbly offered here.

Evening Scenery

A rose blossoms, and then fades
It blooms and withers heedlessly.
But its sweetness the prison cell prevades
To arouse our deepfelt bitterness.

Beginning the Diary

I've never been given to chanting verse;
But what else can a captive do in jail?
These long days I'll spend composing poems:
Singing may ease the wait for freedom.

Arrested in Glory Street

In Glory Street, cruel irony! this shame was brought on me
Deliberately, to hold me back.
Groundlessly I was accused of the crime of spying,
And a man's honour, for no reason, was reduced to nothing.

Arrival at Tianbao Jail

Today I have walked fifty-three kilometres.
My hat and clothes are soaking through, my shoes in tatters.
Without a place to sleep, all through the night
I sit by the edge of the latrine, waiting for light.

The Gruel Stall

By the raodside, in the shade of an opulent tree,
Stands a hut of thatch called 'restaurant'.
The bill of fare: cold rice gruel, white salt;
Come in traveller, enjoy a restful halt!

Writing a Petition for Jail-Mates

Being in the same boat, how could I refuse to help you?
On your behalf to the authorities I wrote a petition.
'Whereas... in consequence of...' - For such newly-learnt jargon
No end of thanks I got as my due.

Autumn Night

At the gate guards holding their rifles stand.
Above them shredded clouds are drifting with the moon.
Bedbugs swarm about like tanks manoeuvering.
Like air squadrons, mosquitoes regroup and disperse.
My heart travels a thousand li to my country.
Sadness twists my dreams into a thousand tangled skeins.
An innocent man, yet I've been a whole year in chains.
With tears dropping on my inkslab, I make another poem on captivity.

1 comment:

  1. To find Gwilym Williams' poem Ho Chi Minh in Paris simply enter Ho Chi Minh in Paris in the search box top left and click. Then scroll down.


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