RIP Nguyen Chi Thien

On 10/7, The New York Times reported the passing of Vietnamese dissident poet Nguyen Chi Thien. Imprisoned for nearly three decades, Thien had to compose his poems without so much as a pencil and a scrap of paper: he memorized them. The selection below speaks even further to the indomitable character of his spirit.

“My poetry’s not mere poetry, no,

but it’s the sound of sobbing from a life,

the din of doors in a dark jail,

the wheeze of two poor wasted lungs,

the thud of earth tossed to bury dreams,

the clash of teeth all chattering from cold,

the cry of hunger from a stomach wrenching wild,

the helpless voice before so many wrecks.

All sounds of life half lived,

of death half died — no poetry, no.”
— Nguyen Chi Thien, poet.



Also printed in the Times article:


Should anyone ask what I hope for in life

Knowing that I am in jail, you would say:


Knowing that I have been hungry, you would say:

Food and warmth!

No, no, you would be wrong, for in the Communist land

All these things are chimera

Whoever would hope for them

Must kneel in front of the enemy.

In the long struggle against the prison

I have only poetry in my bosom,

And two paper-thin lungs

To fight the enemy, I cannot be a coward.

And to win him over, I must live a thousand autumns!

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