Nguyen Du

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Nguyễn Du (1765–1820) was a poet. His 3,254-line poem, Kim Vân Kiều, also known as Truyện Kiều, is considered by many to be the greatest work in Vietnamese literature. It certainly is the only lengthy work that a great many Vietnamese learn by heart and the only Vietnamese work with a claim to be a classic of world literature.
Nguyễn Du's grave in Hà Tĩnh


He was born in Hanoi, called Thăng Long at the time, and died in Hanoi. His father, Nguyễn Nghiễm, had eight wives and 21 children. His father died when he was 10; his mother, Trần Thị Tần, the third wife, died when he was 13. After passing a Tam Trường examination in 1783, he was appointed a military position in Thái Nguyễn, under the Trịnh administration. After the Trịnh Lords were defeated by the Tây Sơn brothers in 1787, he retreated from public view, living in his wife's hometown of Thái Bình from 1789 to 1795. In 1796, he was accused by the Tây Sơn rulers of collaborating with Nguyễn Ánh, the future emperor Gia Long, and jailed for three months. When Nguyễn Ánh defeated the Tây Sơn brothers in 1802, establishing the Nguyễn Dynasty, Nguyễn Du returned to public life, rising to the rank of ambassador to China in 1813. He was later appointed to two more diplomatic missions to Beijing, but died before he could depart for the last one. According to Đại Nam Liệt Truyện: "In grave illness, he refused medicines, but asked his family to touch his limbs. They're already cold, he was told. 'Fine,' he said, then died, without saying anything else."

Kim Vân Kiều is the story of a prostitute struggling to gain independence, its plot pilfered from a 17th century Chinese novel of the same name. There has been much debate over the date of its composition, but the consensus is that it was written before Nguyễn Du was ambassador to China, and likely even before he became an official under Gia Long in 1802. Kim Vân Kiều was written in the nôm script, with the earliest surviving version dating from 1866, but there is no definitive text. In 1907, Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh became the first to transliterate it to Quốc Ngữ (the romanized script). Truyện Kiều has been used to tell fortunes, adapted to the stage, made into films, in fact Vietnam's first story film, produced by Paul Thierry's Indochine Films et Cinémas in 1924. Recently, it has even been converted into a ballet. Perhaps the most famous opinion about it belongs to Phạm Quỳnh, who said during the French occupation: "As long as Kim Vân Kiều remains, our language remains, our nation remains." Truyện Kiều also has its detractors. Some point to its unoriginal, borrowed plot. Others question the wisdom of designating a tale about a prostitute as Vietnam's national poem.

Linh Dinh started this entry.

Major Works

A page from the 1866 edition of Kim Vân Kiều
  • Kim Vân Kiều
  • Văn Tế Thập Loại Chúng Sinh
  • Văn Tế Sống Hai Cô Gái Trường Lưu
  • Thác Lời Trai Phường Nón
  • Thanh Hiên Thi Tập (in Chinese)
  • Nam Trung Tạp Ngâm (in Chinese)
  • Bắc Hành Tạp Lục (in Chinese)

Other poems

  • Cảm Hứng Trong Tù
  • Đầu Sông Chơi Dạo
  • Đứng Trên Cầu Hoàng Mai Buổi Chiều
  • Đêm Đậu Thuyền Cửa Sông Tam Giang
  • Đêm Rằm Tháng Giêng Ở Quỳnh Côi
  • Lưu Biệt Anh Nguyễn
  • Mộ Đỗ Thiếu Lăng Ở Lôi Dương
  • Miếu Thờ Mã Phục Ba Ở Giáp Thành
  • Ngày Thu Gởi Hứng
  • Nói Hàn Tín Luyện Quân
  • Người Hát Rong Phủ Vĩnh Bình
  • Ngồi Một Mình Trong Thủy Các
  • Ngựa Bỏ Bên Thành
  • Ngày Xuân Chợt Hứng
  • Long Thành Cẩm Giả Ca
  • Tranh Biệt Cùng Giả Nghị
  • Qua Sông Hoài Nhớ Thừa Tướng Văn
  • Xúc Cảm Đình Ven Sông
  • Viếng Người Con Hát Thành La

Kim Vân Kiều in translation


  • Kim Wen Kieov, translated into Polish by ? (Vacsava: ?)
  • Kim Vân Kiều, translated into Japanese by Aoi Komatsu (Tokyo: 1949)
  • Kiều, translated into Czech by Gustav Franck (Praha: 1957)
  • Kim Vân Kiều, translated into Chinese by Hoàng Dật Cầu (Beijing: 1959)
  • Kim Vân Kiều, translated into French by Xuân Việt and Xuân Phúc (Paris: 1961)
  • Kim Vân Kiều, translated into English by Lê Xuân Thuỷ (Saigon: 1963)
  • Das Mädchen Kiêu, translated into German by Irene and Franz Faber (1964)
  • Kiều, translated into French by Nguyễn Khắc Viện (Hanoi: 1965)
  • The tale of Kieu, translated twice into English by Huỳnh Sanh Thông (New York: 1973 and New Haven: 1983)
  • Kim Vân Kiều tân truyện, translated into Japanese by Takeuchi Yonosuke (Tokyo: 1985)
  • Histoire de Kieu, translated into French by Lê Cao Phan (Hanoi: 1994)
  • Kiều, translated into English by Michael Councell (London: 1995)
  • The Kim Van Kieu of Nguyen Du (1765-1820) translated into English by Vladislav Zhukov (Sydney: 2004)
  • Truyện Kiều, translated into Chinese by La Trường Sơn (Nam Ninh: 2006)

Nguyễn Du online