Back Travel » Vignette: Letters to Hàn Mặc Tử

Vignette: Letters to Hàn Mặc Tử

Quy Nhơn residents mentioned Hàn Mặc Tử with great pride and reverence whenever I mentioned enjoying reading and writing poems. 

A painting by Nguyễn Bá Tín hanging in Hàn Mặc Tử's home. 

Hàn Mặc Tử was actually born in Quảng Bình, and spent significant portions of his tragically short life laboring at a newspaper in Saigon after first moving to Quy Nhơn. Still, the famed poet seems to have been adopted by the Bình Định city where he died in 1940 at the age of 28. There is a rather extravagant tomb honoring him beside a scenic overlook downtown, his original grave remains well-kept and his home in the leprosy colony where he suffered greatly has been preserved with paintings of him made by his brother still adorning the walls alongside his humble possessions.

When I lived in Quy Nhơn some years ago, I would often spend my nights reading and writing on a beach not far from where Hàn Mặc Tử had lived. Often described as a near-mythic figure with the power to channel divine inspiration, he represents a romanticization of poetry I don’t personally prescribe to. Yet, on those empty nights spent gazing out across the sea, I often found myself having one-sided conversations with Hàn Mặc Tử. Sometimes the discussions were in the form of poems. Here is one I saved:


Another Letter to Hàn Mặc Tử

Ai mua trăng, tôi bán trăng cho / Who wants to buy the moon? I will sell it.
— Hàn Mặc Tử

Only an idiot would sell the moon!
Didn’t you know a sky without the moon
would devastate the seas? Stilled currents
starving snails, squids, sardines and seals.
But you were no naturalist.
In your day, no one shed tears at the sound
of an ice sheet cracking beneath a starving polar bear
or a pilot whale suffocating in the surf.
You were a hopeless romantic, though:
with no moon, scientists say nights would be so dark
we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces,
so how could you have enjoyed
a lover’s smile
after a midnight kiss?
Yesterday, I visited your house,
gazed at the portraits your brother painted
of you alone on the beach at dusk.
How could you have stayed there to write with no moon?
I also saw the bed you died in at age 28.
Is that why you wanted to sell the moon?
Did you know that without a moon, the Earth would spin
so fast years would have more than 1,000 days?
Do we misunderstand you?
Selling the moon isn’t a romantic gesture.
You simply wanted more mornings to watch the sun
pierce clouds the way sorrows pierced you.

Hàn Mặc Tử's new grave in Quy Nhơn.

Related Articles

Paul Christiansen

in Loạt Soạt

The Fraught Human-Earth Dynamics in 'Revenge of Gaia,' a Collection of Vietnamese Eco-Fiction

Stories focusing on the natural world and humanity’s relationships with the environment existed before the term eco-literature became popular in the west in the 1970s, but since its coinage, writers a...

Paul Christiansen

in Loạt Soạt

'Chronicles of a Village' Is an Avant-Garde Deconstruction of the Familiar Rural Vietnam

How would you tell the story of your birth soil?

Paul Christiansen

in Loạt Soạt

'The Mountains Sing,' a Quintessential Vietnamese Novel, Written in Memories

As American bombers roared over the horizon preparing to drop fire and misery, air raid sirens screeched and people throughout Hanoi scrambled to find safety.

Paul Christiansen

in Travel

An Awe-Inspiring Bird's-Eye View of Bình Định's Chăm Towers

What if memories were not collections of chemicals and electrical impulses stored in the fleshy recesses of a mind, but physical objects made of brick and stone?

Paul Christiansen

in Literature

How Nam Cao Almost Ruined My Favorite Canal Cafe

Spoilers for an 80-year-old story that every student in the nation is required to read: the dog dies, the old man dies, his son's misfortunes show no sign of abetting. Simply, misery abounds at the en...

in Travel

How Quy Nhon's Old Cemetery Slowly Expands up Vung Chua Mountain

​You might miss it if you were driving past, but once you walk down a small hẻm off Quy Nhon’s main Tay Son Street, the massive cemetery sprawls in all directions. 

Partner Content