What am I and what is my purpose?
In Nguyen’s poem, the scholar solves one of life’s mysteries and I wonder if it is that simple: it is easy enough to see, if only we would look closely, or step far enough away, or ask a scholar who may happen to visit. If we shut our eyes, the fragrance and memory of our own journey may give us the answer, full-bodied and rich, and like the woodbine flower, satisfying and wanting at the same time.
The Woodbine And The Scholar
by Nguyen Dinh Nhac, translated to the English by Nguyen Thi Xuan Ba
Night arrived softly, the air was clear.
A light breeze drifted by, cooling one’s thoughts.
The feminine woodbine presented her fragrance,
Intense and lingering as an unanswered question.
The scholar was elderly and viewed with affection.
The woodbine, like a young girl, greeted him with respect,
And seeing that he was a wise man, desired to ask him a question:
Why woodbine was considered a lowly flower?
The intense fragrance flew far to show the way
To the expatriates burdened with homesickness and love,
To the lonely people living in melancholy,
On a bleak journey forgetting the way back to their homeland.
The scholar contemplated the woodbine flower hiding behind the leaves.
It was hard to keep silent after such an unexpected question.
Quickly he smiled, telling her to listen.
“The flower that heralds night” must be respected for her ordinariness.
Elegant and sublime? Who defines elegant and sublime beings?
Woodbine, flower of the night delaying light.
Half of the day was long in its own domain.
It was difficult to be a heroic flower.
*Shared from an anthology of poetry printed in 2003
The woodbine, or honeysuckle, pierces the air with its sweetness and if you’ve ever tasted its nectar, you’re left with a hunger for more. The poem reminds me of summers as a child, the blossom forming a sugary tear at its base as I pulled the style to draw the nectar out. If you have never tried this, I recommend it.
It’s never too late to sample the nectar of this lowly and heroic flower. (Helpful instructions here)