The Tale of Kiều

IF YOU WANT TO READ BILINGUAL TEXTS, PLEASE CLICK EPISODES IN MENU ABOVE.

 

INTRODUCTION

DESTINY IS ENVIOUS OF GENIUS

HEAVEN IS JEALOUS WITH BEAUTY

 

1. In the hundred-year span of a human life,

Talent and fate are always apt to strife.

Through experience of a harrowing change,

What we witnessed filled our hearts with tearing pain.

5. ‘Tis not a wonder that Heaven gives then takes,

And with the fair sex He used to be jealous.

 

EPISODE I

DAUGHTERS OF EXCELLENT DIGNITY

SISTERS OF OUTSTANDING DECENCY

Let’s open the scented book under the lamp,

An old love saga transmitted in history.

That in the Chia-Ching[1] reign of Ming dynasty,

10. All was in peace and two capitals[2] stable.

There once lived a man of the Vuong family,

A middle-class bourgeois of that society.

His only son and last-born child was Quan Vuong,

Who he hoped would maintain his line of scholar.

15. His first births were two magnificent daughters,

Of them Thuy Kieu elder and Thuy Van younger.

Both with apricot bodies and snow spirits,

Each had their unique style and perfect beauty.

Van looked gentle with a decent elegance,

20. Her face a full moon, her eyebrows two long arcs.

Her smile a flower and her voice sounds of jade,

Clouds yielded her hair and snow ceded her skin.

Kieu was even more attractive and charming,

Surpassing her sister in talent and beauty.

25. Eyes pure like fall lake, brows bold like spring hill,

Flowers grudged her fresh and willows craved her green.

Her glances would make a king bequeath his throne,

Her talent, like her beauty, was second to none.

Endowed with an inherent intelligence,

30. She excelled in poetry, chanting, and painting.

Well versed in pitches and fine tones of music,

She was peerless with her art of lute playing.

She herself composed the song for her singing,

A heart-tearing lyric of woman’s sufferings.

35. As refined and noble as the sisters were,

And though they’d reached the age of nubility,

They did stay at home behind drapes and curtains,

Without care of flirting butterflies and bees.

 

EPISODE II

THE ON-GRASS JUNKET

THE OWNERLESS GRAVE

Like a swallow, time shuttled so fast in spring,

40. It was beyond the sixtieth day of the season.

The young green grass spread out to the horizon,

The pear trees were speckled with some white flowers.

Now came Bright Day[3], a seasonal feast in March,

A grave-cleaning and on-grass walking party.

45. All ‘round people were eager to celebrate,

And the sisters prepared to participate.

A convergence of fine men and fair ladies,

A squeezing jam of carriages and clothes.

They were coming up on the burial knolls,

50. Strewing leaves of sham gold and paper money.

Gradually the sun went down in the west sky,

The sisters regrettably left and went home.

Leisurely pacing along a rivulet,

They looked at the landscape rather delicate.

55. Here curved an indolent current of water,

There spanned a small bridge on the rivulet’s brinks.

By the alley appeared a flat mound of grave,

Where the grass was sadly half yellow half green.

“Why is it that in the Bright-Day festival,

60. Neither incense nor smoke at this burial?”

Asked by his sister, Vuong Quan tried to explain:

“’Tis the tomb of Dam Tien, a former songstress,

Once renowned for her beauty and genius,

Host of amorous men jostled at her door.

65. But how fragile a beauty fate always was!

This heaven-scented flower broke while in bloom.

There was then a customer lured by her fame,

From a distant land for her delight he came.

But when his love boat arrived at the station,

70. The brooch had been shattered and the vase broken.

Her room was already cold and deserted,

The carriage traces had been blurred by green moss.

The unhappy lover moaned and cried his loss:

‘How wretched and ill-fated two of us are!

75. Because we were not destined to meet this life,

Here’s my token of union in the next.’

He at once acquired a coffin and a hearse,

And laid her to rest in this rose-covered grave.

Henceforth, through countless moonsets and sunrises,

80. No one come to visit this ownerless tomb.”

With a sensitive heart filled with compassion,

Kieu burst out in profuse tears for the story:

“How sorrowful a woman’s destiny is!

A damned fate’s always our final common lot.

85. How cruel and pitiless Creator is!

Who shrivels our youth and withers our beauty.

Alive, she played the wife of many a man,

When dead, she remains a ghost without husband.

Where are they now who once shared her sex pleasures?

90. Where are they now who were her beauty cravers?

Since no one cares to visit and think of her,

I would on this instant light some incense sticks,

As a proof of her meeting on my way home.

Perchance, down there in the Yellow Spring[4], she’ll know.”

95. Mumbling incantations in tone high and low,

She made some bows before the tomb, then got out.

In the pale twilight loomed a field of dead weed,

And a soft breeze stirred the tassel of the reeds.

Kieu pulled down a brooch that was pinning her hair,

100. And scratched on the tree skin a four-verse poem.

She then fell into a bewitched state of mind,

She then stood immobile and dazed at her place,

She then made grim and gloomy her flower face,

Immersing in broken grief and endless tears.

105. Van said: “You are truly laughable and weird,

Having extra tears to weep ancient people.”

Kieu answered: “Since era immemorial,

Cruel fate has never spared any woman.

Just thinking this idea makes me sick at heart,

110. I see her lie there but what will be of me?”

Quan interfered: “What you said’s very funny,

It’s hard to hear your words of analogy.

Here the atmosphere is morbid and gloomy,

The sun’s declining and the way home still long.”

115. Kieu replied: “For elites of gifted talent,

Their bodies perish, but essences persist.

I’m rather lucky to meet my intimate,

Let’s wait and see, soon her soul will show itself.”

Before could anyone answer to these words,

120. That from nowhere a whirlwind started to blow.

Violently, it felled the buds and shook the trees,

Bringing with it more or less a vague perfume.

Following the wind’s path, they were stunned to see,

The print of each step clearly stamped in the moss.

125. They were all terrified by what they’d just seen,

Kieu said: “This isn’t anything but true faith,

As heart-felt friends, we’re due to meet each other,

Without concern of life and death, we’re sisters.”

In gratitude to Dam Tien’s apparition,

130. Kieu added more words of appreciation.

Her heart overflowing with inspiration,

She inscribed an old-style poem at the tree foot.

 

EPISODE III

THE FATEFUL MEETING

THE OMINOUS DREAM

Staying or leaving, while still undecided,

The sisters heard near a sweet tune of music.

135. They looked and saw a youthful handsome scholar,

Who loosened the rein and slowly rode forward,

Carrying a half bagful of poetry,

And followed by a couple of small pageboys.

His pony was stamped with a snow-white color,

140.And his coat mixed with the tints of grass and sky.

As far as he could recognize the sisters,

He deigned to dismount and walked to their meeting.

His figured shoes gently striding in the green,

The environs sparkled like a grove of gems.

145.As an acquaintance, Vuong came out to greet him,

While the sisters, shy, hid behind the flowers.

In fact, this young man, not at all a stranger,

Was Kim Trong, a descent of noble ancestry,

A brilliant son of a wealthy family,

150. Endowed with scholarship and intelligence.

Superb were his conduct and physiognomy,

Refined and generous his ways of living.

He’d ever since lived in the same surroundings,

And had also been one of Vuong Quan schoolmates.

155. He’d heard about his neighbors’ celebrities,

Two beauties locked in the Bronze-Sparrow Tower[5].

But rivers and mountains guarded their chambers,

So he could only yearn and love in secret.

It was lucky that they met by coincidence,

160. A good chance for him to seek her confidence.

From afar, Kim had seen the sisters’ figures,

Spring orchid and autumn mum, lovely both were.

She- a national beauty, he- a genius,

They fell in love within, kept reserved without.

165. In a faint state of half dreaming half waking,

They were unsure about staying or leaving,

Evening shadows seemed like to induce sadness,

The guest already gone, her eyes still followed.

Under the bridge, limpid water was running,

170. Nearby, with evening shades, willows were dancing.

When Kieu returned home to her maiden chamber,

The sun had set and the dusk gongs had echoed.

A slanted moon was peeping through the window,

Gold rippled on water, trees shadowed the yard.

175. The camellia drooped on east neighbor its plant,

Dewdrops gathered and bent the swaying spring branch.

Lonely watching the face of Lady Phoebe[6],

Kieu was confused by near-and-far anxieties:

“How could Dam’s fate of songstress end up like that?

180. And what a waste an urban dazzling life is!

And this young man why did we meet after all?

Will it end up in a life-time union?

From the mixed feelings of her heart, she poured forth

A poem reflecting the mood of her being.

185. In the skewed moonlight through the window curtain,

Leaning against the sill, Kieu was slumbering.

Out of nowhere she saw appear a damsel,

A little girl, graceful and impeccable.

Face stamped with dew and body shrouded in snow,

190. She moved round, her feet like two lotus flowers.

With joy Kieu went out to welcome and asked her:

“Are you coming astray from the fairy land?”

She said: “Those of the same mood share sympathy,

We met each other this afternoon, didn’t we?

195. At the western side of yours, my poor house is,

Where there is running water beneath a bridge.

You had empathic heart to think of me,

And stooped to write priceless words at my retreat.

I reported all of them to the league chief,

200. Who told your name was also in the Doom Book[7].

As we see, that’s the law of cause and effect,

We’re not strangers but the same boat’s passengers!

Here are ten new themes just posed by the league chief,

Please write fairy verses with your flower pen”.

205. Consent to the association girl’s bid,

With one stroke of nymph hand Kieu finished ten songs.

The girl read the poems and flattered lavishly:

“What an extraordinary poetry!

Had it been introduced into the Doom Songs[8],

210. Second to none it’d deserve the first trophy!”

Towards the threshold the guest had turned to leave,

Kieu still kept her back for more intimate talk.

A sudden strong wind snapped the blind from nowhere,

Kieu awoke and knew she’d just had a nightmare.

215. She looked around for the girl but saw no one,

Though she could still feel the lingering perfume.

All alone tossing about in the late night,

She thought of her long future, all terrified.

A flower swept by water, a weed by wind,

220. That’d be her lot, that’d be her fate, she realized!

Endless waves of inmost feelings harassed her,

The more she thought, the more tears started to flow.

Hearing the sobs of her child in her chamber,

Her mother woke up and asked: “What’s the matter?

225. Why stirring and fretting late at dead of night?

Behold your pear-flowered face all soaked in tears.”

Kieu said: “As a little daughter of yours, dear,

Nothing I’ve done in return of your favors.

Strolling today, we visited Dam Tien’s grave,

230. Right away, tonight, in my dream, I saw her.

What is the fate of a doomed woman, mother?

She gave me subjects and I wrote into poems.

Based on what I saw in dream, I can foretell,

My future life will be as somber as hell!”

235. Mother said: “Those absurd dreams of groundless things,

Worth nothing to acquire griefs and sufferings”

Kieu obeyed her mother and stopped worrying,

Hardly had grief left, lovesick took hold of her.

Outside the window, orioles were talking,

240. From the wall, willow’s blooms flew before the screen.

The moon cast its skewed light on the veranda,

Deep in thought Kieu felt lonely more than ever.

 

EPISODE IV

THE HOPELESS PURSUIT

THE GOD-SEND HAIRPIN

It’s a common way for those sentimental,

Once they’re trapped in love, no one can unravel.

245. Since his return after meeting the sisters,

Kim couldn’t a moment stop thinking of her.

Time seemed to elapse slowlier than ever,

One day of lovesickness equaled three long months.

Layers of curtains enclosed her window like clouds,

250. He dreamed himself probing the way to her house.

Under the waned moons, beside the burned out lamps,

He longed to see her face, yearned to date her heart.

His study room icily cold like copper,

Brush stood dried in stand, lute strings lied loose on fret.

255. Winds shook the cane blind into sounds of music.

Perfume induced her breath, tea enticed her voice.

Had it not been their predestined unity,

Why did she tease him with her gorgeous beauty?

Occupied with the memories of his girl,

260. And of their meeting place, he rushed to go there.

A region of luxuriant grass verdure,

By the pure brook they were to be seen nowhere!

The evening breeze seemed to rouse his sadness,

The reeds lightly shook their mocking vibration.

265. Urged by his bountiful imagination,

He decided to dash toward the Blue Bridge[9].

High walled and close gated was her residence,

That found him hopeless in communication.

Line of willows drooped their leaves of silk curtain,

270. An oriole chirped mockingly in the branch.

Behind those numerous bolted gates and closed doors,

Beyond that dead flower-filled yard, where was she?

Stunned by the view, he stood there for a long time,

Then turned ‘round and saw in rear another house.

275. That was Ngo Viet’s, an itinerant businessman,

Who was far away and the house left empty.

Posed as a lodging student, he asked to rent,

Then with his lute and books, he at once moved in.

The house was ready for him with rocks and trees,

280. With a terrace bearing the name ‘View of Thuy’[10].

He was glad at heart at the name coincidence,

This was, perhaps, a predestined occurrence!

Half closing the window of his rented house,

He peeped day after day at the eastern wall.

285. Being so near but almost locked out from her,

He saw not a flitting glimpse of her shadows.

Two swift rounds of moon had passed since he moved in,

Sojourning in this strange lodge in search of her.

On a serene day, it seemed, beyond the wall,

290. A gracious figure flit beneath the peach tree.

He put down his lute, tidied his gown, dashed out,

The perfume still lingered, the girl’d disappeared.

Walking along the wall circling the area,

He saw on the peach branch a golden hairpin.

295. Kim stretched out his hand for it and brought it home,

Thinking: “Why’s it here, the lady chamber’s thing?

This brooch of that woman would not have fallen

Into my hand without predestination!”

He sat all night watching and touching the pin,

300. Which still emit a slight sandal scent of her.

As dew just cleared, a soul was seen by the wall,

Searching for something in a confused manner.

Kim’d been purposely waiting for this moment,

He raised his voice through the wall to sound her heart:

305. “I’ve found someone’s hairpin accidentally,

But where’s Ho-p’u[11] to return the jewelry?”

A lucid voice was heard from the other side:

“Thank you so much for your heart honest and kind,

The hairpin’s worth nothing and you never mind,

310. But your righteous conscience is indeed priceless!”

Kim said: “We have lived for sometime as neighbors,

And I’m an acquaintance of yours not stranger.

I’ve got this moment thank to your perfumed thing,

That compensates for my sufferings ever since!

315. My long waiting time has been paid off today,

Let me tell you my inmost feelings, please stay.”

Then he hurried inside and took out with him,

Two golden bracelets and a square silk kerchief.

With agility he climbed over the wall,

320. And there before him, the girl he met that day.

Of bashful, reserved, and timorous nature,

Before his close regard, she lowered her head.

Kim started the dialogue: “Since per chance we met,

I’ve been sick with my secret thirsts and longings.

325. My skinny body so withered and wasted,

That no one thought till today I could linger!

All the last months I was like a daydreamer,

Nurturing my love at the expense of my life!

Now I wish I could beg a couple of things,

330. Will you deign to look through into my poor heart?”

Amazed and embarassed, Kieu politely said:

“Mine’s a stringent and pastoral family.

As to the grave matter of matrimony,

It’s up to the decision of my parents.

335. Thank you for your loving and caring heart,

But I’m still too young to answer your request.”

Kim said: “it blows today and it rains the next,

And spring days are not always within our reach.

If you don’t consent with my passionate love,

340. It will hurt me but will it benefit you?

First, let’s make a promise of our attachment,

Then with the matchmaker I’ll make arrangement.

And if heaven disapproves of my true wish,

My youth for your great love I’m willing to risk.

345. But if your heart resolves to reject my love,

All my search labor comes to nothing, you know!”

The lulling words of the young man soothed her ears,

The spring evening stirred the strings of her heart.

She said: “In the first stage of our acquaintance,

350. For your truthful heart, it’s hard to hold back mine!

I appreciate your kindness and concern,

I vowed my oath of loyalty in return.”

Her acceptance seemed to free his heavy heart,

Handing her the jewelry and the rose scarf,

355. He said: “Our conjugal life begins today,

Please as token of trust accept these keepsakes.”

Having had with her a sunflower-shaped fan,

Together with the brooch, she exchanged instantly.

While they were trading words of consistency,

360. There was hubbub of human voice from the rear.

Swift as a draft of falling leaf and flower,

He went back to his room and she her chamber.

 

EPISODE V

WORDS OF TENDERNESS

VOWS OF FAITHFULNESS

From time when the touchstone certified the gold,

The further in love, the deeper in sorrow.

365. This Hsiang River[12], a stretch of shallow water,

He waited at one end, she at the other.

A wall of fog and snow barred their mutual views,

Making it hard for them to exchange their news.

Slowly elapsed windy days and moonlit nights,

370. Rose faded and green thrived as spring was over.

On the grand mom’s birthday anniversary,

Her parents as well her brother and sister,

All in their new costumes and with their fine gifts,

Were at grand mom’s to present her their best wish.

375. Being in the deserted house left alone,

She thought today a good chance to meet her love.

Having set seasonal fruits on the table,

She hastened her lotus feet towards the wall.

Across the shrubs she lightly made her voice heard,

380. There he was, standing ready by the flowers.

He blamed her for being cool to his ardor,

And leaving their love for a time in the cold.

That had immersed him in longings and sorrows,

Making his hair half white as if mixed with snow.

385. She said: “Vicious rain and wind have kept me home,

Making me unworthy of your confidence.

It’s lucky today everyone is absent,

I come with my heart to appreciate yours.”

They went skirting around a man-made mountain,

390. At the wall’s end was a newly fenced entrance.

Rolling up sleeves Kim unlocked the love haven,

Splitting clouds they looked into the fairyland.

They gazed at one another’s shining faces,

Exchanging their words of health and happiness.

395. Shoulder by shoulder they entered his study,

While trading their vows of love and loyalty.

On the desk were brush and sheets of poetry,

On the wall hung an ink picture of pine trees,

That betrayed the real expression of nature.

400. Admiringly she praised the lively drawing.

He said: “This sketch of picture is just finished,

Please give it more value by adding a note.”

The nymph hand of hers, as swift as wind and rain,

Brandished the brush and scribbled a four-verse poem.

405. He praised: “Your talent of gem and pearl poetry,

Is unmatched even by Ladies Pan and Hsieh[13].

Were I not a good person in previous life,

I wouldn’t’ve been awarded with this high prize!”

She replied: “By but a glance at your clear face,

410. I could recognize you’re a man of high worth.

I think myself but a girl of petty fate,

Will heaven agree to our love consummate?

I remember when still an innocent child,

There came a physiognomist who looked and said:

415. ‘This girl’s quintessence all reveals visibly,

A life of genius trapped in a tragic fate.’

Weighing your good lot and my bad destiny,

I doubt if our love ends up in unity?”

He said: “Our fortuitous meeting is destined,

420. To date, many times men’s will has won god’s wish.

Even if the worst happens to our marriage,

We’ll duly risk ourselves to keep our promise!”

All of their innermost feelings once released,

Their hearts filled with love, their heads tipsy with wine.

425. Happy days were all shorter than a hand span,

The sun had hid its mirror behind the mount.

Uneasy to stay thinking of her vacant house,

She said goodbye and left for her residence.

When she got home, her mom and dad were not there,

430. Still taking part in grand mom’s birthday night feast.

In a rush, she lowered the door’s silk curtain,

And hastened her pace towards the midnight garden.

The moon was glimmering on tops of the trees,

A lamp peeping through the blind of his study.

435. Kim was dozing off, leaning on the table,

In a state of half awake and half asleep.

Her footsteps aborted his fantasy sleep,

Then in the late moonbeam, the pear bloom approached.

Dazed as being on the peak of ecstasy,

440. He thought of having a honeymoon fancy.

“Despite the empty and lonely night,” Said she,

“My heart urges me to come in search of yours.

Now, we are clearly face-to-face together,

Who knows it will be but a dream tomorrow?”

445. Overjoyed, he rushed out to invite her in,

And lighted more candle, added more incense.

They jointly wrote down a page of troth promise,

Cut their hairs, mixed and shared them with a gold knife.

Then by witness of the bright moon in the sky,

450. They solemnly reiterated their oaths,

And painstakingly recommended their hearts,

That their unanimity should be for life.

 

EPISODE VI

THE FOREBODING MOURNFUL MUSIC

THE RESPECFUL RIGHTEOUS LANGUAGE

In cups of jade, they then drank their pledging wine,

Their perfumes mixed and their shadows coalesced.

455. He said: “the wind is cool, the moon transparent,

Anyhow I still feel my heart uneasy.

As I’ve not yet crossed the Blue Bridge for marriage,

My insistence might become an insolence.”

She said: “We’re tied together by thread of fate,

460. One word exchanged and we became intimates.

Except improper and indecent requests,

Any other thing for you I won’t regret.”

“Was told you’re a famous lute player,” he said.

“My Chung Ch’i’s[14] ears craved to enjoy your music.

465. She replied: “My humble skill is worth nothing,

But you have ordered and I have to give in.”

On the wall was readily hung a moon-lute

At once Kim gallantly handed it to her.

She said: “This private and petty art of mine,

470. Why you so occupied for this knack so trite!”

She began by tuning the strings of the lute,

Adjusting them in accord with the tone scales.

Her music revived the Han-Ch’u[15]’s Battlefields,

Where iron and gold arms were heard colliding.

475. Another air was the Su-ma’s Phoenix Plea[16],

Wherein woes and sorrows were heard lamenting.

Here Chi K’ang[17]’s masterpiece entitled Kuang-ling[18],

Where water was heard running and cloud erring.

There the “Crossing the Border Gate” by Chao-Chun[19],

480. Lovesick for her king and homesick for her folks.

The sounds were clear as a flying heron’s cries,

Thick as the brook’s water falling from above.

Slow as the breeze slightly wafting from outside,

Or speedy as the storm rumbling from the sky.

485. The lamp became dim or bright at intervals,

As he sat there submerged in reeling sadness.

At times he bowed his head or leaned on his knees,

At times he scowled from pain or frowned for pity.

At last he said: “your music’s really gorgeous,

490. But hearing it, I feel like gulping sourness!

Why do you choose those mournful airs of music,

That depress your heart and sadden the others’.

She said: “It has been my accustomed nature,

Whether sad or glad, it is an endowed mood!

495. I highly appreciate your golden words,

And hope my flaws will gradually reduce.”

Her perfumed body gave off the charisma,

Her eyes and smile seemed to sparkle with love fire.

Kim felt like a skewed boat on waves of desire,

500. And in his cuddle were mixed some pleas of lust.

Gravely she said: “never play with love, you must,

At least, let me finish what I want to speak!

A small girl like me is not worth your concern,

And peach grove dare not fence itself from blue birds.

505. But as I’m honored to be your future wife,

I must uphold the ethics of chastity.

Behave I like a lass without purity,

Then no one would wed such a person as me.

Since we’re not temporary sexual partners,

510. So my life’s chastity can’t be lost in hours!

Let’s review the well-famed love in history,

There were the unequalled well-matched Chang and Ts’ui[20].

Sexual pleasures aborted their golden pledge,

Over-indulgence made him tired of her.

515. Even when they were side by side together,

He harbored in his heart a somewhat contempt.

As a result their western roof oath cooled down,

And their happy idyll turned out bitterness.

‘Cause she did not refuse his undue requests,

520. That later she had to live in his disgrace.

Please don’t press me to any corporal deed,

I’ll submit to you at right time what you need! ”

Hearing this gentle but serious language,

He more than ever valued and treasured her.

525. The moonbeam had just faded on the roof ’s eaves,

From outside the door was heard a messenger.

Kieu hurried back towards her maiden chamber,

As his lover stepped out into the peach yard.

As soon he opened the door of his dwelling,

530. A servant came in bringing his home’s tidings.

The ominous sad news of his uncle’s death,

His coffin was to be brought home from Liao-yang[21],

An alien remote land barred by dales and hills,

Dad called Kim back to help in the obsequies.

535. What a terrifying event this news was!

He quickly made a short cut to her chamber.

And the entire story thoroughly told her,

Of his family’s mourning and his own woes:

“Our affairs not yet been in detail discussed,

540. Our love not yet been officially promised,

The moon of oath still there truthful and unchanged,

Never will my heart change due to long distance.

Beyond thousand miles, moment last into months,

So it’s a long time for our sorrows to end!

545. Please, my love, take good care of your priceless health,

So I’ll be at ease at the far horizon.”

Hearing these words, entangled with confusion,

In an uncertain mood she expressed her thoughts:

“God of nuptials, why do you hate two of us,

550. Union yet enjoyed, partition now suffered!

Together we’ve already sworn the grave oath,

That though our hairs alter our hearts will never.

In spite of long months and years, I’ll wait for you,

Weeping alone at the thought of your hardships.

555. I’ve pledged to you my heart’s unanimity,

That means I’ve sworn my eternal loyalty.

As long as river and mountain still exist,

Remember to come back to me, my cherished!”

They were so attached and had no heart to part,

560. While the sun had been right at the house’ corner.

Each step of parting imparted fits of pains,

Each word of farewell incited lines of tears.

Quickly saddling his horse and bearing his bag,

Sharing with her the journey and the sadness,

565. He grimly looked at the alien scenery,

Cuckoos flocked on tree, geese disbanded in sky;

He felt sad for her withdrawn from society,

And burdened under the heavy load of lovesick.

 

EPISODE VII

THE CORRUPTED CONSTABLES EXTORTED

THE GRATEFUL DAUGHTER SOLD HERSELF

Meanwhile she was standing against the west porch,

570. Her heart twisted as if entangled with silks.

She beheld through window the whirling dark clouds,

Pale like sick flower, sad like yellow willow.

Soullessly she took a walk onto the house,

Whereas the birthday goers were returning.

575. Had she and her folks not finished their greeting,

They saw around appear noisy constables.

The ones holding sticks, others seizing large knives;

Acting boisterously, a group of demon-likes,

They put cangues on the old man and his young son,

580. And with one brute rope fastened these two persons.

Their sounds, like buzz of greenflies, filled the household,

Horrifying the sisters and their mother.

All the household’s jewelry and belongings,

Were thoroughly sacked into their greed-pockets.

585. The charge of some wrong was imposed on their heads,

Who was the trapper? Who was the slanderer?

Asking the questions and they had the answer:

The denouncer: a rogue of raw silk seller.

The family was terrified and spellbound,

590. Their woeful cries shook the earth and blurred the clouds.

They prostrated and begged all day for mercy,

To be heard by deaf ears and rough hands only.

They hang father and son upturned on the beam,

Even rocks were crushed to pieces, much less men.

595. Watching the scene, Kieu felt a heart-tearing pain,

This wrong, she could only to Heaven complain.

Since it was a habit of those cop-villains,

To wreak dire havoc for the sake of money.

“How could I do”, she thought, “to save my blood folks?

600. In emergency, we act accordingly.

The love for young Kim, the labor of father,

Love and duty, which one is the heavier?

I’ll put aside the solemn vows of my love,

A child must first return the parents’ favors.”

605. Thus resolutely she took the decision:

“Let me sell myself for dad’s ransom money!”

There was mister Chung- an old functionary,

Who worked for the police too, but a kind man.

Before her filial gratitude and love,

610. He conceived for her a hidden compassion.

Counting all the likely bribes and offerings,

Three hundred liangs would satisfy everything.

He told her, while her kin kept in transient jail,

To manage for the sum in two or three days.

615. What a pity for her, a girl young and naive,

Carried into a sudden calamity!

The heart pain of a life far from family,

Even life she did not regret, much less love!

As a raindrop without care of its mean fate,

620. She’d sacrifice her life to save her father’s.

She revealed her heart’s wish to the matchmaker,

And that news stirred noisy gossip near and far.

There was now in the near town an old woman,

Who led a guest to the interrogation.

625. Asked of his name, he answered: “Ma the Student”

Of his hometown, “Lin-ch’ing[22] District, adjacent.”

Mature enough to be forty years over,

His face clean shaven and his clothes well groomed.

Followed by rowdy servants, the pretender

630. Was met and led inside by the matchmaker.

Without manners Ma jumped to take the first chair,

Whereas from within, the broker urged her out.

Sullenly stressed by her home’s grief and her own,

Each step on the floor exuded flows of tears,

635. Before the rudeness of life shaken with fears,

Ashamed with flowers and herself in mirror.

The broker flaunted her face, praised her fingers,

An aster-like sad air and apricot-like thin trait.

Her beauty and talent were carefully weighed,

640. Her lute art and muse skill were forced to display.

Each trait of hers oozed its charm and loveliness.

Well pleased, the guest accordingly made a deal.

Saying: “I’m here at Blue Bridge for this pearl bride.

Please tell me how much is the wedding gift’s price.”

645. The broker said: “priceless her true value is,

In her home’s mishap it’s up to your bounty.”

He shamefully bargained little by little,

Till price was set at four hundred silver liangs.

This deal had thus smoothly settled the problem,

650. They exchanged the bride’s and groom’s name and birthday,

Set date for the offering and the wedding,

With quick cash people could resolve everything!

Words was sent to old Chung the functionary,

To vouch for the transient release of old Vuong.

655. Pity for the old father and his naive child!

He looked at her with broken heart and bosom:

“Rearing you up, I have an expectation,

That you’ll be wedded to a worthy husband.

Oh Heaven, why do you wreak calamity

660. And injustice to break up our family!

Punishment means nothing for my dying life,

But the more she aches, the more I’m agonized.

Once sooner or later everyone must die,

I’d rather kill myself than stand this heart’s pain!”

665. Lines of tears flowed down following his complaint,

He risked his life plunging head against the wall.

People rushed to guard and watch the poor old man,

As she tried to sooth him with consolation:

“Father, it’s worth nothing this daughter of yours,

670. Who’s not repaid a bit of your birth favors.

In pleading for pardon, I’m shy with Miss Ying[23],

In selling my life, I’m short of Lady Li[24],

In your old age, you are now like a big tree,

That has to buttress a lot of twigs and plants.

675. If with your great love, you don’t cut off our ties,

Storm will violently shatter our family.

‘Tis better that just my life be sacrificed,

The flower’s broken but the tree remains green.

Whatever my destiny is, let it be,

680. As if I’d been dead early in my childhood.

Do not immerse yourself in useless worries,

That only leads to disease and misery.”

These reasonable words of hers soothed his ears,

They looked at each other through plenty of tears.

685. At this time, Ma the Scholar had just come in,

One signed the paper and one handed the gold.

How malicious the old moon wedding god is!

To unite such an unmatched matrimony.

With fresh money ready to spend in their hand

690. It is not hard to alter from black to white!

By the conscientious helpfulness of Old Chung,

The bribe was submitted and the case finished.

 

EPSODE VIII

THE DUTIFUL YOUNGER SISTER

THE FAKE PIMP-HUSBAND

The home’s troubles had eased temporarily,

But nuptial time was speeding its arrival.

695. Alone in the dead of night under the lamp,

Her gown soaked in tears and her hair weaved with griefs:

“I’m resigned to my fate, whatever it is,

It’s a pity for him who’s thus persevered!

His huge effort to win my heart was so dear,

700. Because I’ve concurred, he’s now in dilemma.

Our cups of pledge wine are still left unfinished,

But I’ve undone my oath, renounced my promise!

Now at the far-off horizon of Liao-yang,

Perhaps he thinks this breakup a fault of mine.

705. Through countless sworn vows for a wedded union,

This love is now finished and nothing remains.

If our sworn vows persists until the next life,

I’ll be reborn a beast to serve as your maid.

So long as this debt of love’s not yet been paid,

710. I’ll bring it, insolvent, to the zone of death.”

She was engrossed in her own tragic sorrows,

Till lamp burnt out its oil, tears soaked up her scarf.

Her sister, Thuy Van, on waking up from sleep,

Came under the lamp, affectionately asked:

715. “Dear, heaven’s design is changing and complex,

You alone must endure our home’s injustice.

Is that the reason you stayed up the late night

Or some other private secret in your heart?”

Kieu answered: “That my heart’s sobbing, it is right,

720. As it’s still tangled in an unfinished love.

’Tis shame to divulge this intimacy,

But to keep it in heart is disloyalty.

I ask for your help, will you accept my word?

Please be seated I’ll bow to you ere I speak.

725. My love tie with him is half way broken up,

Now it’s your turn to rejoin the severed silk.

From the time I met him, the young scholar Kim,

We have exchanged day wishes and night pledges.

Then our domestic storm happened suddenly,

730. And I could not fulfill both love and duty.

You are still young and your spring days are still long,

Pity your blood sister, help fulfil her oaths.

Even I must die my fresh and bone shattered,

My soul, perfumed by your deed, will smile in Hades.

735. Here are the hair brooch and commitment paper,

Please keep them as common keepsakes of our troth.

One day when he and you become man and wife,

Perhaps you won’t forget your fated sister.

Although I’ll be gone, my possessions remain,

740. The lute and the oath incense of our old days.

Then in the future if you would ever mind,

Burn that incense, tune this lute and start to play;

And looking out, you see the stirred grass and leaves,

You’ll know I’m back there together with the breeze.

745. My soul’s still heavily weighed down by the oath,

I’ll risk everything for the sake of my love.

Once I am in the Hades, wordless and absent,

Please sprinkle sacred water for my doomed soul.

Now the brooch’s been shattered and the vase broken,

750. Still my love for him stays beyond expressions!

Please convey him my thousand bows of regrets,

That our love has by now been interrupted.

Why is my unfortunate fate white as lime?

Subject to rough water like a dead flower.

755. Oh Kim my dearest one! Oh Kim my lover!

It is from now on that I will betray you!”

Just as she stopped speaking, she fell unconscious,

Her nose breathless, her arms frigid as copper.

Her parents awakened from their deep slumber,

760. And the entire house was busy in and out,

Taking care of her with all kinds of treatment.

Hardly recovered from swoon, she again cried,

Old dad asked: “How does the weird matter arrive?”

She kept sobbing unable to say a word.

765. Van then whispered to the ear of the father:

“Problem comes from this hair brooch and pledge paper.”

Understood, he said: “It’s me who ruin your love,

Your sister then will redress this failed affair.

Who makes my daughter’s love suddenly break down?

770. Who drives her into a life of weed and cloud?

Your recommendation will be carried out,

Though stone is crushed, I won’t contradict your words!”

She made deep bows to him then politely said:

“So you will help me fulfill my avowed pledge.

775. Now I don’t care about my slave’s destiny,

Even death in alien land won’t frighten me!”

While they were submerged in limitless sorrows,

The south tower’s watch bell had pressingly tolled.

The nuptial couch had arrived outside waiting,

780. With strings and flutes as if to urge the parting.

Their hearts ached, the departed and those who stayed,

Tears of partition absorbed deep into stone.

Dark and gloomy clouds overshadowed the sky,

Glooming the sad grass and drenching the dewed foliage.

785. Straightly to a lodging house she was carried,

Where she was put all alone inside locked doors.

Woes and shames overwhelmed and harassed the girl,

With sourness and pity for herself, she thought:

“Fairy’s gem today falls into bastard’s hand,

790. In vain it’s been guarded against shine and rain!

Had I known my fate to be downed to this fall,

I’d rather give in to him my chastity.

For whom did I safeguard my virginity?

To hurt him then and to cause him much pain now.

795. If per chance we’ll meet again some morrow,

What do I expect then with this soiled body.

Thus driven into this lot of vagrancy,

Why must I go on to live this wretched life?”

There on the little table lay a hand knife,

800. She took and concealed it in her scarf’s corner.

Just in case where she be pushed to an impasse,

She’d use it to settle with her life at last.

Autumn night second by second wore away,

While she hovered in a state of dream and wake.

 

EPISODE IX

TEARS OF SEPARATION

BLADE OF INDIGNATION

805. Nothing she knew about her husband-to-be,

Who was an experienced erotic playboy.

Plunged in his debauchery he’d met bad luck,

A girl expert, he now lived a whore pander.

And there ruled in the whorehouse a Tu Madam,

810. Who was herself an old rotten prostitute.

By random and without arrangement they’d met,

Trickster versus swindler, two made a crime’s gang.

They cooperated to run a whore den,

Year round their carnal business smoothly ran.

815. Throughout the country land for young girls they scanned,

Bought them as concubines but taught them sex funs.

Ill or good, a fate is disposed by heaven,

And a destined doomed fate had fallen on her.

How pitiful was the chaste and lovely girl!

820. A flower sold to a boat of traffickers,

A poor victim trapped in their tricking device

Of cheap marriage gift and fixed wedding date.

Secretly pleased, Ma thought: “The flag’s in my hand,

The longer I admire and the more I desire.

825. She’s in fact a national perfume beauty,

Whose single smile could equal thousands of gold!

To taste the virginity of this flower,

Princes and gentlefolk will vie for the prize.

It’d be worth no less than three hundred ounces,

830. That’ll make up for the capital, then profit.

But the tidbit is right there next to my mouth,

Its asset I regret but its charm I crave.

Now the fairy peach has fallen in my hand,

I’d rather pluck and enjoy this life’s delight.

835. Under the sky in this world of enjoyment,

Few men have more knowledge of brothel’s women.

Juice of pomegranate skin and cockscomb blood,

Can heal and recover a lost chastity.

By this vague ploy we’ve managed to cheat the nuts,

840. And her price remains unchanged not less a sou.

If the old hag has anything to question,

At most I’ll risk to stand a kneel punishment.

Besides, here in this remote quiet country,

If I stay still, they will doubt my intention.”

845. What a regret for the spotless camellia,

A bee had defiled and gone through the flower.

A ravaging storm had blown pitilessly,

Without care for her gem nor heed for her scent.

Drifting through a vague dream of the nuptial night,

850. All alone under the wedding lamp she lied.

Tears of disgrace fell in abundance like rain,

Hating the man and loathing her soiled body:

“It seems he’s just a kind of filthy being,

My prized body and pure name have been sullied.

855. Is there anything left of me to hope for?

Consequently this is the end of my life.”

Sullen with her love and bitter for her fate,

She took out the knife and attempted suicide.

But again the thought over her decision,

860. “It’s fine for me but how about my parents?

Whatever the outcome of my act would be,

It will certainly be traced back unto them.

Anyhow in time my pathos will soften,

And soon or late only once people must die.”

865. She was absorbed in weighing those pros and cons,

When by the wall the cocks had noisily crowed.

As the watchtower’s horn blew its morning sound,

Ma the Scholar came and pressed the departure.

What a heart-tearing scene of separation!

870. Horses limped on hoofs and carriage leaped on wheels.

At a rest station ten miles beyond the town,

Old Vuong treated people to a farewell feast.

Outside host and guests were toasting each other,

Inside Kieu and mom were sharing their sorrows.

875. They looked at each other, eyes profuse with tears,

Then she began to whisper at mother’s ear:

“I’m ashamed to be born a weak naive girl,

When could I pay off your labor and favor?

My body’s been trapped in mud and it’s over,

880. My heart’s the sole thing I have now to offer.

By examples of what I’ve seen in these days,

I think I’ve been duped into an old thug’s hands.

When at home, he almost leaves me all alone,

Going out with haste and coming in with stealth.

885. When eating or talking, his manner’s sordid,

Master and servants have no mutual respect.

From top to bottom, differs a gentleman,

Through scrutiny, looks like a kind of merchant.

What could I expect of my life? It is doomed,

890. Alive or dead, I’ll be exiled on strange land!”

Upon hearing these words from her beloved child,

Old Vuong wished to split the sky to hurl her cries.

Outside, hardly had they drained their cup of wine,

Already, Ma promptly urged the departure.

895. Heart weighed down by the love for his poor daughter,

Old Vuong came before Ma’s horse and stooped to plead:

“This young feeble and helpless daughter of mine,

Has, due to home misfortune, become your wife.

Henceforth, anywhere in the world she might be,

900. She’ll be all alone exposed to rain and shine.

’Tis at the shade of your high and large pine tree,

That she will be protected from fog and snow.”

Politely Ma said to his father-in-law:

“I’ve been attached to her by god of nuptials.

905. No matter what’ll happen on earth tomorrow,

May the sun and moon and elves be my witness!”

The carriage hurled itself off like a tempest,

As if flied through the rosy dust of the road.

People wiped their parting tears and fixed their eyes

910. Into the deep horizon for their beloved.

Now into a remote strange land Kieu was blown,

Bridges whitened by frosts, hills darkened with clouds.

Reeds huddled closely and whined in the cold wind,

The fall sky reserved for her and her alone.

915. On the night blank road through the dim drape of mist,

She stared at the moon and felt shame with her pledge.

Autumn wood was dotted with yellow and red,

She heard the birds chirp and thought of her parents.

Through totally strange weathers and mountains,

920. They arrived in Lin-tzu[25] after a full month.

Had the carriage just stopped at the front entrance,

A shadow was seen step out from the curtain.

At first sight, it was a woman of pale skin,

With oversized body of a well fed being.

925. Before the coach she feigned a cordial greeting,

Kieu submissively stepped down and went inside.

The vestibule was lined one side by some whores,

Other side were seated patrons, five or four.

Between was a gravely adorned high altar,

930. Above which stately hung a white-browed image.

It was a long-time tradition of harlots,

To adore this idol as ancestral god,

And worship night and day with flowers and fruits.

When bad luck struck a whore with a slim clientele,

935. She would strip herself nude in front of the god,

Lighted incense sticks and mumbled her prayers,

Changed and put under her bed mat used flowers,

Then carnal clients would again rush to her.

Kieu was all stupefied before the weird scene,

940. As advised she kowtowed while the woman prayed:

“May our shop be prosperous in business,

That our days and nights are like festivities.

May people who come become our devotees,

Who swarm herein like orioles and swallows.

945. May appointment letters arrive in plenty,

That our doors welcome incessant flows of guests!”

Those words sounded so strange and weird to her ears,

And she thought they were not decent things to hear.

When the ancestor’s observance was finished,

950. Dame Tu installed herself cross-legged on the bed,

And ordered: “Come pay homage to me, your mum,

After me, bow to your uncle over there.”

Kieu said: “Being hurled into a vagrant life,

I’ve accepted my lot as his concubine.

955. Why do people change swallow to oriole?

I’m too naïve to know the functions of my role.

Since he’d offered the nuptial gift for wedding,

Jointly as husband and wife we’ve been living.

Now it turns out our roles and ranks have been changed,

960. May I say these words to make clear the matter.”

On hearing Madam understood the problem,

At once she threw into a fierce anger:

“As she said, now everything is evident,

It is this man who robbed all my possessions!

965. He told me: ‘I’ll make a tour for new young girls,

To recruit and train into our hostesses.’

What a brazen-faced and merciless he is!

For his own pleasure he tested beforehand.

Now her virginity’s already been lost,

970. And doomed is all my accumulated money!

You, that maiden o’er there, you’ve been sold to me,

Once in my house, you must submit to its rules.

Had that old thug any sexual harassment,

Why you not slap his face but instead listen.

975. Why instead go along with his lust demand?

Too early as young girl you’ve been in the mood!

I’ll make you know the power of my command!”

She grasped the skin rod and pounced forward to whip.

“Under the deep sky on the thick land,” Kieu said,

980. “Since the day I left home, I’ve thought myself dead.

If it’s the end, I have nothing to regret!”

She right away took out the knife from her sleeve.

Afraid that Kieu could ruin her priceless body,

The wench stood aghast while Kieu stabbed through herself.

985. How pitiful, such a beauty a talent

Was cut off by a knife of indignation!

Her mishap was revealed and spread near and far,

Curious people poured in and jammed the house.

While she was deadly unconscious in her swoon,

990. The wench shook with a soul-vanishing terror.

At once they carried Kieu to the western wing,

Caretaker was assigned and doctor called for.

 

EPISODE X

A RENDEZ-VOUS AT CH’IEN-TANG RIVER

TRICK AND SHAMELESSNESS OF A PANDER

But her tie to the dusty world yet severed,

She saw in her swoon a girl stand by the bed.

995. She whispered: “Your cause and effect aren’t finished,

How can you evade paying off your life’s debts?

Still you must bear the ill fate as a woman,

Though you choose to end it, heaven not permits.

Try your best to live out your wretched life then

1000. Afterwards on the Ch’ien-t’ang River we’ll meet.”

After all day of care and medicament,

Kieu gradually recovered from her faint-death.

Standing almost ready by the bed net,

Dame Tu chose the gentlest words to comfort her:

1005. “We are all born with no more than one body,

You’re like a young bloom with spring days long ahead.

There might’ve been somewhere an error or mistake,

Virtuous girls should not be forced to sex trade.

Now that you’ve overstepped here into this house,

1010. Lock yourself in room to wait for a matched spouse.

So long as you’re still alive, you’ll have your price,

You’ll find a spouse from a worthy family.

Instead, what you’ve just done but builds up the guilt,

That not only hurts you but also harms me.”

1015. Those insisting words whispered into Kieu’s ears,

Seemed logical as to discern right from wrong.

Besides according to the girl in the dream,

Her misfortune was preordained by heaven.

If she did not pay off her debt in this life,

1020. It would be accumulated in the next.

At last the slut’s words pervaded Kieu’s weak heart,

“I don’t want it either,” she politely said.

“I will be lucky if your word is correct,

But will it be the same in the days ahead?

1025. Lest in carousals I should entertain guests,

I’d rather die in honor than live in shame!”

Madam said: “Take your time, my girl, and you’ll see,

Not a play or lie those heart-felt things of mine.

If later by my words I do not abide,

1030. Let me be judged by the overhead sunshine.”

Thinking madam’s promise really serious,

Kieu felt relieved gradually nevertheless.

In front of the Jade Hall where Kieu was locked in,

The far hill and the near moon shared the same space.

1035. Casting eyes at four sides of the immense sky,

She saw but dunes of gold sand, miles of red dirt.

All ashamed she faced the dawn clouds and dusk lights,

Her heart divided by love and nostalgia.

She thought of her sworn man in the moonlit nights,

1040. Who was now languishing in wait of her news.

While she was trapped alone on this remote land,

When will her heart be cleansed of his truthful love?

She thought of her parents by the door waiting,

Who’d fan them in summer warm them in winter?

1045. In the home yard, after so much shine and wind,

Were they still healthy or the worst had arrived[26]?

Glumly she glimpsed at the port in the twilight,

Whose erring boat was flitting its sail afar?

Glumly she stared at the froths of coming waves,

1050. Where were they flowing, those drifted poor flowers?

Glumly she stared at the fields of dreary grass,

That merged into the blueness of land and cloud.

Glumly she stared at winds twisting on the bay,

That around her thrashed waves into roaring sounds.

1055. Surrounded by alien mountains and waters,

Sad of exile, she chanted a four-verse poem.

While she was letting down the beaded curtain,

An answering poem was heard beyond the wall.

The bard was a young man of blossoming age,

1060. With well groomed appearance of refined attire.

She thought him a scholar of good family,

He was So Khanh, instead, upon inquiry.

Seeing her figure flit across the curtain,

He was at once attached inseparably.

1065. “Hellas!” Grumbled he: “Great perfume and beauty!

It’s sorry that she falls down this humble place.

Your price is high up on the moon in the clouds,

Why are you so mortifying yourself, flower?

Within myself, I’m angry at old heaven,

1070. And my heart’s feelings, will yours stoop to listen?

If ever has the lady met the hero,

He’d help her easily get out of her cage!”

The outer windows had already been shut,

She still heard echo in her ears his firm words.

1075. She thought of So Khanh and then of her stalemate,

His nice compassion lessened her helplessness.

If she continued to lead a life like this,

When would her miserable plight terminate?

She would risk sending him a couple of words,

1080. Asking his kind hands to save her drowned body.

She wrote him a note telling all her story,

From her home disaster to her own exile.

As soon as the morning dew just disappeared,

She had the letter sent through to him somewhere.

1085. When in the west the pallid sun was dying,

A response letter arrived with his tidings.

Quickly she tore open the godsend letter,

Inside were plainly written two coded words,

Which Kieu at length succeeded to decipher:

1090. The date was set at nine on twenty-first.

Late night birds were hurrying home to the woods,

The camellia was hiding half the moon.

The branches’ shades were stirring on the east wall,

So Khanh came in, forcing through the windowpanes.

1095. All embarrassed she ventured out to greet him,

She bowed to him, then with tender behavior,

“I’m but a lentil-and-foam girl,” She whispered:

“Astray from my flock and stranded in this place.

Hence your rescue will bring me to life from death,

1100. This great favor of yours I’ll never forget!”

He listened, nodded, then babbled his bombast,

“It’s me but no other who’ll do the rescue!

Lady, perhaps you have heard my fame, have you?

I’m resolved to flatten this sea of grievance!”

1105. She said: “Everything depends on your favor,

Please tell me how and I’m ready to follow.

He said: “I have a wind-chasing stallion,

And a bodyguard of stalwart tradition.

We’ll take flight when people have no precautions.

1110. That’s the best ruse among the thirty-six ones.

Even in violent winds and torrential rains,

You’ll be perfectly safe and sound in my hands!”

She turned suspicious at these arrogant words,

But it was too late for her to change the course.

1115. She closed her eyes and ventured to step forwards,

Giving up to whatever fate would turn out.

With furtive steps they scurried down the staircase,

Then her horse after his, they galloped away.

Time elapsed as the autumn night was fading,

1120. The wind stripped the trees and the hill hid the moon,

The worn grass pathway was blurred by mist vapor,

Her nostalgic heart ached at each pace of road.

Then mixed in the hurriedly pressing cocks’ crows,

Were the chasing men’s loudly resounding shouts.

1125. While she was still throbbing and shaking in fright.

So Khanh steered his horse abruptly out of sight.

Left by herself Kieu did not know what to do,

On the ups and downs of the woods terrified.

 

EPISODE XI

THE SURRENDER OF CHASTITY

THE PENALTY OF KARMA DEBTS

Heaven was so cruel and merciless hence,

1130. Such a spotless and pious girl to torment!

Surrounded by a group of brutal people,

She was helpless at the dead end of escape.

Madam hurled herself directly to the place,

And had her escorted back to the whorehouse.

1135. Without any word of interrogation,

The bawd mercilessly tortured her victim.

As a normal flesh-and-bone human being,

How could she stand the pains so agonizing?

She knelt down to confess and beg for mercy,

1140. Bending her ripped back, bowing her blooded head,

Saying: I’m but a girl of slim destiny,

Alone and away from home and family.

Now the decision is yours, my life or death,

Whatever it’ll be, I’m willing to accept!

1145. I do not mind any more about myself,

My fate’s done, but how about your capital?

As an eel not caring of its head dirtied,

From now on I won’t mind my virginity!”

The wench took advantage of Kieu’s concession,

1150. Forcing a warrantor and a commitment.

There was in the house an inmate named Ma Kieu,

Who, out of compassion, risked to guarantee.

The wench kept on reproaching rigorously,

And only pardoned when her demands were met.

1155. Helping Kieu to an inner room for a rest,

Ma Kieu discreetly conveyed her confidence:

“You’ve been cheated into the predicament!

How don’t you know the true nature of So Khanh?

That notoriously unfaithful lover,

1160. Who’s himself buried many perfumed flowers.

Fake Rescue’s the name of their used maneuver,

They’re not new, this couple of witch and medium.

She should have handed him somewhat thirty liangs,

To have him make up the scene and play the role.

1165. You’ll see, he immediately turns about,

You’d better save words, don’t argue, it’s no use.”

Kieu said: “With his gravely-sworn words anyhow,

I didn’t think he’d have been a vicious guy.”

While she was still thinking about how and why,

1170. His brazen face was seen appear from somewhere,

He raised his voice as if widely to declare:

“I’m told that a certain harlot at this place,

Spreading rumor that I enticed her away,

Have a look at my face to see who I am.”

1175. Kieu said: “It’s all right that everything’s all right!

If nothing’s happened, I agree it’s nothing!”

The shameless swindler thundered his fake scolding,

Broke in and readied to resort to violence.

Kieu said: “May high heaven know what has happened!

1180. Who seduced, who enticed, who was the guilty?

Shoving me down the deep pool without mercy,

Uttering words then swallowing them at once.

I still keep your hand-written note of escape,

It’s no other one but certainly your face.”

1185. Her straight words were heard by a crowd in and out,

They blamed his dishonesty and perfidy.

Being caught a betrayer red-handedly,

All ashamed he chose the way of withdrawal.

Back in her room, Kieu drenched her sorrows in tears,

1190. She thought of herself and felt deeply sorry:

“So now my crystal-pure and snow-white body,

Is battered and tattered like all the others!

Sad or happy it’s a human existence,

But why ill fate always befalls on women?

1195. Since I did not lead a virtuous former life,

I must amend my wrongdoings nowadays.

It’s over and the vase’s broken anyway,

Therefore I’ll pay off this life debt once for all!”

Then on occasion of a clear moonlit night,

1200. Madam stopped by Kieu’s room and at length advised:

“Entertainment art requires lots of practice,

And courtesans got to know all the techniques.”

Kieu said: “When winds and rains are due to ravage,

If there’s no way to avoid, I have to risk.”

1205. The wench reproved: “If every service’s the same,

Why people keep coming to spend money here?

There’re lots of exciting things in this career,

That ensnare men at day, enthrall them at night.

My daughter, learn by heart the following drills:

1210. There’re seven conduct steps and eight service skills.

Serve him till he’s tired and satiated,

Till stone’s mesmerized and life’s captivated.

Now throw your sharp glance, now frown your curved brows,

Now chant in praise of moon, now laugh at flowers.

1215. Those skills are exclusive methods of our house,

Acquire all of them and you’ll be all-around.”

Kieu obeyed timidly to the sex lesson,

But her brows got frown and her cheek became pale.

Madam’s words flushed her just only by hearing

1220. Such bizarre merciless and horrendous things!

What a pity for a girl of dignity,

To learn as beginner those obscenities!

What a shameful brazen face she would become,

The lowest scale a human being could be!

1225. What a pity for her misplaced destiny!

Helpless as she was in the hands of others.

 

EPISODE XII

RELUCTANT JOYS AT THE BROTHEL

DISTANT FEARS OF AN ILL-FATED

Now the brothel rolled down her new rosy drape,

The dearer her price, the higher her value.

As bees and butterflies swarmed in customers,

1230. Plunging her in night-through revels and pleasures.

Busy as leaf blown by wind, branch perched with birds,

At dawn she saw off Tsong[27], at dusk looked for Tchang[28],

When awake from drunkenness or night slumber,

She startled and bitterly pitied herself.

1235. How she had been then a silk-and-brocade girl,

How she was now a tattered mid-road flower.

Her face beaten by wind and thickened with mist,

Her body by men utterly exploited.

In spite of their carnal fondle and caress,

1240. She did not know a small bit of happiness!

Still when savoring fresh wind by the flowers,

Or watching the moon through the snow-covered pane,

The scene was by its nature melancholic,

Or it was not cheerful when one was in grief!

1245. At times she’d draw a picture or write a poem,

Play music in the moon or chess by the bloom.

But hers was only a forced jubilation,

Since no friend was there to share her enjoyment.

Unmoved to winds in bamboo or rains on plum,

1250. She was instead beset by hundreds of cares,

Obsessed with secret fresh and old memories,

That messed without rumpling, ached without whipping!

Now she thought of her munificent parents,

Who were getting older with elapsing days.

1255. From their deep-sunk river and far-flung mountain,

Had they ever known this status of her fate?

Her siblings were still too young and innocent,

To substitute her taking care of parents.

Now she missed the man of her life commitment,

1260. Far away had he known her predicament?

When he came home looking for his engaged girl,

Her spring bloom had been plucked for man’s diversion.

May his zeal be returned by Van’s affection,

Had she joined him in their conjugal union?

1265. That first love, like silk, kept entangling her heart,

And dreams of her home kept haunting her long nights.

Alone and hopeless she sat by the window,

Watching dusk follow dusk at the horizon.

As moon hare and sun crow chased one another,

1270. She felt sorry for those in the League of Doom[29]!

These women, with inborn beauty and talent,

Were subjected to ruin for compensation!

Exiled to a destiny of dust-and-wind,

They should be disgraced once before forgiven!

1275.Then there was among tourists a gentleman,

Named Ky-Tam Thuc- a scholar of tradition.

A native of Hsi District in Ch’ang county[30],

Followed his dad and had a shop at Lin-tzu.

A long-time enthusiast of Kieu’s beauty,

1280. He found his way there and had his card sent in.

On his first sight of her bloom face at the blind,

He fell in love with each of her traits and styles.

Like a fresh camellia on its young stem,

She got more magnificent in spring weather.

1285. Moon and bloom, captivated by each other,

Who could restrain oneself in a spring love night?

It’s no strange that what concurs comes together,

They were so attached that none could separate.

From dawn to dusk they were two amorous mates,

1290. Who turned their sexual game to a truthful love.

Then came a fortunate opportunity,

It was time his father went back his homeland.

More mesmerized than ever by his passion,

Sinh spent most of his time beside his sweetheart.

1295. Now on windy terrace, now in moonlit yard,

They toasted wine and traded poetic rhymes.

While sensing dawn incense or tasting noon tea,

They either played chess or concerted their lutes.

Giving themselves up to the pleasures’ pursuit,

1300. They fell deeper in love through mutual knowledge.

What a wonder it was the wave of her eyes,

Which could easily make collapse a nation!

Thuc Sinh, extolled to the sky by the madam,

Wasted thousands of gold for his girl’s laughter.

1305. Hence lured by greed for copper coins’ stale odor,

The wench tried to add more hues to Kieu’s color.

Beneath the moon, cuckoos were crying summer,

Above the walls, pomegranates shot their blooms.

For her leisure within her private chamber,

1310. Kieu dropped the rosy drape for a perfume bath.

What a statue of crystal and ivory!

A masterpiece of nature, her nude body.

The more he contemplated, the more he praised,

To his love, he wrote a T’ang poem.

1315. She said: “I really understand your feelings,

These nice words of gemstone and lines of brocade.

Good or bad, I should have something in return,

But since my thought has flown back to my hometown,

And my heart’s still tracking my sky’s yellow clouds,

1320. For a reply to your poem, I owe you now.”

Sinh said: “How weird and abnormal your word is!

Are you not the daughter of madam owner?”

Her autumn-lake eyes turned sad more than ever,

She poured forth the gloomy thoughts of her doomed plight:

1325. “Just a flower fallen off its bough I’m like,

And courting ‘round for fun you’re a butterfly.

As you are married with wife and family,

Don’t waste your scarce time asking at length of me.”

Sinh said: “From the very first day I met you,

1330. My heart’s been heavy with a love authentic;

Because I’m resolved to consummate my wish,

That I’ve inquired about your identity.”

Kieu said: “Ten thousand thanks for your caring heart,

But it’s not easy in our situations.

1335. You’ve lingered for a time in this house of mirth,

You love the flower for the hue of its face,

Then the blossom will wilt and the scent will fade,

Will you keep unchanged your former loving heart?

Besides there’s already on the moon’s threshold,

1340. Lady Phoebe[31]- your wife- who rules your household.

Two of you’ve been so far attached together,

A woman plus will divide your unity.

Don’t let a weed-and-cloud drifting girl like me,

To affect the happiness of your marriage.

1345. Hundred troubles because of me will happen,

Who’ll replace me to stand heaven’s punishment?

Even if you’re in control of your household,

You can protect me but one tenth of the whole.

In case the wife has more power than the man,

1350. The poor victim will be at the lioness’ jaws.

I’ll be disgraced at the mercy of your wife,

Whose jealousy is three-fold harsher than fire.

Above there’s still your dad, the powerful senior,

Will he look down on poor me with compassion?

1355. Or just see me as some kind of wild flower,

And force me back to the former whorehouse.

Then two of us will look filthy and hideous,

My lot is so but how about your honor.

If you love me, have a perfect solution,

1360. I’ll go with your satisfactory option.”

Sinh said: “Your word is only speculation!

Have you not ever seen through my truthful heart?

Don’t fear any fanciful difficulties,

Everything about our marriage, entrust me.

1365. Once we are together who can separate?

I’ve made up my mind and I’ll risk any storm.”

Likewise they exchanged all recommendations,

Citing mountain and sea as witness of oaths.

The night was too short for their intimate talks,

1370. Outside the moon had been hid by the west hill.

 

EPISODE XIII

SEVERE FATHER DIVIDED

KIND MANDARIN UNITED

By the excuse of an outdoor promenade,

Sinh escorted her girl to a hiding place.

War or peace he had two strategies ready,

Advice from lawyer, information from spies.

1375. He sent words to the wench for a solution,

She compromised due to her weak position.

He paid money as ransom and got the girl,

And had her record signed by the official.

Now public and private problems had been solved,

1380. Kieu at last pulled her nymph feet out of the mire.

They joined under the same roof as man and wife,

Whose mutual loves were like ocean and river.

Her pervasive perfume roused his ardent fire,

That in return made her pearly beauty shine.

1385. Half a year of conjugal life just gone by,

The yard’s dark-green planes were mixed with yellow leaves,

And young blossoms’d just shot from hedge shrubberies,

When Sinh’s father was seen back from his village.

Wildly furious over his son’s marriage,

1390. Curbing pity, he tried to spit the couple.

He explained and analyzed the right and wrong,

And ordered that she be back to the brothel.

In the face of his father’s strict forthright words,

Sinh risked himself entreating for empathy:

1395. “I know my deplorable mistake, daddy,

That deserves the sternest penalty on earth.

My hands have by mistake dipped in indigo,

All lost, I don’t know how to find the right road.

Since we’ve been man and wife for more than one day,

1400. I have no heart to break the marital tie.

In case you’re adamant in your decision,

Instead of betrayal I’d rather risk my life.”

Boiled with anger on his son’s obstinate word,

Old Thuc knelt at public office to report.

1405.Then on the flat earth thundered a tsunami,

District office issued summons of query.

They both were to follow the district gendarmes,

To kneel and bow in the district office court.

They looked up at the severe black-iron face[32]

1410. Of the judge who proclaimed those words harsh and grave:

“That man foolishly leads a debauched living,

And that wench commits acts of adultery.

A kind of wasted and discarded flower,

Who used to trick people with scent and powder.

1415. Based on the position of the complainant,

Nothing’s been satisfactorily settled.

In pursuance to law we reach the judgment,

That one of two ways is up to her to choose:

Either she stays and faces law’s punishment,

1420. Or she be returned to her green pavilion.”

She said: “My resolution has been taken!

Not to be trapped once more in the spider’s web.

Soiled or clean, it is my flesh and blood body,

Weak and naive, I’m resigned to the court’s fury.”

1425. The judge ordered: “Be the state’s law carried out!”

They cangued her neck, tied her hands and chained her feet.

She stood torture without cry of innocence,

Her cheeks paled and her brows knitted because of pain.

On the floor of mud and dust she lay writhing,

1430. Her clear face blurred and her thin body skinny.

And Thuc was also an object of pity,

He watched the scene with a heart full of sorrow.

He cried: “All this disaster because of me!

If I obeyed her then, she’s not at fault now.

1435. My shallow heart did not care to think deeply,

And she now has to bear all the penalty.”

Overhearing Thuc’s moaning of grievances,

The judge was touched and asked about his story.

In tears he then expressed himself politely,

1440. All details from the day of their acquaintance:

“She did previously reckon the consequence,

And foretold she would be victimized one day.

’Tis my fault to ransom her and bring her home,

That she’s to suffer all this calamity.”

1445. Thuc’s touching story got the judge’s pity,

Who softened his sternness and showed a way out,

“Be it true,” Said he. “What you’ve told me about,

Though a harlot, she knows what is right and wrong.”

Sinh said: “This woman of drifting destiny,

1450. Knows a little literature and poetry.”

The judge smiled and said: “A poet if she be!

Let her show her skill via the theme of a cangue.”

She obeyed and raised the brush into a poem,

Then offered it before the mandarin’s desk.

1455. The judge praised: “This poem dwarfs the High T’ang[33]’s best!

Such beauty and skill exceed thousands of gold!

A girl of beauty and a man of talent,

What pair of man and wife is more excellent?

Henceforth stop harboring anger and rancor,

1460. That but disrupt the rhythm of harmony.

Once you brought one another to the Court’s door,

Reason is external but love is at core.

Son and girl-in-law are family’s children,

So set down the resentment and end the mess.”

1465. He then ordered the wedding celebration,

Carried in bridal couch under the torched lights,

Followed by a band of mirthful musicians,

The new weds were brought to the nuptial chamber.

By the esteem for her virtue and talent,

1470. Old Thuc also put aside his chastisement.

Perfume of lilies and orchids filled the home,

Old bitterness made room for true happiness.

 

EPISODE XIV

CONCUBINE’S DISTANT WORRIES

WIFE’S SECRET CONSPIRACY

So they indulged in morning wine and noon chess,

Till plum lost its fresh and lotus got its green.

1475. In their private room during a quiet night,

Kieu timidly expressed her concern and fright:

“Since I was lucky to be your concubine,

Wild geese went swallows came and a year has passed.

Not a word has been heard from your family,

1480. You’re warm with your mistress and cool with your wife.

I think her silence very noticeable,

Since no one care about hushing the rumor.

I’ve overheard the woman of your household

Is a person of rules and regulations.

1485. These abnormal ones are utterly fearsome,

Like sea and river, their hearts hard to fathom!

Our affair has lasted almost one year round,

It can’t by any means be hidden from her.

Up to now, you’ve not heard from home anything,

1490. Or something unsafe has happened from within?

Please hurry home to her in the shortest time,

First to please her, second to sound her thinking.

Keeping concealed for long our amorous tale,

Or putting it off in time will surely fail.”

1495. In compliance with her sensible advice,

Sinh reluctantly resolved to return home.

At dawn he reported his plan to old Thuc,

Who also urged him to expedite his trip.

To drink their farewell cups of separation,

1500. They strolled from home to the site of leave-taking.

The Ch’in River stretched into a bluish patch,

Where sparse willows drooped their branches of longing.

They held each other’s hands sighing and moaning,

Parting staled their wine and leaving choked their words.

1505. She said: “Though we’ll be hills and streams divided,

The outside won’t be safe without inner peace.

Even a bag of rag can’t hide a needle,

Let’s stop daydreaming and be realistic.

About our furtive love affair and marriage,

1510. Once at home, forthrightly tell her the story.

She might not gratify, and in her fury,

She’ll prove her power and I’ll resign to my fate.

It is far better than lying or hiding,

That will surely bring about disastrous things.

1515. If you truly love me, keep in mind my words,

One year of absence will eventually pass.

Today remember these cups of division,

Today next year we’ll drink cups of reunion!”

He got on horse while she let go of his gown,

1520. Fall had dyed the maple woods with partition.

Miles of dust soon covered the departing man,

Who disappeared among greenish strawberries.

She was back, a night shadow of loneliness,

While he alone ventured into wilderness.

1525. High above who cut the moon into two halves,

Half stamped on her pillow, half brightened his road.

But all the hardships of his trip were nothing,

Compared to his grief of his household’s lady.

She belonged to the Hoan famous family,

1530. Her name was Hoan Thu, a minister’s daughter.

A marriage of chance and opportunity

Had combined him to her for quite a long time.

The way she behaved in life was not so bad,

The way she manipulated so aghast.

1535. Since she heard of his newly wed concubine,

All these tidings she’d got from others but him.

The more she quenched her heart’s fire, the more it burned,

She blamed him for betrayal and adultery:

“Had he confessed to me about his mistress,

1540. I’d have the lenience to tolerate her.

I’m not a foolish not to save my honor,

Won’t it be good to be named a jealous wife?

But he chose in contrary to veil and hide,

Making all those funny childish monkeyshines!

1545. Thinks out of my sight everything he can hide,

Well, let him hide and I’ll pretend not to know.

Such a thing I have none to worry about,

How can the ant crawl out from inside the bowl?

I will make them each other to disavow,

1550. I will shame her till she could not raise her head.

I will make appear before them clean and clear,

The consequences that a traitor must bear.”

She kept her confidence deep within her heart,

And made a deaf ear to all rumors outside.

1555. A week later suddenly came two persons,

Who brought about the news to ask for favors.

The mandarin’s daughter feigned a boiled anger:

“Loathsome ones who out of none invent stories!

My husband’s not as trite as anybody,

1560. The source must have been from these rumormongers.”

She swiftly showed her power and gave orders,

That one was mouth-slapped and the other tooth-cracked.

As a result all people kept their mouths shut,

And none dared say a word about the rumor.

1565. The lady stayed all at ease in her chamber,

Laughing and talking as if nothing happened;

While day and night she kept telling herself so,

Sinh reached their rose pavilion and got down.

Words of greeting mixed with joys of union,

1570. Their love warmer and their fervor more ardent.

They drank gleefully the cups of home welcome,

But they kept in hearts their own secret problems.

As Thuc came home to sound his wife’s attitude,

He intended to tell the entire story.

1575. But his wife, half drunken, laughing and talking,

Had not the slightest hint of his love affair.

Therefore he thought: “The affair’s concealed tightly,

Why should I confess without her inquiry?”

So he kept on faltering and wavering,

1580. Fearing to pull a cord and disturb the wood.

At times as they exchanged merriments or jokes,

The lady would let slip ambiguous words.

Saying: “In this messy world of pearls and stones,

We have a total trust in one another,

1585. Praiseworthy for those wide and long mouthpieces,

That spread rumors of baseless disloyalty.

Though a dull I’ve never cared to think of them,

Those fouling things but make me target of joke.”

Thinking her words casual and light-hearted,

1590. He also expressed his passive approval.

The couple then went on their round of delights,

Either under the lamp or in the moonshine.

But Thuc began to miss his old rustic bliss,

As yellow leaves started to fall on the pool.

1595. He remembered what he’d seen on his last trip,

And the home he’d left after seasons of love.

He did not have the gut his heart to disclose,

The lady had foreseen his mind and declared:

“You’ve been far away from dad almost one year,

1600. Be back in Lin-tzu soon to take care of him”

Her words seemed to untie the knot of his heart,

He galloped straight back home through the alien land.

In limpid water reflected the blue sky,

Smokes rose like ramparts and hills bathed in sunshine.

 

EPISODE XV

KIDNAP AND CORPSE EXCHANGE

MYSTICISM AND SOUL INVOCATION

1605. Soon after Thuc whipped his steed on the journey,

His wife also took the coach to her parents.

She told her mother details of her problem,

On his betrayal and her unhappiness.

Suggesting her thought: “Jealousy and the same,

1610. Would disgrace him and make me target of blame.

Therefore I’ve kept my eyes blind and my mouth tight,

In fact I had my own scheme from the first days.

It takes one month by road to Lin-tzu from here,

But the direct sea route is very much near.

1615. We’ll go there by boat with our chosen servants,

We’ll bring along chains to tie and bring her here.

We’ll wear her out bodily and mentally,

We’ll torture her and let everybody see.

First to punish these kinds of hateful people,

1620. Second to leave a joke for posterity.”

The mother praised her daughter for her smart plan,

And out of indulgence allowed her free hands.

They had the sails and ropes prepared and ready,

They had Hound and Hawk to recruit ruffians.

1625. When all the recommendations were given,

They sailed down wind across the sea to Lin-tzu.

Since Kieu was left all alone by the window,

Her heart was embroiled with myriad sorrows:

“Now my old parents are like waning shadows,

1630. How about their health, how about their welfare?

Now my hair, clipped on oath, has reached my shoulders,

And my pledge of faith and my vow of betroth.

And as slim as the fate of a climbing plant,

Will this union be favored by Hymen?

1635. Why is my life caught in so much up-and-down?

And his lone wife, what does she think of me now?”

The autumn night’s wind got in through the window,

A crescent moon and three stars engraved the sky.

Incense sticks in hands before Buddha’s altar,

1640. She stood praying all her heart out and so on,

When from under the flowers rose the cruel men,

Out of nothing appeared phantoms and demons.

Naked swords and machetes dazzled in the yard,

All terrified she did not know what to do.

1645. At once they sprayed anesthetic drug on her,

Making her fall into a dream-like status.

Then they lifted and placed her on the saddle,

Set afire her reading room and bedchamber.

An unidentified corpse from the river,

1650. Was dragged therein to mislead the onlookers.

Her servants whose souls disappeared out of fears,

Scurried hiding in the bush or the trees.

Old Thuc whose house was in the vicinity,

Trembled with fright when seeing the rising flame,

1655. Master and servants ran straight to the fire site,

They fought the flame trying to search for their girl.

The wind was violent and the blaze very high,

They rummaged everywhere but could not find her.

Shocked and stunned they stood looking at each other,

1660. In despair they fumbled the bush and the pool,

When arriving at the ashes in her room,

They uncovered a pile of charred skeleton.

They were too honest to know the evil trick,

Taking the dead to be her and no one else.

1665. Old Thuc sighed and sobbed without interruption,

Pity for his son and his decent woman.

They at last wrapped up and brought home her remain,

Then they shrouded, coffined, and laid it to rest.

The funeral ceremony just finished,

1670. When on horse, Thuc arrived after the long trip.

Stepping into the old place of their chamber,

He saw heaps of cinders by the four bare walls.

At his father’s residence in the mid-house,

There stood on altar the tablet of her name.

1675. Helas! What a tragic story he was told,

The heart-tearing grief, the bile-burning sorrow!

He fell on the ground sobbing and lamenting:

“What an unjust death for such a virtuous soul!

We were sure we would soon see one another,

1680. Never thought that was our last day together!”

The more he missed her, the more he grieved for her,

A distress nobody could alleviate.

He was told of a psychic living nearby,

Who could exorcise ghosts and comprehend gods.

1685. Though on Three Fairy Islands[34] or in Nine Springs[35],

He could find and recognize any lost soul.

Gifts was offered him as an invitation,

To invoke her soul for interrogation.

Kneeling before his incantation altar,

1690. The mystic went into a trance for a while.

When back to himself, he gave a clear statement:

“Though her face is not seen, her tale is inquired,

This girl is gravely by her karma weighed down.

Still lots of debts to pay and she can’t escape!

1695. Astrology tells she’s in an accident,

No news of hers is heard in the next twelve months.

The couple will meet face to face however,

But they dare not recognize one another.”

The shaman’s word sounded so weird to the ears,

1700. That none of them believed its validity!

This was but nonsense witchcraft and sorcery,

She was dead and where on the earth could be seen?

So he kept mourning her and missed their good times,

Asking if he’d meet such a fairy again.

 

EPISODE XVI

THE MINISTER’S WOMAN’S RUTHLESSNESS

THE SERVANT’S WOES AND BITTERNESS

1705. As Thuc was convinced Kieu had already died,

He never knew she lived in an earthly hell.

Since Hound and Hawk succeeded in their foul plan,

They took her down the boat and settled her there.

With high sails, strained cord, and down a sturdy wind,

1710. The boat straightly glided home towards Hsi District.

Unloading before the ministry office,

Hound and Hawk submitted her for their rewards.

She was brought to custody in a maid’s room,

All the while she was still unconscious in swoon.

1715. Next morning she woke up from her long wild dream,

And found herself misplaced in a strange palace.

She was still bewildered in half sleep half wake,

When a voice echoed calling her to report.

A girl servant came down and urged her to haste,

1720. Frightened she pressed her steps following the maid.

Looking up at the gigantic passageway,

She saw hanging the title of chancellor.

Two lines of candles brightened the day parlor,

High up on the grand bed sat an old lady,

1725. Who coldly asked about her identity.

Truly and politely she told her story.

The woman swiftly fell in a stormy rage,

And reproached: “Those shameless licentious women!

This is not a good and honest citizen,

1730. But a master dodger or husband cheater.

You look like a graveyard-cat or a field-hen[36],

Who was too awkward to justify herself.

You’ve sold yourself to become my household serf,

But still keep your arrogance and aloofness.

1735. Now team to enforce domestic discipline!

Give her thirty beats as a conduct lesson.”

The maids shouted yes in unanimity,

And Kieu was helpless to cry her innocence.

They struck her with sticks and rods without mercy,

1740. A fresh-crushing and gut-scaring penalty.

How pitiful for her, a frail twig of peach bloom,

Was broken to pieces in the violent rain!

Then as Flower Slave her name was bid to change,

And she was assigned to a group of servants.

1745. Henceforth she languished there among the blue-coats,

Hardly caring of her wire-hair and lead-skin.

The manager was a kind-hearted woman,

Who pitied her through her conduct and allure.

This lady often offered her drugs or teas,

1750. And with kind words showed her a way to survive.

Saying: “Though everything is up to fortune,

As female, be alert to protect yourself,

It might be due to some previous life’s karma,

That you’re reduced to this utter misery.

1755. In this palace, walls have eyes and roofs have ears,

Ignore everyone though they were once so dear.

Or else in case of a sudden brutal storm,

How could a weak bee or ant for justice cry?”

Kieu could not help pouring profusely her tears,

1760. Out of her heart’s anguish for her wretched plight:

“Heaps of woes have piled up on my destiny,

But none could equal this awful misery.

How cruel will this ill fate of mine still be,

Binding poor me to this world’s catastrophe?

1765. To redeem the debts of my past existence,

Like a ground pearl or drooped bloom I’ll risk my life.”

While Kieu wished she could find there a brief respite,

The young lady came to visit her parents.

Following a lengthy talk with her daughter,

1770. The old lady had Kieu called up and ordered:

“My young lady’s in need of a few servants,

You are allowed now to go and wait on her.”

Submissively Kieu followed her new master,

Knowing not hell or heaven to be transferred.

1775. So day and night Kieu cared for the young lady,

Never neglecting her maidservant’s duty.

By occasion of a serene evening,

The girl asked Kieu about her music hobby.

Obediently Kieu began to play the lute,

1780. And enchanted people with her melodies.

The lady seemed to be fond of Kieu’s talent,

And so reduced somewhat her severity.

Thus in this stranger’s house Kieu spent her exile,

Moaning with shade, pleading with heart day and night.

1785. She mourned her interrupted love in Lin-tzu,

Wishing they would meet again in the next life.

At the four directions covered with white clouds,

Where she could find her homeland and her dear house.

 

EPISODE XVII

SOULS OF COMMON FRIGHTS

HEARTS OF DIFERENT MOODS

Meanwhile during these elapsing days and months,

1790. Thuc almost knew nothing of her sufferings.

Since his female bird had flown and disappeared,

He was poorly lonesome in his empty chamber.

The new moon reminded him of her eyebrows,

The remains of her scent doubled his distress.

1795. Blooming asters had replaced fading lotus,

His lovesick increased as spring followed winter.

Not knowing where he could find his former love,

He resorted to fate to appease sorrows.

Suddenly touched by a fit of homesickness,

1800. He went home for a visit of his village.

The young lady warmly and gaily welcomed,

As they exchanged almost all news near and far.

Then the curtain were rolled up high in the hall,

Kieu was called to come out for a bow greeting.

1805. Reluctantly step by step she inched forwards,

Looking ahead she saw exactly someone:

“Am I dazzled by lamp or sun.” she wondered,

Is the man who sat there no other than Sinh?

By now I understand clearly everything,

1810. That I have already been caught in the net.

What on the earth is this peculiar trick?

Who in the world is this malevolent miss?

To turn a real couple of husband and wife,

Into master and servant in the same house.

1815. Outwardly, she naturally talks and smiles,

Inwardly, she viciously kills without knife.

Now at positions of low earth and high sky,

How could we behave how could we truly say?”

Their eyes met while their souls were in disarray,

1820. And their hearts were in turmoil like a silk mess.

Out of fear, Kieu dared not at all disobey,

Bowing her head she prostrated in the yard.

Sinh too was struck by a soul-vanishing fright:

“Helas,” he thought. “Is this Kieu before my eyes?

1825. What is the cause of her being in this place?

Oh it’s doomed that I’ve fallen into this trap!”

Out of his routine fear he kept his mouth shut,

But he could not prevent his tears from dripping.

His woman looked into his eyes and inquired:

1830. “What makes you so wretched just newly arrived?”

Sinh said: “The term of mother’s mourning just ends,

My heart pines for her and that makes me suffer.

She praised: “What a grateful child you really are!

Let’s drink reunion cups to ease your gloom.”

1835. So the couple drank into the autumn night,

And Kieu had to wait on them standing beside.

The jealous wife found fault with Kieu’s attitudes,

Forcing her to kneel and raise cup to his hand.

Panic-stricken, Sinh seemed almost traumatized,

1840. He drank cup after cup as tears mixed with wine.

Turning sideways he at random talked or smiled,

Then cited drunkenness as cause to withdraw.

Without delay his wife shouted: “Flower Maid!

Tell him to finish the cup or you’ll be whipped.”

1845. Sinh felt as if heart broken and soul vanished,

Trying to gulp down the offered bitter cups.

The tipsy lady kept talking and laughing,

Adding a new game to the wine carousing,

Saying: “Flower Maid acquires lots of talents,

1850. Take the lute and play a tune for my husband.”

Almost in a state of half-conscious stupor,

Kieu passively tuned the lute before the screen.

The musical strings seemed sighing and crying,

Making the guest ‘s heart almost shattered within.

1855. Listening to the same tune of melody,

The wife smiled while her husband sobbed secretly.

Unable to hold back his plentiful tears,

He lowered his head and wiped them stealthily.

The lady immediately shouted at her:

1860. “Why such a woeful tune in the revelry?

Don’t you have a bit of sensitivity?

It’s your fault that makes my husband so gloomy.”

Sinh became more miserable than ever,

He hastily forced himself to talk and smile.

1865. The water watch was at level of midnight,

Looking at them, the lady seemed satisfied.

Her heart was delighted with a private joy:

“This pleasure makes up for my long-time mute pains.”

Whereas Sinh was at the peak of his sufferings,

1870. The more he thought, the more his heart was writhing.

Then as man and wife went in their love bedroom,

Kieu was back facing her lamp throughout the night:

“Now everything shows clearly before my sight

What weirdness of envy blood this lass acquires!

1875. What a plot to split two lovers she’s devised!

Forcing each on their way ignoring other.

Now a chasm has divided him from me,

There would be no more gossip or censures;

This debt, though light like froth also grave like lead,

1880. When I pay it off, naught of our tie is left.”

Then as a helpless and solitary girl,

Could I survive unharmed from this storm of life?”

She sat sobbing all alone throughout the night,

The lamp’s oil got low but her tears always full.

1885. Therefore all day long Kieu’s eyes were brimmed with tears,

The lady saw that and asked her the reason.

She carefully chose words for a smart answer:

“It is because I weep for my bitter fate.”

The lady then turned to her husband and said:

1890. “Would you help asking her to tell all her truth?”

Sinh felt as if his bowels torn into bits,

He could neither bear the scene nor to confess.

If he told the truth, it would surely harm her,

So he took the risk of a smart inquiry.

1895. Bowing her head low and kneeling in the yard,

She wrote down a paper of her life’s story,

Then came to submit it to the young lady,

Who, after a swift glance, seemed a little moved.

She by the way handed it to Sinh and said:

1900. “She’s a valued talent and a pitied fate.

If she were predestined to a good fortune,

Her value would be worth a palace of gold!

But she was drifting in the ocean of life,

Pity for a great skill but of a dire plight!”

1905. Sinh said: “Your word is really accurate,

Beautiful women all end up in ill fate!

It’s been so and so thousands of years ago,

Therefore you’d better show your mercy for her.”

The lady said: “According to her paper,

1910. She’d wish ‘to give her bleak life to the Void Gate[37]’.

It’s agreed and I’ll comply with her desire,

That she could help herself out of life’s circle.

There’s the Kuan-yin small temple in our garden,

With hundred-foot trees and four-season flowers.

1915. With all kinds of plants, man-made hill and river,

There she’ll keep the shrine and copy the sutra.”

Order was given at the first crack of dawn,

To prepare five gifts for the ceremony.

Then she was guided before Buddha’s altar,

1920. Where she became nun of five nays and three vows[38].

Her blue dress made room to the brown Buddhist cloak,

Her religious name was given as Pure Spring.

They gave enough oil for her daily usage,

Assigned her with Spring and Fall as cult valets.

1925. Since Kieu went into hiding in the garden,

Adjacent to Buddha, distant from human.

She had no more any longing for her love,

Only content with being free of disgrace.

Burying grief and sorrows in Buddha’s grace,

1930. She copied sutras at days and prayed at night.

What miracle! Drops of Buddhist willow branch[39],

They quench the heart’s fire of love in worldly life.

Since Kieu chose the brown colour of Buddhist style,

The moon had a couple of times waned then waxed.

1935. Being watched closely by her two cult valets,

She talked in public but wept in loneliness.

His reading chamber and her sutra attic,

A hand span near but thousand of miles apart.

 

EPISODE XVIII

THE SUPER-JEALOUS WIFE

THE MALICIOUS MISTRESS

While Sinh could do nothing but swallowed his groans,

1940. The young lady one day went to her parents’.

On this occasion Sinh furtively got out,

And straightly went to meet Kieu in the garden.

Sobbing he exposed all his woes and sorrows,

Drops of tears streamed down and soaked his bluish coat:

1945. “It’s me who was at fault of disloyalty,

And you’re alone to suffer the penalty!

Since I was inferior to my woman,

Your pain hurt me but I could not utter a word.

Because of me you’re tangled in the mishap,

1950. Like a pearl soiled by mud, doomed your young life is!

I would rather defy any jeopardy,

To live and die faithfully with my pledged love.

But since I still own my lineage an heir son,

I have clenched my teeth to break up our sworn oath.

1955. I’m such a traitor that hundred times of death

Won’t be able to redeem my un-kept pledge.”

She said: “I’m like a frail wooden boat in storm,

Giving up myself to the whims of fortune!

My weak body squirming in the mud puddle,

1960. I never thought it could persist till present.

Times I’ve tried to risk my petty existence,

For people to look at my brave example.

However, because we’ve been made man and wife,

Albeit a marriage of days instead of life.

1965. Please think how to help me get out of this place,

That’ll be your great love, that’ll be your deep favor!”

Sinh said: “For myself, I’ve known long time before,

That human heart’s unfathomably wicked.

Any time, can roughly erupt the tempest,

1970. Your suffering is also my misery.

So run as far as you could and do your best,

Consequently it’s over our short-lived love!

Henceforth each of us will have opposite road,

When is time for us to reunite, who knows?

1975. Though the river dries up and the stone wears out,

Till death the silkworm keeps on spinning its silk.”

They recalled the memories of their romance,

Their incessant talk could not end up by words.

While they kept their eyes sticking and hands clinging,

1980. Sounds of alertness from her valet were heard.

Embarrassed and dumbfounded they stood apart,

From nowhere his wife split flowers and stepped in.

Sweetly smiling and talking, she asked her man:

“Have you just come here for a visit, my dear?”

1985. Puzzled, Sinh tried to put together his words:

“Lost in flowers, I’ve strayed to the sutra nun”

The lady praised: “Her handwriting’s excellent,

It’s second to none of any best I’ve seen!

Sorry for her to be a drifting woman,

1990. Her talent is worth thousand liangs of gold.”

After drinking together the temple tea,

The couple slowly walked back to their chamber.

Left alone, Kieu felt more forlorn than ever,

Softly she asked the maid about what’d happened.

1995. The valet said: “Lady came long time before,

And stood there on tiptoe almost half an hour,

Carefully each detail seeing and watching,

Thoroughly all words hearing and listening.

The anguish of pining, longing, and yearning,

2000. The master’s grumbles and your lamentations.

She forced me to stand aside and keep silent,

And just got on floor when tired of hearing.”

Kieu was shocked with horror by the valet’s words,

“This woman,” thought she, “rarely seen in the world!

2005. What an audacity! What a faculty!

Thinking of her makes my skin creep from horror.

So profound and sneaky this young woman is,

That poor Thuc becomes a man of tied-up hands!

She has all proofs of her man’s disloyalty,

2010. That could make a woman mad with jealousy.

She kept silent instead of a hue and cry,

Merrily greeting and tenderly talking.

To vent one’s rage in fits is rather normal,

To smile one’s rage unfathomably evil!

2015. I have to take precaution for my safety,

It’s not secure in this beast’s mouth and snake’s fang!

If I don’t manage to run away in time,

Finally I’ll be made a victim of hers.

As a weed I don’t mind about chute water,

2020. And my floating life doesn’t care where it floats.

My only concern is that all by myself,

How to survive empty-handed on strange land!”

She rummaged through her mind for a solution,

And saw on the altar some treasured objects.

2025. She took them with her as means of subsistence.

The drum was heard announcing third watch of night,

Kieu climbed over the flower fence of the shrine,

And groped her way west following the moonlight.

Around was a haze of sand dunes and tree hills,

2030. Cockcrows from lone huts and shoe marks on fogged bridge.

A lonely helpless girl in the dead of night,

Afraid of the road and sorry for the plight!

When dawn cracked in the mulberry of east sky,

She was still hopeless of a destination!

2035. By chance she saw a temple in the distance,

Its name Haven for Refuge was clearly seen.

All happy, she firmly knocked at the front door,

And was welcomed in by the temple’s tenant.

Seeing the girl in her brown Buddhist garment,

2040. Giac Duyen, the chief nun, at once felt compassion.

She cautiously posed questions about origin,

Of which Kieu, still strange, did not tell the whole truth:

“I’m a small novice from hometown of Pekin,

A follower of Buddha for quite a time.

2045. As my teacher will certainly come after,

She instructed me to present you these treasures.”

She opened her pack and plainly presented

The little gold bell and the silver tablet.

The nun had a quick look at them then turned and said:

2050. “So you are nun Hang Thuy’s disciple, welcome!

But for fear of your loneliness on the road,

Stay here a few days to wait for my elder.”

Thus in this remote haven Kieu took shelter,

A life of carefree days and vegetable food.

2055. Kieu’d already learnt by heart all the sutras,

And used to daily jobs of the pagoda.

From dawn to dusk, she tended to her duties,

Lighting the late lamps, booming the early bell.

The chief nun admired her cleverness and skill,

2060. And Kieu felt more secure with the vicar’s trust.

 

EPISODE XIX

SNAKE DEN TAKEN FOR SHELTER

BACK AGAIN INTO THE BROTHEL

Now was the end of spring at the pagoda,

Flowers draped the earth, moonlight whitened the sky.

In this leisure time of calm wind and clear cloud,

A believer made a visit at the shrine.

2065. Appraising the silver gong and the gold bell,

She praised: “Fairly like Lady Hoan’s property!”

By hearing this, Giac Duyen startled with worries,

In the calm night she came to Kieu for query.

Thinking it impossible the truth to hide,

2070. Kieu narrated the whole story of her life:

“Now it turns out that thing has come to this stage,

It’s up to you to decide my abject fate.”

Truth unveiled, Giac Duyen shook with trepidation,

Hesitating between fear and compassion.

2075. She whispered to Kieu her heart-felt emotion:

“Here the Buddha’s gate is always wide open;

I just fear of unexpected happenings,

That’ll drive you into regretful misfortune!

It is better to avoid and run away,

2080. Than to sit and wait while the flood’s on the way!”

There lived nearby a some woman surnamed Bac,

Who used to visit the shrine with offerings.

She was sent for and entrusted everything,

That to shelter Kieu her abode be prepared.

2085. Kieu was so happy for a secure haven,

That she had no time near and far to reckon.

Naively she fell into the den of a cheat,

Who was really Madam Tu’s old colleague.

Seeing a beauty with white face and red lips,

2090. Dame Bac got thrilled within due to big profit.

Out of nothing she yarned bad tales about Kieu,

That many times struck her with trembling dismay.

The wicked dame kept on pursuing her prey,

Forcing her with evil words to a marriage.

2095. Saying: “You’re all alone on an alien land,

And tarnished with nasty rumors near and far.

What a cursing and disrupting girl you are!

Not a single house dares to harbor so far.

Hurry to look for yourself a wedded place,

2100. Or you can fly and seek refuge in heaven!

Nearby match is by all means not convenient,

No match is to be found in the surroundings.

Now a nephew of mine whose name is Bac Hanh,

Not a stranger but flesh and blood relative.

2105. A shop owner in T’ai-ch’u[40] with property,

A man of honesty and credibility.

In any case you ought to listen to me,

After marriage you’ll manage to leave for T’ai,

Where nobody who you are can recognize,

2110. Then in ocean and river, you’re free to ride.

But if you are adamant to my reason,

You are sure to subject to awful consequence.”

Kieu listened to dame’s words with a painful heart,

Her face contorted and her eyebrows knitted.

2115. Thinking of her tripped feet over a trapped land,

In the stalemate, she at last sighed her complaint:

“I’m just a swallow strayed away from its flock,

Once wounded by a bow, now it fears curved twigs!

Even to follow a man through an impasse,

2120. I know his face but how can I know his heart?

By chance in case something hazardous happens,

What will I get from this uncertain venture?

If someone has any wish for a union,

Let him declare his heartfelt resolution.

2125. Once our wedding witnessed by Earth and Heaven,

I’ll follow him wherever across ocean.”

With Kieu’s consent, the dame went to her nephew,

And ordered him to prepare for the wedding.

His house was altogether put in order,

2130. Yard swept, altar set, vase cleaned, incense sticks burned.

Bac Hanh the groom, in an eagerness, knelt down,

And overstated his prayers to all the gods.

Then in the yard the couple exchanged their oaths,

And went behind curtain for their union.

2135. The wedding done, Kieu was led down in a boat,

That sailed smoothly down wind and wave toward T’ai.

When the boat had safely docked at the station,

Bac went up beforehand to the usual place.

It was the same old brothel for many years,

2140. The same sellers and buyers of human flesh.

They scrutinized the woman and set a price,

When the deal was ten times its worth, he okayed.

A sedan chair was hired to take her away,

While Bac got the money and ran off his way.

2145. The sedan chair stopped before a flowered porch,

From inside the house hurried out a woman,

Who escorted her in before the altar,

On which stood the same white-browed brothel patron.

At first glance she’d realized her predicament,

2150. But a caged bird, she could not fly high and flee:

“What a curse, this beach flower’s bad destiny,

Which loosened then tightened like a mockery!

The more I think the more I’m tired of life,

The more you’re talented the more you’re envied!

2155. How regretful for the alum-cleared water!

It is now stirred up and soiled by mud again.

Does heaven have any ill will with woman,

Not to spare her after so much maltreatment?

I’ve been strayed from home misstep after misstep,

2160. Though very watchfully I’ve fathomed the road.

What wrongs did it commit, my innocent soul,

That I have to redeem with half of my time?

Now knowing there’s no way to avoid the fate,

I’ll risk my prime for my faults to compensate.”

 

EPISODE XX

MEETING OF INTIMATES

HEROIC WILL SATISFIED

2165. During those bright nights of moon clear and wind fresh,

From the frontier came to entertain a guest.

With lion’s beard, swallow’s jaw, and silkworm’s brows,

Of large shoulders and tall and massive body,

Unmatched in martial art and skill of warfare,

2170. He was a hero of true validity.

Standing between earth and sky with arrogance,

This man was Tu Hai, a native of Yueh-tung[41].

Fond of a struggling life style of adventure,

With homeland in heart, bow and sword on shoudiers.

2175. He’d heard about Kieu’s beauty throughout his trip,

And the beauty’s love softened the hero’s will.

Thus when he was introduced at the rose-hall,

Their glances encountered and their hearts said ‘yes’.

Tu said: “As intimates we’ve finally met,

2180. Not as those passers-by brought about by wind.

I have heard of your fame as a beauty queen,

Whose eyes have not let in anyone’s image.

It is rare to meet a hero in this world,

Why waste your time with those confined fish and birds?”

2185. Kieu said: “Your word of praise I dare not accept,

I’m too low a girl to look down on the folk!

I wish I could choose the stone to test the gold,

But whom can I trust and tell my confidence?

And for those customers who frequent this place,

2190. I have no right to sort the gold from the brass.”

Tu said: “Your saying is very sensible,

That indeed reminds me of P’ing-Yuan’s story[42].

Come here and once more have a close look at me,

To see if any of your trust I’m worthy.

2195. Kieu politely said: “Yours is a noble heart,

Chin-yang will soon see the dragon in the cloud.[43]

As your love covers grass low and flowers base,

I’ll dare one day seek help for my foaming fate.”

Nodding his head with pleasant satisfaction,

2200. Tu laughed: “Intimates are rare and hard to find.

It is praiseworthy for your insightful eyes,

That could see a hero among the masses.

Just by one word and you could recognize me,

We’ll have one another in wealth and glory.”

2205. Harmonized in heart and united in mind,

They soon fell in love without bidding of love.

He afterward sent words to the matchmaker,

And repaid the exact sum for her freedom.

He also had his own room duly prepared,

2210. Furnished with a deluxe bed and bedecked screen.

Thus the hero was well matched with the beauty,

As dragon and phoenix in their unity.

Half year later, while their marriage was still warm,

The husband felt a sudden urge in his heart.

2215. Casting a glance at the immense sky and sea,

He readied his sword and horse for a journey.

Kieu said: “The wife’s place is where her husband goes,

Now you go, I’d willingly ask to follow.”

Tu said: “Intimates should know one another,

2220. Why d’ you still keep that womanly behavior?

When an army of hundred thousands of soldiers,

With earth-shaking drumbeats, sky-filling colors,

Parades in the glory of my superb name,

Then I’ll welcome you to our official home.

2225. But not now when I’m a homeless wanderer,

You are but a burden for my roaming life.

Be patient to stay here and wait for a while,

Don’t be eager, at most one year I’ll be back.”

Thus firmly said, he cut off his hem and left,

2230. Opening his great wings to wind of the wild.

She was left alone at home by the window,

Behind fast-bolted door during endless nights.

No more of her shoe-marks on the mossy-yard,

Where grass grew taller but willow got thinner.

2235. She strained her eyes at thousand-mile-off hometown,

Where her homesick soul lingered with hilltop clouds;

How pitiful she was for her old parents!

Had they allayed now from their grief and longings?

More than ten years had swiftly passed ever since,

2240. If still alive they’d had frost-hair and scale-skin.

How sorry she was for her old true lover,

Though cut from her mind but still clung to her heart.

If with her sister he’d tied the marriage knot,

Probably by now they’d had children a lot.

2245. And the heart-felt nostalgia of her homeland,

Like thousands of spinning threads, crisscrossed her mind.

Whereas her husband, like a soaring great bird,

Was flying out of her worn-out waiting eyes.

Lonely she lived like a shadow day and night,

2250. While the war flames thundered around the corner.

An atmosphere of death filled the gloomy sky,

War-ships filled the rivers, soldiers jammed the roads.

She was told by acquaintances and neighbors

To go seek for a temporary shelter.

2255. She said: “Because I have made him a promise,

Even in time of danger I won’t break it.”

While she was still in perplexed indecision,

Flags were seen, voices heard from exterior.

Encircling her house came a group of soldiers,

2260. They hailed in unison: “Our great Lord’s madam!”

Before Kieu were two lines of ten generals

With shields and swords undone kowtowing on ground.

Behind were ladies-in-waiting who followed,

And said: “By Lord’s order we escort you home.”

2265. A phoenix-coach with decked curtain was ready,

She donned a bright headdress and brilliant clothes.

The parade began with banners and drumbeats,

The flute and string preceded her golden chair.

Urgent heralds dashed before the procession,

2270. And drums were heard from the South-Court Headquarter.

Flags raised on the walls, guns roared from the bastions.

Lord Tu himself rode out the gate to greet her,

Strangely magnificent in his uniform,

Still with chin of sparrow and brows of silkworm,

2275. He laughed: “Our union is like fish and water,

Those words I’ve once said do you still remember?

Only heroine could understand hero,

Are you satisfied with what you’re having now?”

She politely said: “Mine’s a slim destiny,

2280. A frail vine sheltered at the shade of a tree.

Though it’s only now we see the dream come true,

I was sure of our victory from the first days.”

Eyes to eyes, face to face they were in laughter,

Then hand in hand they went to the headquarter.

2285. Banquets and feast were held to reward the troops,

Echoed with battle drums and army music.

In glory they made up for their past hardships,

And their love got fresher and warmer each day.

 

EPISODE XXI

ACQUITTING THE REPENTANT

PUNISHING THE ACCOUNTABLE

At the headquarter in time of amusement,

2290. She leisurely told her days of misery:

“Drifted I was between Lin-tzu and Wu-hsi,

Where some ones deceived and some others pitied.

My body’s now light, relieved of all burdens,

Only left unsolved a bit of rights and wrongs.”

2295. Listening to the story from start to end.

Lord Tu burst into a thunderous fury.

He set in readiness his military,

And gave orders to be done in urgency.

Under the red banner, his troops swiftly moved,

2300. One group went to Wu-hsi, other to Lin-tzu.

Those people who had once deceived and betrayed,

Were identified and captured for query.

A herald with credential was sent forward,

To secure the safety of Thuc family.

2305. Hoan household’s manageress and Nun Giac Duyen,

Were also officially called for as guests.

Kieu explained to the troops on their departure,

All angry they vowed to fulfill the orders.

Heaven’s law of justice was really awesome,

2310. By one haul they brought home a net full of crooks.

Soldiers in uniform armed with long huge swords

Stood sentry by two lines in and out the court.

All ready in neatness and solemnity,

With weapons and banners all over the yard.

2315. In the middle was the lord’s tiger-skinned box,

Where Lord Tu and his wife side by side took seat.

No sooner had the first round of drums ended

Than captives were called to stand by at the gate.

Tu said: “As for wrongs and rights of those concerned,

2320. It’s up to you to judge and decide their fate.”

She said: “I’d resort to your authority,

First to reward rightly my benefactors.

Then after the favors, I’ll deal with the woes.”

Tu said: “All these problems I entrust to you”

2325. A man with sword was bid to invite Thuc Sinh,

His face was pale and his body quivering.

She said: “Gratitude always weighs like mountain,

Lin-Tzu’s old man, do you still remember me?

Like dawn and dusk stars we could hardly unite.

2330. Why? I have never betrayed your gentle heart.

Hundred brocade rolls and thousand silver pounds,

Not to pay your favor, just to prove my thanks.

Your wife though is very wicked and evil

But now it’s time she meets her equal rival.

2335. The ant that has recently crawled in the bowl

Is paying back its justice to her trick foul!”

At this time poor Thuc’s face was a sight to see,

Soaked with perspiration like caught in the rain.

His heart unable to restrain fear and joy,

2340. Fear for his wife, secret joy for his old love.

Next came the old manageress and the nun,

Ushered forward and invited to their seat.

Holding their hand, exposing herself, Kieu said:

“Flower Slave and Pure Spring, both of them I am,

2345. Your kindness at the times of my accident,

Even hill of gold could hardly recompense.

Thousand ounces of gold’s but a trite present,

In fact, no gold could equal your loving hearts.”

The two Samaritan were highly perplexed,

2350. Half affected by awe, half driven by joy.

She said: “Please be relaxed and stay for a while,

To recognize them and witness my revenge.”

Order was given to bring the captives in,

Together with them were proofs of their offense.

2355. Then under banners and dazzling unsheathed swords,

Was submitted Hoan Thu the major culprit.

At her sight, Kieu greeted and politely said:

“So in the end you’re also here, young lady?

Such woman as you is kind of rarity,

2360. The likes of heart and gut are few in history.

But a woman should by nature be easy,

The more wicked she’s, the more doleful she’ll be.”

Hoan Thu’s mind and soul thoroughly disappeared,

Her head down on the floor she tried to implore,

2365. Saying: “I’m but a narrow-minded woman,

And jealousy’s normal nature of human.

Think of your staying in my shrine writing text,

Think of your leaving without my pursuing.

At the bottom of my heart I respect you,

2370. But a husband’s not a common thing to yield.

I was wrong enough to cause a lot of ills.

I could only beg your highness for mercy.”

Kieu praised: “You are worthy of the compliment,

A woman of cleverness and argument.

2375. To forgive you is a blessing of your life,

To punish you is a nasty act of mine.

You deserve forgiveness due to your remorse.”

Then she gave order to spare the jealous wife,

Who kowtowed in gratitude on the court ground.

2380. A link of villains were led in from the gate,

Kieu said: “Under this infinite and high sky,

Those who harm will be harmed, no one can escape.

First of all are the crooks Dame Bac and Bac Hanh;

Followed by the Hawk, the Hound; and then So Khanh,

2385. With his leaders Dame Tu and Ma the Scholar.

These criminals are worthy of punishment.”

Order was given down to the torturers,

That penalties be meted out properly.

Blood then gushed down and flesh crushed up to pieces,

2390. Everybody was horrified by the scene.

Therefore everything is disposed by heaven,

Betray and be sure someday you’ll be betrayed.

Those people with perfidious and fiendish hearts,

Were duly reaping the result of their deeds.

2395. All the troops gathered around the trial field,

Were watching the whole drama in broad daylight.

When Kieu’s retribution affairs were finished,

Giac Duyen at once asked the permission to quit.

Kieu said: “This is a thousand-year occasion,

2400. That old friends come together for a union.

Tomorrow as weeds and clouds we’ll be dispersed,

Then who knows where the wandering herons are!”

The nun answered: “It won’t be long anyway,

We are due to meet again within five years.

2405. As on my pilgrim at a remote area,

I met Tam Hop, a bonzess and prophetess.

She predicted that for our reunions,

We would meet this year and five years afterwards.

Now her forecast proves itself without errors,

2410. I believe it will be so in the future.

Countless attachments still bind us together,

Our chance for union still exists, why worry?”

She said: “Prophecy and predestination,

What the bonzess foretold is due to happen.

2415. If again you will have a chance to meet her,

Please ask her a few words about my future.”

Giac Duyen heartily complied with her request,

Then said goodbye and immediately left.

Now that all the rights and wrongs duly resolved,

2420. And the tide of woes somewhat calmed down in heart,

She kowtowed in gratitude before Lord Tu:

“This day my wretched life has never dreamt of!

Thank to the help of your thunderous power,

My heart got rid of what a heavy burden!

2425. I will carve in my flesh and bone your favors,

That all my poor life could hardly compensate.”

Tu said: “So far could any of our great men

In but a day make out their intimate friend?

And will those heroes worthy of their titles

2430. Ever meet a wrong deed without punishment?

In addition, your affairs are also mine,

Instead you need not show too much gratitude.

Pity that you still have your old-aged parents,

And so far you’ve been parted each from other.

2435. Wish I could bring all of you under one roof,

So that you’ll see your kin and I’m satisfied.”

Then he ordered banquets among his army,

A meeting of troops for Kieu’s woe-cleansing rite.

 

EPISODE XXII

KING OF A SOVEREIGN STATE

BODY IN A SHALLOW GRAVE

Then by momentum of bamboo-splitting drive,

2440. His army garnered resounding victories.

He established his court in his own corner,

A full-fledged reign absorbing half the nation.

Many times, like sweeping wind and pouring rain,

He army broke down five districts in the south.

2445. A fighter whetting his sword in dust and wind,

Looking down upon worthless and banal folks,

He swaggered in a region by the frontier,

Among other self-claimed princes and suzerains.

No one dared come before his flag to challenge,

2450. For five years he ruled at will on his shore land.

Now in the king’s court there was a governor,

Ho Ton Hien, a statesman of worth and valor.

He was, by a special decree of the king,

The general-in-charge to quell the rebel.

2455. Being aware that Lord Tu was a hero,

And that she also took part in his affairs,

He kept his troops still as an offer for peace,

And sent envoys to bribe them to surrender.

He also had particular gifts for her,

2460. Two court-girls and thousand pounds of jewelry.

When news of this offer reached his headquarter,

Lord Tu in his mind doubted it entirely:

“With my own hands I’ve built this territory,

Where I can roam at will in sea and river.

2465. Now if I give up and go to the king’s court,

How’ll be my fate as a surrendered subject?

I’ll be tied by the mandarin dress and codes,

Why must I live in shame with that count’s title?

While I’m having as my own this dominion,

2470. And nobody could change this power’s balance.

I’ll scrape heaven and stir ocean at free will,

Having none above my head as superior!”

She, by her honest heart, was apt to believe

In melodious words and bountiful gifts.

2475. Deeming herself a floating weed on water,

Leading an exiled life of countless hardships,

Now if he gave in to court as a vassal,

How broad their road would be under the blue sky!

Once public and private goals having been met,

2480. She would manage to return to her homeland.

Dignified in the name of a statesman’s wife

She’d be admired and her parents glorified.

First for her country, next for her family,

She’d fulfill both gratitude and loyalty.

2485. That would be better than this mid-stream skiff’s life,

In panic of whipping surfs and thrashing waves.

Then in an occasion of their discussion,

She tried to weigh the pros and the cons with him.

Saying: “The king’s benevolence is profuse,

2490. It showers large and instills deep everywhere.

His favors and merits so far in the land,

Have been so dearly cherished by the people.

Think and you’ll see the consequence of warfare,

Piles of unknown bone have amassed at head height.

2495. Why leave a bad name to the posterity,

Thousand of years later no one praise Huang Ch’ao[44]!

Instead, you’ll have a high post with good profit,

Is that the surest way that leads to glory?”

Enticed by his woman’s persuasive words,

2500. Tu changed from attacking to surrendering.

With rites he hurriedly received the envoy,

And promised to disarm as well to disband.

Trusting in the oath of a peace settlement,

They left their flags forlorn and their watch slackened.

2505. All Tu’s neglected military actions,

Were observed and reported by the court’s spies.

Lord Ho decided to make use of the chance,

Hiding his troops behind gifts for a brusque strike.

The parade was flied with the appeasement flag,

2510. Followed by ambushed and camouflaged big guns.

Lord Tu was too listless for a smallest doubt,

Wearing ritual costume he stood at the gate.

From the field Lord Ho gave a secret signal,

Flags hoisted and gun fired from every corner.

2515. Careless Tu was caught in a total surprise,

Once trapped even a sacred tiger was helpless!

He fought until death amidst the battlefield,

Proving his dauntlessness as a general!

Still when his soul left his body for heaven,

2520. Encircled he always stood there defiant!

Rigidly as stone and solidly as bronze,

Unshaken and unmoved against everyone.

The king’s troops rushed forwards on their chase and kill,

Deathly air roared high and wild to the heaven.

2525. In and out ramparts and bunkers lay broken,

When some rebels escorted her to the place.

Where she saw in the midst of arrows and stones,

Her husband still stand entrenched under the sky.

“Your brain and strength are superior.” She cried,

2530. But by hearing my advice you’ve met this end,

A shameful wife how could I see you again?

I’d rather risk my life with you this same day!”

All her sorrows poured forth in torrents of tears.

Her words done, she plunged herself head first by him.

2535. What a marvel of their interrelation!

No sooner had she collapsed than he fell down.

All troops who came and went saw and pitied her,

They resuscitated and brought her away.

When they carried her into the headquarter,

2540. Lord Ho recognized her and spoke tenderly,

Saying: “What a pitiful woman you are,

Caught in the war beset with adversities!

Though victory was due to the Court’s strategy,

Your word also had its share in the result.

2545. Now everything we planned has been accomplished,

What favor do you want to be awarded?”

Choked amid the streaming flow of her pearl-tears,

She hesitantly uttered her heart’s feelings.

Saying: “Tu himself was indeed a hero,

2550. Roving unchallenged under sky over sea!

By overconfidence he listened to me,

He gave up his fight to be the king’s subject.

Hoping that we’d live in wealth and happiness,

Not any doubt of a sudden tragic death!

2555. Five years of defying struggle in the world,

Ended up in an empty death on the field.

Now you regard my words to him as merits,

The more merits you count the more pains I bear,

Considering myself more faults than merits,

2560. I resolved to die than live a worthless life!

Please, high lord, give me a mean patch of terrain,

So I’d make for my man a sparse resting place.”

Touched by the words of the pitiful woman,

Lord Ho had Tu buried by the riverside.

 

EPISODE XXIII

KARMA DEBTS PAID OFF IN CH’IEN RIVER

MORTAL HEART PURIFIED IN GRASS TEMPLE

2565. A feast was held for victory celebration,

Flutes fused with strings, soldiers mixed with officers.

She was forced to wait on them by the curtain,

And when drunk they required her to play the lute.

What a tune of moaning rain and sobbing wind!

2570. Her fingertips trickled blood on the four strings.

Sounds sweeter than gibbons’ or cicadas’ chants,

Stole into Ho’s ears and made his eyes shed tears.

“Where in the world is this music from?” Asked he.

“That seems to hide myriads of agonies”

2575. She softly said: “This Tune of Doom Destiny,

Was composed for the lute when I was a girl.

A favorite of mine during my youthful days,

It agrees with the cruel fate I’m in now!”

The more he watched and listened, the more he’s charmed,

2580. Strangely his iron-heart was softened by love.

He kindly said: “For the sake of your marriage,

That I help join the phoenix string of your lute.”

She nicely answered: “I’m an outcast woman,

Who’s responsible for her man’s unjust death.

2585. Nothing is left of me, a withered flower,

The lute’s strings are broken and so is my heart.

Your benevolence has spared this tattered life,

That’ll be lucky to return home ere it dies!”

After a night of revel and drunkenness,

2590. Lord Ho waked up and recalled of what’d happened.

Thinking himself a nation’s high official,

Object of critics from above and under,

Not at all a kind of wind-and-moon player,

He tried to seek an option for the matter.

2595. Therefore, at the first hour of his working day,

Lord Ho resolutely came to a solution,

Nobody dared contradict his decision:

To force Kieu to wed a local officer.

How mischievous you were, oh God of Nuptials!

2600. Matching the unmatched at random with your silk.

The wedding sedan chair took her to a boat,

Where the drapes were lowered and the lamps lightened.

Kieu was at the peak of sadness and sorrows

About her fate of utter catastrophe.

2605. Harsh storms in waves and sands had tossed her body,

Robbing her from parents and ruining her bright life,

Driving her adrift to edges of the sky,

Nowhere could she find a grave to rest her bones.

That wonderful love, who severed its silk thread?

2610. This horrible debt, who yoked it on her neck?

Why could her poor life come to this tragic end?

And how the remaining days were meaningless!

If life had no more pleasure and happiness,

She would not care at all about life or death!

2615. Alone she’d endured all kinds of bitterness,

Thus it’d be all right if her life is finished!

The moon’d gone down touching the western hilltop,

Alone she was up and down in her deadlock.

Suddenly she heard somewhere the tides thunder,

2620. Asked and was told it was the Ch’ien tang River.

She recalled clearly what’d been told in the dream,

That here would end her doom-fated existence!

“Dam Tien, my bosom friend, are you listening?

Be under there to welcome me as promised.”

2625. On a piece of paper laid under the lamp,

She wrote her last poem as a farewell letter.

Then she hastily opened the boat’s curtain,

Outside the high sky merged with the large river.

She said to herself: “Lord Tu treated me well,

2630. Because of the nation’s sake I betrayed him!

To kill your man and to get married again,

How’d such a woman have the guts to live on!

I have no other alternative but death,

Entrusting my heart to heaven and river!”

2635. She cast a last glance at the immense water,

Then threw herself amid the flowing currents.

The local officer jumped down to save her,

But her body had submerged and disappeared.

How pitiful for a human destiny,

2640. That was ruined because of talent and beauty!

Her life is a gauntlet of grief and exiles,

Should she live through it, her body: a poor mess!

Her fifteen years with sundry times of mishaps,

Set a good example for women to reflect.

2645. She was at the nadir of human suffering,

But as nature machine goes, bliss would follow.

For those piteous and loyal folks of all times,

Heaven made suffer before bestowed favors!

Bonzess Giac Duyen, after taking leave of Kieu,

2650. Was with gourd and bag on her long pilgrimage.

On her way she met holy woman Tam Hop,

And asked her about Kieu’s future happenings.

“What a girl complete with piety and goodness!

Why a fate replete with woes, griefs, and distress?”

2655. The sagess said: “Weal or woe, the heaven’s way,

But also originates from human heart.

Heaven decides but we also have our shares,

Denial is happiness, love is anguish.

Thuy Kieu, a girl of beauty and cleverness,

2660. And doom fate always befalls the rosy-cheek.

She furthermore was still occupied with loves,

To which she stubbornly bound herself so close.

So in times of rest, at places of leisure,

She could not have the serenity to stay.

2665. Goaded by demons and guided by phantoms,

She always took the paths of dire miseries.

Catastrophes succeeded catastrophes,

Two times as prostitute, twice as maidservant,

In the middle of swung spears and naked swords,

2670. She was found serving as slave among the beasts.

On the turbulent currents of tough water,

She threw herself as a prey before sharks’ mouths.

Wherever loves go, woes are due to follow,

And she was the sole one to taste and to know.

2675. A life in exile and death in banishment,

She’d be damned till the end of her existence!”

Horror-struck by what she’d just heard, Giac Duyen cried:

“Alas, what will be left of her wretched life!”

The Buddhist master went on: “But not at all,

2680. Karmas and merits each other neutralized.

Judged on the wrongdoings she had committed,

She was trapped in love but not indulged in lust.

She returned deep feeling with deep devotion,

She sold herself and this piety touched heaven!

2685. She harmed one man to save million others,

Telling good way from bad and right word from wrong.

Such merit, whose deed in the world could equal?

Her previous sins thus are thoroughly cleansed!

Heaven too is indulgent to good people,

2690. Lightening past debt, rewarding future bliss.

Giac Duyen, if you still remember your poor friend,

Take a raft down Ch’ien tang River to save her.

Keep your word and fulfill it the best you can,

It’s favor and blessing for you from heaven!”

2695. Her heart filled with delights by this pleasant news,

Giac Duyen went for a shelter by the Ch’ien tang.

She made a grass-house with a thatch-braided roof,

A shed on green water below yellow clouds.

She hired for year two fishermen as helpers,

2700. Who built boats, unfurled nets, and watched the currents.

With her heart of sacrifice and devotion,

Soon their meeting would be arranged by heaven.

Since Kieu threw herself into the deep water,

She was carried almost near their location.

2705. The fishermen pulled up the net and got her,

What a prediction Bonzess Tam Hop had made!

When brought on the bow in her drenched silken robe,

Her face, soaked with water, still kept its freshness.

Giac Duyen at first sight identified her friend,

2710. Who was still deeply immersed in her long sleep.

Her soul was floating through a realm of dreams,

Where she saw appear her olden-day Dam Tien.

Who said: “I’ve been here ten years waiting for you,

But now it turns out to be a waste of time.

2715. Whilst your fate is poor your virtue very rich,

Your heart, though sinful it was, is now matchless!

Its unselfish devotion has reached heaven,

A daughter of piety and humanity,

A woman for the people and the country,

2720. On the justice scales your worth outweighs your sin.

Hence your name from the Book of Doom is withdrawn,

And I have to return the Doom Poems of yours.

As for your future, you’ll live in enjoyment,

Your past love restored and your happiness filled!”

2725. While she understood nothing, flabbergasted still,

She heard someone whisper by her ear : “Pure Spring!”

Startled out of her long and dreamy slumber,

She had no slightest notion of the caller.

In the boat she saw not a trace of Dam Tien,

2730. But instead Bonzess Giac Duyen sitting beside.

They were overjoyed to be reunified,

After tidying the boat, they brought her home.

Together they both lived under that thatched roof,

Enjoying fresh wind clear moon and salted food.

2735. All around was the immense span of river,

Where the tide waxed and waned surrounded by clouds.

 

EPISODE XXIV

SURPRISE BEFORE DESOLATED OLD SCENE

PITY FOR THE DRIFTING BETROTHED GIRL

All her erstwhile misfortunes were cleared up now,

But her whereabouts, how could her youth’s love know?

Whilst she withstood those countless adversities,

2740. Her love, Kim Trong, endured as tough tragedies.

Since he made the thousand-mile funeral trip,

From Liao yang he came home half a year later.

He quickly went to her house for a visit,

But all before his eyes was a different scene.

2745. A wild reed-and-weed covered patch of garden,

Windows open-mouthed and walls weather-beaten.

Not a lone soul was seen in the surroundings,

But the last year’s peach blossoms smiled with the wind.

Languid sparrows were circling the empty house,

2750. Grass filled the land and moss concealed the shoes’ marks.

Thorns and spikes jostled at the end of the wall,

Hiding the pathways two of them walked last year.

A somber stillness overwhelmed everything,

With whom could he now express his heart feelings?

2755. Some neighbor knew him and came for a greeting,

Kim posed discreet questions about his concerns.

Of old Vuong, he’d been caught in a law problem,

Of Kieu, she’d sold herself for her dad’s ransom.

Of the house, it’d moved to a far location.

2760. Of younger brother and sister, Vuong and Van,

Both’d been fallen into hardship and decline,

Living from hand to mouth in labor of hire.

These news, like a thunder from across the sky,

Struck him out of the blue and left him half dead!

2765. He tried to find out the family’s address,

And groped his way right to their habitation.

A tattered mud-walled and thatch-roofed residence,

With worn-out reed blinds and ragged sparse bamboo screens.

Before the house, a rain-soaked earthen grass yard,

2770. Where Kim stood all bewildered and dejected!

He ventured to raise his voice outside the wall,

Young Vuong heard and hastily ran out to him,

And holding his hand, led him into the house,

From the rear old Vuong couple at once got out.

2775. Weeping and moaning, they bewailed their mishaps:

“Young man, have you ever known our wretchedness?

Our daughter Kieu, whose fate was as frail as mist,

Has betrayed her betrothal oath made with you!

In our terrible domestic disaster,

2780. She had sold herself to ransom her father.

Leaving home with a heart of pains and sorrows,

In her endless grief, time and again, she told

That because of her solemn pledge with your love,

She wanted her sister Van to take her place.

2785. So as to return somewhat of your kindness,

That thousand lives later she’ll never forget!

Having betrayed your genuine love this life,

She promised to compensate it in the next.

These firm and clear words she said time and again,

2790. Till they were engraved in our hearts when she left.

What an ill fate of yours, my wretched daughter!

Your Kim is right here but where are you adrift?”

The more they talked the deeper they fell in grief,

The more he heard the bigger grew his distress.

2795. He shook himself strongly moaning and crying,

His eyes soaked with tears and his soul lost in maze!

Anguish and faintness took him at intervals,

Waking from a swoon, he’d cry till another.

Old Vuong, seeing him in acute suffering,

2800. Restrained himself and tried to soothe the young man:

“Now it’s too late as wood’s been made into boat,

Her cruel fate kept her from her faithful love!

Though you have utmost pity for my daughter,

Still should you not forget your own precious life?”

2805. The couple showered Kim with countless comforts,

That instead but kindled his fire of sorrows.

They showed him his jewels of commitment oath,

And the lute and incense of her olden days.

The more he looked at them, the more he missed her,

2810. And with himself was more angry than ever.

Saying: “it’s because of me who’d been away,

That she became an aimless drifting flower.

Together we’ve exchanged much pledge and promise,

And those gold-and-stone words are not for nothing!

2815. Though yet married, we’re almost wife and husband,

How could I have the heart to sever this bond?

No matter how much time and money it costs,

So long as I live, I’m resolved to find her!”

Unable to describe all his love in words,

2820. He finally sobbed his good-bye and retired.

He swiftly tidied up his house and garden,

Then invited the couple to come and stay.

He provided them with good cares night and day,

And served them as well as Kieu had done before.

2825. He copied poems with ink made from his tears,

And sent searchers or agents for her tidings.

A lot of money and labor had been spent,

He twice himself braved the long trip to Lin-ch’ing,

Searching for her where she was not to be found,

2830. The sky was too large to know her whereabouts.

Sinh became more and more eager and depressed,

As if his heart was burnt and his liver torn.

Lovesick gradually withered his spirit,

Exposure emaciated his body.

2835. Intermittently awake and unconscious,

His tears mixed with blood and his soul lost in dreams.

The old Vuongs worried so much about his health,

Fearing of unexpected dire happening!

In a hurry they prepared for the wedding,

2840. To tie the nuptial knot between Van and him.

Graciousness harmonized with literature,

A girl of beauty and a man of letter.

Even in the new happiness however,

The nuptial joy could not override his gloom!

2845. During the time of their conjugal living,

The warmer the new love, the deeper the old.

He kept on missing the girl of his first love,

Tears flowed in excess and heart ached without end.

At times when he was alone in his chamber,

2850. He burned the incense and played the lute of yore.

The woeful sounds of music moaned and deplored,

A wind blew the fragrant smoke and stirred the blind.

As if in the room or by the verandah,

Her voice was echoing and her shade flitting.

2855. Having had deeply carved her image in heart,

He was apt to see her when he thought of her.

 

EPISODE XXV

DREAM DECIPHERED IN SEARCH FOR THE GIRL

ALTAR ESTABLISHED FOR SOUL INVOCATION

Thus he immersed himself in grief night and day,

Ignoring how many times fall followed spring.

Then at the letter exam held by the king,

2860. Both Vuong and Kim got the doctorate degree.

So the gate was open for them to glory,

Honor in capital and fame in homeland.

Reminiscent of his family’s hard times,

Young Vuong went to Old Chung’s to show gratitude.

2865. And to award him for his erstwhile kindness,

Vuong also knotted wedlock with Chung’s daughter.

As for Kim since becoming a courtier,

His thought and love for her grew even stronger.

With whom had he promised his jade-and-gold pledge?

2870. With whom was he now sharing his win and wealth?

A weed carried away by the waves she was,

He thought of his glory and missed his lost girl.

Then he was assigned to the post of Lin-tzu,

A far-off province with his full family.

2875. During the leisure time in his new office,

He used to entertain with songs and music.

Then while sleeping in her rose-curtained chamber,

Van suddenly saw in a dream her sister.

When awake she told her husband the story,

2880. Who was snatched by misgiving and certainty.

He contrasted the names Lin-ch’ing with Lin-tzu,

One word’s difference could be the cause of error.

The like souls of two sisters sought each other,

And perhaps there would be some good news herein.

2885. He at once went to his post for a query,

Hoa Do, an old clerk, responded politely:

“The tale happened more than ten years already,

And I knew by face and name everybody.

First of all were Dame Tu and Ma the Scholar,

2890. Two of them brought home a girl bought in Peking.

Thuy Kieu, a girl of matchless beauty and skill,

Of excellent music and poetry as well.

Being very adamant in chastity,

She risked her life but then was duped into shame.

2895. After miseries and humiliations,

Silk of marriage weaved her to a man named Thuc.

But his wife was utterly cruel and crooked,

Who had her kidnapped to Wu-hsi for torture.

Fearful for her life, she had to run away,

2900. Unluckily she fell into Dame Bac’s house.

They bought and traded her as a merchandise,

And once again her life floated like a cloud!

Then one day she ran into a gentleman

Of unequal power and authority.

2905. His troops, consisted of ten thousand strong men,

Arrived and stationed packed in Lin-tzu city.

Kieu looked into the rights and wrongs she’d endured

Had them awarded or redressed properly.

A woman of righteousness and piety,

2910. She received esteem and respect near and far.

Yet I do not know the name of her hero,

About this, please sir, ask Thuc Sinh and you’ll know.”

On the distinct declaration of the clerk,

Invitation card was issued to Thuc Sinh.

2915. And questions were poured upon him about her,

About the hero her husband and his name.

Thuc Sinh said: “That was a tumultuous time,

I asked the soldiers and knew every detail.

The great lord’s name is Hai and his surname Tu,

2920. An extreme fighter who can defeat thousand.

It’s no wonder that when they met in T’ai-ch’u,

The hero and the beauty fell in love.

He maintained his heroic fighting for years,

Making earth-shaking and sky-trembling exploits.

2925. His main army was positioned in the east,

But how he was faring then I do not know.”

Kim listened carefully to all the details,

And felt in his heart a tremendous sorrow:

“What a pity for her, a leaf in the wind!

2930. When would she shake off all the dust of her fate?

A flower driven away by the current,

Tossed by misfortunes and ached with partitions!

Though our erstwhile oaths have been wholly broken,

Still the fragrance and the lute are here to stay.

2935. But what tedious sounds the lute strings give now!

And will the fragrance be burnt once more this life?

How could I, so long as she’s still in exile,

Contentedly enjoy this wealth and glory?

I wish I could soon resign from my office,

2940.To go in search of her up hill and down vale,

Risking myself even in the flames of war,

Defying life and death for our reunion.

But under the huge sky and on the vast land,

Where I could find her- a flitting fish or bird!”

2945. So he delayed his plan waiting for her news,

While shines followed rains in the elapse of time.

Then suddenly came from the Court an edict,

A clear-cut order written down by the king,

Transferring him to the office of Nan-king,

2950. And Vuong also to the office of Fu-yang.

Hurriedly they prepared for their departure,

And took the same road in their trip to their posts.

On the way they heard of the rebel’s failure,

Waves calmed in Fu-kien and fire quenched in Che-kiang.

2955. Spurred by the tidings Kim then proposed to Vuong,

That they would by the way look for their poor girl.

It was when they arrived in Hang-chow City,

That they got the information in detail.

It said: “On that day of a fierce fighting,

2960. Lord Tu lost his prudence and was killed afield.

Kieu was not rewarded for her services,

But was forced to wed a local officer.

She had thrown her jade body in the river,

Ch’ien-tang is now the grave of a great woman!”

2965. Oh, separation in place of union!

The house in glory but she in unjust death.

They displayed her tablet to invoke her soul,

An altar by the river to clear her woes.

The tides, like endless tiny silver mountains,

2970. Seemed to remind people of her falling wing.

They wondered, in the sad sea with their deep love,

Where her sea bird’s incarnated soul[45] had flown?

 

EPISODE XXVI

JOY OF FAMILY REUNION

SELF-PITY FOR MISFORTUNES

Then an abnormal coincidence did happen,

From nowhere Nun Giac Duyen was due to arrive.

2975. Of the name on the tablet at her first sight,

All aghast she asked: “Who are you, gentlemen?

What is your relationship with this woman?

Why do you mourn a person who’s still alive?”

Almost dumbfounded and staggered at the news,

2980. They gathered round the nun, telling and asking:

“We are her father, her mother, her husband,

Her younger brother and her sister in law.

We got this bad news of her for a long time,

Now what you say, Reverend, is a wonder!”

2985. The nun said: “Karma destined me to meet her,

First we met at Lin-tzu, second at Ch’ien-t’ang.

When she drowned her pearl body in the river,

I was there to meet her and escort her home.

We’re now in shelter of a Buddhist temple,

2990. That shrine of grass is not far away from here.

Though at Buddha’s shade and in those days of peace,

She is constantly immersed in homesickness.”

Everyone were overjoyed hearing the news,

What other joy can be greater than this one?

2995. Kieu was like a leaf snatched off from the jungle,

Looking for her was almost impossible.

They were so sure she had committed suicide,

And only wished to meet her in the next life!

Thinking that they and she lived in diverse worlds,

3000. They never expected to see her on earth!

Together gratefully to Giac Duyen they bowed,

And without delay in her walk they followed.

While struggling through the grass and reed in their march,

They could not help doubting what they had just heard.

3005. Taking the crooked path along the river’s curve,

Through the reeds they arrived at the temple’s yard.

Giac Duyen raised the voice to call her destined friend,

From inside the room Kieu hastened to get out.

There she looked and saw all of her family:

3010. Her mother and father, gorgeous and healthy,

Her younger sister and brother in good shape,

And young Kim, the lover of her olden days.

Asking herself if she was in present time,

And what her open eyes saw was but a dream!

3015. Tears fell in drops like rain soaking their garments,

While joy and pity mixed with their affections!

Plummeting herself at her old mother’s knees,

Kieu sobbed out from head to tail her miseries:

“Ever since I was stray to the alien land,

3020. A weed hurled and tossed by waves for fifteen years!

I thought I’d been drown for good in the river,

And have no hope of seeing you in this life!”

Her parents held her hands and looked at her face,

Their daughter looked the same as the day she left.

3025. After years of exposure to tough weather,

She’d lost somewhat of her vigor and freshness.

No scale could weigh the joy of their reunion,

Greeting words and touching tales were abundant!

Sister and brother lavished her with questions,

3030. While Kim changing from gloom to bliss was watching.

Altogether they kowtowed before Buddha,

Thanking the Great Compassion for her rebirth.

When the palanquin urged them for home return,

Old Vuong ordered that Kieu be escorted too.

3035. She said: “I’m but a kind of fallen flower,

Half my life was spent tasting all bitterness.

I thought myself banished with cloud and water,

Without any hope of such a union day.

Now I’m reborn and found myself among you,

3040. And all the thirst of my heart is satisfied!

As I’ve retreated to this secluded shrine,

Living among grass and trees befits my age.

The zen taste of salted pickles suits my tongue,

The zen hue of brown clothes suits my nature.

3045. My heart’s been extinct of all worldly affairs,

Why should I shove back in this realm of dust?

It is not good to leave a job unfinished,

To nunhood I’m dedicated till my death.

Her life-saving deed is as large as the sky,

3050. How could I have the heart to cut off and depart?”

Old Vuong said: “Each time has its own condition,

To be nun was right when circumstance obliged.

But now if you’re to follow God or Buddha,

Who’ll do the duty of daughter and lover?

3055. You owe your life to the virtuous bonzes,

We’ll build a shrine and have her come live with us.”

She complied with her father’s word and gave in,

They said goodbye to the Buddhist nun then left.

 

EPISODE XXVII

FLOWER ASHAMED OF ITS FADED BEAUTY

MOON ADMIRED FOR ITS SHINING LIGHT

Once the family came home to Kim’s yamen,

3060. They held a feast to rejoice their reunion.

When tipsy after a couple of wine cups,

Van rose from her seat and expressed her thinking.

She said: “In the heaven-prearranged meeting,

Two people joined and exchanged a commitment.

3065. By the recent domestic catastrophe,

You’ve attached my sister’s hymen thread to me.

I’ve done my duty as it was predestined,

And as bleeding would soften the intestines;

We’ve lived from day to day in expectation,

3070. Those fifteen years were teeming with affections!

Now the broken glass is completely restored,

And Heaven’s reserved the prize for the chosen.

The sworn-love still lives and the lovers are here,

The silver-moon still shines and the oath is there.

3075. The fruit is mature enough for the market,

Let’s prepare for the wedding of our dearest.”

As soon as Van finished speaking, Kieu turned down:

“Such a story of yore why still mention now!

Though there was between us wedding commitment,

3080. I think myself heavily weather-beaten.

I’m ashamed to tell the whole story of mine,

Just want to let it flow with the ebbing tide!”

Kim said: “How weird what you’ve just told really sounds!

But that’s your feeling, how about your past oath?

3085. The committed word we have solemnly pledged,

Before thick Earth and high Heaven as witness!

Despite the orbs transform and the stars vanish,

Even in life or death we’ll keep our promise!

My heart did nothing unfaithful to your love,

3090. Why do you intend to split our unity?”

She said: “A marital life of harmony,

And true love is everybody’s wishful dream.

I think, however, in the conjugal link,

A bride should still keep her intact purity.

3095. Thousand of gold is worth the virginity,

That she’ll proudly offer him on nuptial night.

But since the time when mishaps happened to me,

Flitting bees and butterflies have soiled and spoiled;

Violent winds and tough rains have wrought dire havoc,

3100. Making the moon to wane the flower to fade.

My chastity was then already bereaved,

My life is thus finished, what do I still wish for?

Am I too unashamed to feel mortified

That I dare meddle in your life as a wife?

3105. Although I know that you still dearly love me,

How could I face you without shame as your bride!

From now on I will close my maiden chamber,

Though not a nun, I’ll live a religious life!

If you still have any thought of our past love,

3110. Let us turn ourselves from lovers into friends.

Please don’t mention anything about marriage,

That will fill my life with sadness and disgrace!”

He said: “your words are well articulated,

But there are always two faces in the truth!

3115. From times of yore, in the womanhood’s ethics,

Virginity has many ways to follow.

Sometimes it’s normal, sometimes it’s flexible,

And certainly not always one way to go.

Your chastity was paid off for your piety,

3120. What dirt could sully your dignified body?

Heaven protects and saves you until today,

Dispelling the fog and scattering the clouds.

The withered flower is becoming fresher,

The waned moon ten times than the full moon brighter.

3125. There’s no more anything for you to suspect,

And to be lukewarm to me, your poor lover!”

Before this all-out reasoning of her man,

Who was also supported by her parents,

Kieu felt it impossible not to comply,

3130. She lowered her head and secretively sighed.

 

EPISODE XXVIII

KEEPING WHAT REMAINS OF PURITY

RESPECTING HEART OF CHASTITY

Then the household held a banquet of wedding,

Flowers flushed at candles, pinks glowed on curtain

The married couple bowed as husband and wife,

And completed all the wedding protocols.

3135. Cup after cup they enjoyed their nuptial night,

Dazed by their new bond and grieved for their past love.

As lotus sprout and peach bud when they first met,

Until this present time fifteen years had passed!

Tales of their meeting, parting, and gathering,

3140. Mixed their joy with angst till the old moon got high.

By the brocade drape and in the dead of night,

Her rosy cheeks glowed under the nuptial light.

Now they encountered as lover met lover,

As old-timed flower and bee came together.

3145. She said: “Such has been my unfortunate fate,

A worthless being with a wasted body!

Because of your faithfulness and loyalty,

I gave in to your wish and became your wife.

But in my heart I was utterly ashamed,

3150. Feeling improperly brazen and barefaced!

As for the outward expressions of your love,

I would yield as a show of my affection.

But if you imitate the ways of others,

Picking dull perfumes and plucking pale flowers;

3155. And forcing me into dirty sexual games,

That won’t be love anymore but purely hate!

If you return my love with bad intention,

You will betray me ten times more than usual!

If you care about home and heredity,

3160. There’s still my younger sister in place of me.

This is all that remains of my purity,

Hold it tight instead of crushing asunder!

There’re plenty of amorous delights ahead,

Why waste your time fondling this faded flower?”

3165. He said: “We’d taken oath to be together,

Then out of the blue we lost one another.

How I pity you, who’ve been exiled so far,

And suffered so much for breaking your sworn pledge!

We loved one another, risking our lives for it,

3170. We reunite now and our love stays intact.

As spring willow you always look young and fresh,

And I’ve thought you still have the desire of flesh.

But in fact you’re pure like immaculate glass,

And your firm words filled me with much more respect!

3175. I have been scouring the world for you thus far,

Urged by faithful love not by frivolous lust!

Fortunately together under one roof,

Sex won’t be needed in our marital life!”

On his word she tidied her dress and hairpin,

3180. And bowing her head she prayed to High Heaven:

“My ruined life now being cleansed of dirt and filth,

It’s thanks to the good heart of my honest man.

His words of confidence are so intimate

Such understanding is truly empathic!

3185. His protection and care are more than enough,

And help my life regain its honor tonight!”

 

EPISODE XXIX

OLD LOVE IN NEW TUNE

HAPPINESS IN THE END

Her prayer finished, they held one another’s hands,

Deeper in love by affection and virtue.

They lighted more candles, added more incense,

3190. And together drank their cups of enjoyment.

Among the teeming memories of their love,

He leisurely asked her about her lute skill.

She said: “Because of these music’s strings of silk,

I’ve made a lot of missteps until present.

3195. Repentance cannot undo what has happened!

In respect to your wish I obey this time.”

Her elf finger was then gliding on the fret,

The lute’s sound spread vaguely in the incense smoke.

Some tune, warm and harmonious as springtime,

3200. Was it the butterfly or Chuang[46] in his dream?

Some tune, sweet and melodious as spring love,

Was it King of Shu[47]’s soul or a cuckoo’s moans?

Clear as gems dropping into a moon-lit bay!

Warm as pearls just crystallized of Lan-t’ien[48] Mount!

3205. He listened thoughtfully to the five tones’ sounds,

None of which wasn’t stirring and exciting.

At last he said: “The same hands and the same tunes,

Why were they so sad then and are so glad now?

Blue or gay, is it up to our heart’s feeling,

3210. Or since hardship ends and happiness begins?”

She answered: “This trivial talent of mine,

And its woeful sounds wrought havoc on my life!

This is the last time I play the lute for you,

Then it will be unstrung and hung up for good.”

3215. They had not emptied their innermost feelings,

When the cocks crowed announcing the crack of dawn.

Honestly he told people their secrecy,

The entire family was amazed and praised

That she was a virtuous high-willed woman,

3220. Who distinguished herself from frivolous ones.

Their love and friendship went together smoothly,

Sharing not the same bed but the same hobbies.

The love couple either sipped wine or played chess,

Watched the flower bloom or enjoyed the moon rise.

3225. All the wishes of their lives were satisfied,

And their married love was also their friendship.

Keeping their promise they had a temple built,

Then sent their man to invite Bonzess Giac Duyen.

At the shrine, he found the gate securely barred,

3230. Trail covered with moss and roof hidden in grass.

The nun was away on her herb-gathering,

Untraceable like flying cloud and heron.

In honor to the devotion of the nun,

Incense lamps were lit day and night in the shrine.

3235. A family of both wealth and happiness,

Of constant higher promotion in office.

While Van and other wives gave him progeny,

Kiêu was the main factor of the unity.

Their opulence and honor second to none,

3240. They made a fame that was eternally known.

 

XXX. EPILOGUE

NEVER RELY ON TALENT

IMPROVE TOWARDS GOODNESS

Hence everything is predestined by Heaven,

Who creates man and allots him to a fate.

If yours a drifting fate, be resigned to it,

If yours a noble fate, be complied with it.

3245. Heaven’s never in favor of anyone,

Who is bestowed with both talent and fortune.

Those with talent, don’t ever brag your talent,

Because talent rhymes its end with accident.

Since all of us are burdened with a karma,

3250. Let us not blame heaven for our destiny.

The nature of goodness derives from our heart,

Therefore the heart is worthwhile thrice the talent.

Above are rustic words from my experience,

I hope they could entertain you at night times.

November 2010

MAC PHI HOANG

[1] “Chia-Ching.” Reign title of Emperor Shih-tsung (R.1522-1566) of China’s Ming dynasty.

[2] “Two capitals.” Ming dynasty had two capitals: Peking and Nanking.

[3] “Bright day.” Spring festival in China whereon people tidy up the graves, clear up the graveyards, and make offerings to the dead.

[4] “Nine Springs.” The Nether World.

[5] “Bronze-sparrow Tower.” Castle mentioned in the Chinese novel ‘The Three Kingdoms,” in which Chancellor T’sao T’sao of State Wei intended to house two beautiful women of State Wu as his concubines.

[6] “Lady Phoebe.” The moon personified

[7] “Doom Book.” Book in which names of people with beauty and/or talent are listed to be doomed to a life of woe.

[8] “Doom Songs.” Collection of songs by members of the Doom League.

[9] “Blue Bridge.” An idiom from Chinese lore meaning a place where one encounters his or her partner of life. Here it denotes Kieu’s residence.

[10] “View of Thuy.” Has a dual meaning: ‘Contemplation of verdure’ or “contemplation of Thuy Kieu.”

[11] “Ho-p’u.” From the Chinese saying, ‘Pearls have come back to Ho-p’u’, a town in Kwangtung province renowned for its pearls, meaning what is lost has been returned to its owner.

[12] “Hsiang River.” A river in China metaphorically meaning separation, longing, and grief.

[13] “Ladies Pan and Shieh.” Two famous women of letters in Chinese history.

[14] “Chung Ch’i.” A Chinese famous connoisseur who could understand the music played by his friend Po Ya.

[15] “Han-Ch’u.” Two belligerent states in China in 2nd century BC after the downfall of Chin dynasty.

[16] “Tsu-ma’s Phoenix Plea.” Or “Plea of Phoenix Made to His Mate” by Tsu Ma Hsiang Ju. His playing of this tune captured the heart of Cho Wen-chun, who eloped with him against her family.

[17] “Chi K’ang.” Chinese famous lutanist in the Three Kingdom Period (2nd century BC).

[18] “Kwang-ling.” Favorite tune of Chi K’ang, said to be taught him by a Taoist immortal.

[19] “Crossing the Border by Chao-chun.” Fictionally the tune played by Chao-chun, a lady of Han Emperor’s harem who was offered to the Tartars in a diplomatic deal.

[20] “Chang and Ts’ui.” Chang Chun-jui and Ts’ui Ying-ying, two lovers in the Chinese masterpiece ‘His Hsiang Chi, known in the West as ‘The Romance of the Western Chamber.’

[21] “Liao-yang.” A town in what is now Liaoning Province in northern China.

[22] “Lin-ching.” A district adjacent to Peking. Ma had lied, in fact his hometown is Lin-tzu. This lie causes difficulty and trouble to Kim Trong in his search for Thuy Kieu.

[23] “Miss Ying.” Ti-ying presented a petition to Han emperor, offering to be a life-time public bondservant, and saved her father from death.

[24] “Lady Li.” Li-chi, to earn money for her poor parents, sold herself to be a human sacrifice to a snake demon. She at last killed the monster and was made queen by the king of Yueh.

[25] “Lin-tzu.” A city in Shantung Province, south of Peking.

[26] “Were they still alive or the worst had arrived.” Literal meaning of the Vietnamese sentence which figuratively says, “The catalpa trunk would now fit one’s embrace.”

[27] “Tsong.” Sung Yu, a citizen of Ch’u in 3rd century BC, renowned in Chinese history as a womanizer.

[28] “Tchang.” Or Tchang Ching, courtesy name of Tsu-ma Hsiang-su, noted for his love affair with Cho Wen-chun (See note 15)

[29] “League of Doom.” Association of beautiful and/or talented men and women destined to be doomed to a life of woe.

[30] “Hsi District in Ch’ang County.” Wu-hsi District of Changzhou County in Jiangsu Province, South of Lin-tzu.

[31] “Lady Phoebe.” The moon personified.

[32] “Black-iron face.” Image of Bao Zheng (999-1063), a honest and upright mandarin in China’s Sung Dynasty, figuratively meaning a very just and enlightened official.

[33] “High T’ang.” A period in China’s T’ang Dynasty noted for its thriving of great poets.

[34] “Three Fairy Islands.” Taoist mythological islands where dwell the immortals.

[35] “Nine Springs.” The nether world.

[36] “Graveyard-cat or field-hen.” Vietnamese idioms referring to vagrants of dishonest living or dissolute behavior.

[37] “Void Gate.” Or Gate of Buddhism, deriving from its concept of Void.

[38] “Five Nays and three Vows.” Five Nays include: no killing, no stealing, no lechery, no lying, and no drinking alcohol. Three Vows include: surrender to Buddha, surrender to Dharma, and surrender to Sangha.

[39] “Drops of Buddhist Willow Branch.” According to Buddhist belief, Bodhisattva Kuan Yin used a willow branch to sprinkle drops of water when curing human sufferings.

[40] “T’ai-ch’u.” A coastal city in the Zhejiang Province, south of Wu-hsi.

[41] “Yueh-tung.” Or Kwangtung, a province on the southern coast of China.

[42] “P’ing-yuan’s Story.” P’ing-yuan, a prince and general of Ch’ao in the Warring-States Period, led a delegation to seek military assistance from the state of Ch’u to break the Ch’in siege of his state’s capital. His diplomatic mission was a success thank to the unique persuasive skill of Mao Sui, an unknown guest he had thought little of before.

[43] “Chin-yang will soon see the dragon in the cloud.” Li Yuan, governor of T’ai-yuan in Chin-yang, predicted good omen from a sight of dragon in the cloud, made himself king, took over China, and became the founder of the T’ang Dynasty.

[44] “Huang Ch’ao.” A rebellion leader in the T’ang Dynasty.

[45] “Sea Bird’s Incarnated Soul.” In Chinese mythology, a daughter of Emperor Yen was drowned at sea, and her soul turned into a bird which has tried to fill up the sea with twigs and pebbles.

[46] “Chuang.” Chuang-sin, a character in a Taoist classic written by Chuang-tzu, dreamed that he changed into a butterfly, flying to and fro and enjoying itself. When waking up, he wondered if he was a man or a butterfly.

[47] “King of Shu.” Or Emperor Wang who died of grief for losing his state. His soul reincarnated into a cuckoo to bewail the loss of his love and throne.

[48] “Lan-t’ien.” A mountain in the region of Shansi, renowned for its jade.

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