Trinh Cong Son

Joan Baez dubbed him Vietnam's Bob Dylan. In Tran Anh Hung's film "Vertical Ray of the Sun," he shares the soundtrack with Lou Reed, Arab Strap and The Married Monk. Pretty good company, yes, and a nice comparison, but Trinh Cong Son was always his own man. To the South Vietnamese government, he was way too left, but to the Communists, he wasn't red enough. He survived the Vietnam War, only to be condemned to hard labor for four years. When he died in 2001, from diabetes, liver and kidney failure, from decades of boozing, it seemed that all of Saigon showed up for his funeral. Born in 1939, he grew up in Hue, then became famous in Saigon. Tragic, resigned and romantic, his songs embody the atmosphere of wartime Saigon, especially when they're sung by the soulful, husky-voiced Khanh Ly, with her bluesy, heart-wrenching, Billie Holliday like phrasings. I translate two songs. Click on the titles to hear them sung by Khanh Ly.

Sand and Dust

Which grain of dust became my flesh
To blossom and rise up someday
O marvelous sand and dust
The sun lights a wandering fate

Which grain of dust became my flesh
So I could become dust someday
O exhausted sand and dust
What beating noise that won’t cease

How many years playing a human role
Then one evening, hair white as lime
Yellow leaves falling from on high
A hundred years dying in a day

Which sun illuminates my heart
So love could be mashed to pebbles
Please let me hide my face in sorrow
As I wait for happy news each day

Which forest of leafless trees
From the abyss rises an invitation
O to be sand and dust in this life
Which ink mark has been erased


Like Bittern Wings Flying

Is sunlight as pink as your lips?
The rain as sad as your eyes?
Your hair in each small fiber
Fallen into life makes waves drift

The wind will exult at your hair flying
Let pouting clouds doze on your shoulders
Your skinny small shoulders
Like bittern wings flying far off

Is the sunlight still jealous of your lips?
The rain still sad in those clear eyes?
From the moment I took you home
I knew we’d be separated for good

The spring greets your footsteps passing
Leaves sing from the fragrant hands
Leaves will wither from waiting
Like a human life forever overcast

Is it cheerful where you’re going?
Is the sky blue where you’re going?
I hear a thousand teardrops
Falling, creating a sparkling lake


[Photo: Trinh Cong Son and painter Dinh Cuong, in Hue, 1968, right after the Tet Offensive]


Eislana said...

those lyrics seem really good!

Anonymous said...

You did a very good job on translating the songs. very poetic, and the content is still preserved.

Aryanil Mukhopadhyay said...

Exquisitely beautiful lyrics, absolutely wonderful.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for the translations.

Could I coppy "Sand and dust" into my blog?