Two Poems by Nguyễn Tiên Hoàng, Writing in Vietnamese as Thường Quán, With English translations by Ian Campbell and Tony Chu

PORTAL Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1/2, August 2018
ISSN 1449-2490 | Published by UTS ePRESS |


Two Poems by Nguyn Tiên Hoàng, Writing in Vietnamese as Thường Quán, With English Translations by Ian Campbell and Tony Chu

Nguyn Tiên Hoàng, as Thường Quán1, Ian Campbell2, Tony Chu3

1 Independent author.

2 Macquarie University.

3 Independent author.

Corresponding author: Mr Ian Campbell, Honorary Research Associate, Department of International Studies: Languages and Cultures, Macquarie University, NSW 2109. Australia. Email:


Article History: Received 30/11/2017; Revised 10/06/2018; Accepted 15/06/2018; Published 23/08/2018

Citation: Hoàng, N.T., Quán, T., Campbell, I. and Chu, T. 2018. Two Poems by Nguyn Tiên Hoàng, Writing in Vietnamese as Thường Quán, With English Translations by Ian Campbell and Tony Chu. PORTAL Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies, 15:1/2, pp. 121-124.

© 2018 by the author(s). This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License (, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.


Born in 1956 in Danang, Vietnam, Nguyn Tiên Hoàng arrived in Australia in 1974 on a Colombo Plan scholarship. In writing poetry and literary essays in Vietnamese over more than thirty years he has generally used the pen name, Thường Quán. However, as Nguyn Tiên Hoàng, his English language poems have been featured in the Poetry International Web series of Australian poets——as well as in a number of Australian poetry book collections, the most recent being Captive and Temporal, published by Vagabond Press (Sydney & Tokyo, 2017) in its Australia Series——which was short-listed for both the 2018 Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry and the Mary Gilmore Award in 2018.

The poems published in this issue of PORTAL, ‘Ngoài Gic Ng and ‘Hin Ra,’ were included in the book poetry collection—also titled Ngoài Giấc Ng—published in California, USA, in 1990, which featured sixty-seven poems by Melbourne-based Nguyn Tiên Hoàng, writing under the pen name Thường Quán. In 1994 the Journal of Vietnamese Studies (Melbourne) published the poem ‘Ngoài Gic Ng,’ together with a first English language version co-translation, titled ‘Beyond,’ by Ian Campbell and Tony Chu. An adaptation of the poem was sung in Vietnamese ngâm style by Thu Huong Huynh, as part of ‘A Spring Evening of Poetry, Translated Verse and Music’ held in 1995 in Sydney to mark 50 years of post-war migration to Australia. The English language version later appeared in 1996, with the original poem in Vietnamese, in a Sydney-based Vietnamese language newspaper, and in 2002 the English language translation appeared again in Sunlines: An Anthology of Poetry to Celebrate Australia’s Harmony in Diversity, edited by Anne Fairbairn (Canberra: Dept. of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, 2002). The English language co-translation of the poem appeared in Nguyn Tiên Hoàng’s collection, Captive and Temporal (Sydney & Tokyo: Vagabond Press, 2017). The poem, ‘Ngoài Gic Ng,’ now appears in its Vietnamese language original form (1990), and in an English language co-translation by Chu and Campbell which varies slightly from all previous translations. An English language version of the poem, ‘Hin Ra,’ has never been previously published and appears now in a co-translation as ‘Becoming Visible,’ together with the 1990 poem in its original Vietnamese language version.


Poetry; Australia; Vietnamese Diaspora; Nguyn Tiên Hoàng; Thường Quán; Ian Campbell; Tony Chu; Ngoài Giấc Ngủ; Hiện Ra

Ngoài Giấc Ngủ

Nhng người khut mt

Đến lng l chào tôi trong đêm

Khong cách là nhng cuc đi

N hoa hin t

Tím xanh tròng mt dòng sông

Đôi b quán l

Mưa giăng

Tay tìm nhau

Chng th s chm

Git mưa không git mưa không

Rơi ngoài gic ng

Trôi vào hun hút mùa đông

Nhng ao làng xám rũ

Núi đi bia m lách lau

Gió bn bt bn bt

Trng thi v đâu

Lc mt câu chào

Tri mây thiên c

Chng tìm ra nhau

Chng tìm ra nhau

Nến thp trong đêm

Nhng li khan vng.


Shades uneen, hidden

come silently to greet me in the night

Between those shades and I

so many lives, passed by

as flowers that bloom open

then wither—translucent as violets

Shades in the iris of a cold eye,

a cool stream before my eyes meandering,

pale blue; then the night

in this dark inn.

The gathering showers come,

hands seek out one another

unable to reach, to touch

empty drops, empty drops

Falling into a world beyond sleep

drifting endlessly, into winter,

and the bleakness of village ponds and hamlets destitute.

Mountains and hills, where tombstones part the sea of reeds

where the wind buffets and trembles

O white wind, where are you blowing to?

Lost from the night are the moments of greeting,

in this eternity of sky and cloud

they and I remain

Unable to seek the other

unable to find the other

A candle burns in the night

the beatings of the wind, hard to discern

still echo and reverberate…

Translation by Ian Campbell and Tony Chu (1993, 2017)

Hiện Ra

Hin ra mt giếng su ký thác

Mt b sông chy đu lc lư

Bm nga đ trăng hai búi c

Nến tàn phơ pht la phn thư.

Ri hin ra người đen nhánh tóc

Đi tìm nht nhnh gia đêm mù

Nhng trang cháy d hn than khóc

V gi thơ lên đàn gii oan.

Hin ra đàn tr thơ hng ng lng đèn

Ôm sng trăng non v tr đường tre m la

By đom đóm bay vào gia

H ao trng ngát đ n sen.

M ca thôn làng m ca

Hin ra king bc áo nâu non

Oan khi gt sch lòng son

Hin ra ô ca mây lành hin ra.

Becoming Visible

Becoming visible, this well into which I trustingly cast

my melancholy, along a river’s edge, a galloping horse,

its fiery mane flaring up, the light of the moon is shining

upon tufts of grass, and ash of the candle turns white

as the flame meanders across the pages.

Becoming visible again, a woman with jet black hair flowing

looking for what is lost in the fog-mist of the night,

her soul weeping over the half-burnt pages

drawing forth the muse to the task of setting all aright.

Becoming visible, children silhouetted in red of lantern light,

gathering up the rimméd horn of the young moon over the

bamboo-shrouded road, warm night, fireflies dart here and there,

between moths, aflutter upon the scented ponds

as the lotus blooms.

I prise open the gate of the village, I open it,

I see the silver of the necklace worn over a brownish dress,

my heart is made whole again, away the past,

becoming visible, at the window, serene are the clouds.

Translation by Ian Campbell and Tony Chu (1994, 2017)

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