Xuân Diệu is perhaps one of the most prolific and respected authors in modern Vietnamese literature, writing over 450 poems and short stories in his lifetime. Hoài Thanh, a fellow poet and founder of the New Poetry movement (phong trào Thơ Mới) in Vietnam during the 1930s and 1940s, once called Xuân Diệu “the prince of love poems (ông hoàng của thơ tình).”
Xuân Diệu and his life partner Huy Cận lived together until their deaths in the 1980s in Vietnam. The New Poetry movement included many other poets and writers who expressed male homoerotic themes in their creative writing, prison diaries, or memiors: Quách Tấn, Hàn Mặc Tử, Trần Huy Liệu, Nguyễn Đức Chính, Tản Đà, and Tô Hoài, to name just a few.
Xuân Diệu’s most explicitly homoerotic poem, “Love of men [Tình trai]” (1938) is translated thusly by Harvard scholar Nguyễn Quốc Vinh:
I remember Rimbaud and Verlaine,
Fellow poets of dazzling bacchanalian spirits
Intoxicated by strange rimes, infatuated with friendship,
They scorned well-worn paths and forsook the usual ways!
Their paths ran in parallel across the miles,
their souls entwined, aglow in floral scent,
they went weak arms in strong ones embracing
to the tune of love amidst wind and fog.
Never mind and old story retold for a latter day,
oblivious to the sight of rouged lips and gaudy garbs,
and with narry a bargain they loved one another
in utter disregard of heaven or hell.
Tôi nhớ Rimbaud với Verlaine
Hai chàng thi sĩ choáng hơi men
Say thơ xa lạ, mê tình bạn
Khinh rẽ khuôn mòn, bỏ lối quên.
Những bước song song xéo dặm trường
Đôi hồn tươi đậm ngát hoa hương
Họ đi, tay yếu trong tay mạnh
Nghe hát ân tình giữa gió sương
Kể chi chuyện trước với ngày sau
Quên gió môi son với áo màu
Thây kệ thiên đường và địa ngục
Không hề mặc cả, họ yêu nhau
For more information on the above information:
- Nguyễn, Q.V. (1998) ‘Deviant bodies and dynamics of displacement of homoerotic desire in Vietnamese literature from and about the French colonial period.’ Talawas.org. Online. Available: http://www.talawas.org/talaDB/showFile.php?res=1056&rb=0503
- Zinoman, P. (2001) The colonial Bastille: A history of imprisonment in Vietnam, 1862-1940. University of California Press: Berkeley. (pages 99,127-129).