The Writers Post
the magazine of Literature & Literature-in-translation.
VOLUME 7 NUMBER 2
former editor of Tho (Poetry) magazine,
joseph dovinh tai’s ‘lonely night’ published in ‘green plums’, a collection of
poems by a second-generation Vietnamese-American poet.
Do Vinh is pseudonym
of Joseph Do Vinh Tai, who was born in Vietnam in 1968, immigrated with his
family to the US in 1975, and studied at the University of Washington, from
where he graduated in BS Political Science. He started in the literary
community in 1980, became active in the literary circles of the Pacific
Northwest from the mid 1980’s to the early 1990’s. His poetry and writings
have appeared several magazines; his collection of poetry ‘Green Plums’ was
published in 2005. Do Vinh is currently living in Central Valley, California.
night without shadow,
night without stars,
night lying lonely,
lonely as night.
night without moonlight,
night without sound,
night lying quiet,
quiet as night.
night without fire,
night without wind,
night lying motionless,
empty as night.
night far into the distant,
night deep inside,
night without dreams,
lifeless as night.
night without day,
night without night,
night lying lonely,
lonely as night.
The poem "Lonely Night", by Joseph Do Vinh Tai is found in the
poetry collection "Green Plums" published 2005. This
collection of poetry includes two sections, one in English, and the other in
Vietnamese. The cover is graced by an erotic representation of a woman
smoking opium through a long pipe, with a young man-servant at her feet-a
rather unusual depiction of Vietnamese traditions of the period.
"Lonely Night" is a typical poem in English by the author. I have
read and re-read many of his English poems and found that they reverberate
powerfully, although the images, linguistics and ideas are neither
complicated nor obscure. This is surprising since I am reading poetry
in a language other than Vietnamese. It gives me hope that in the art
of poetry, thoughts and feelings can indeed reflect normal every day life,
through ordinary language and yet be equally poetic and pleasing, despite its
The rhythm of this poem flows quickly and dissipates beyond the title
itself. It is the movement of sound itself that gives life to the
imageries and ideas. And, at a speed such that the imageries overlap
each other, effecting and transforming each, until there is only the
"loneliness of night" or "night alone". The reader fades
in and out of the poem like they do in so many other fleeting moments in life
and the poem helps us perceive
In the past, the reader had become accustomed to looking for in new poetry,
thoughts, verses, and words that are eccentric and difficult, while not
finding enjoyment in carefully crafted sounds. That had been the
reading experience of 20th century poetry. Poetry had become the clunky
vehicle used to transport all sorts of involved philosophy, religion,
politics of the West and East, like the poetry of T.S. Eliot at the turn of
the century, for instance. Or like the over-burdened imageries and
meaningless sounds of American poetry affected by French Surrealism, at the
later half of the century. Poetry relied on thoughts more than
emotions, defeating the very purpose of poetry.
Back to the poem "Lonely Night", with its images of
"shadows", "stars", "moonlight". All images
that are denied of existence, absent from night, but used by the author in
repetitive verses, creating a sense that these images are actually born of
the night. Thus denial itself is affirmation. Because if there were no
moon, no stars in night, then, wherefore the need for denial? Denial and
affirmation are two opposites that are present in all things and natural to
their very existence.
Night, symbolizes gentility, the feminine, creativity, and for poetry itself.
Night thus becomes a dreamy illusion. Is someone representing night, or
is night expressing itself? Night, cannot express itself, but is
expressed through a hidden persona, the author, behind the scenes, wrapped-up
within night himself. Therefore, the imageries and ideas
attributed to night came beyond night. And so the reader feels as if
everything is beyond them-- everything is unreal / illusion. This is
the most lasting impression that we acquire from this poem.
We realize that everything is beyond our selves. Life becomes light and
simple, completely unencumbered. We become as a true monk / or priest
wandering through the market places of life, coming and going as we please,
without attachments. When the poem ends, so does everything else, it reverts
to its original meaning. The joy was momentary, yet its echoes go on
forever. The poem becomes an archetype,
transformed into other symbols. "Lonely Night" alludes to
other masterpieces, such as the compositions of "Silent Night" by
Josef Mohr (1792-1848) and Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863), although they are
an entirely different art form. They all serve to uplift spirituality
and help us harmonize with the universe, whether we believe that universe was
created by God or some other higher being.
But "Lonely Night" evokes images that are most readily associated
with the famous artwork of Vincent Van Gogh: "Starry, Starry
Night", painted in 1889. Night without stars and night filled with
stars. Night of tranquility and night full of violence. All are
opposites of the same night. The painting shows a movement of the stars
towards the right side, and a moon lighting as brightly as the sun. The
entire sky is filled with stars, churning and burning by its own light and
energy. At the center there is a swirl that we are not sure if it's a symbol
for clouds or something else. It could be the milky-way, or the trace of a
If we perceive it to be the tail of a comet, then, they are there to slow
down the overwhelming gravity of the star falling toward the front. The
cypress tree is drawn in dramatic
dark tones, rising out of the ground as if to lift away from the face of the
earth. The valleys and hills in the background embrace the silent
remains: The steeple and slope of the church, a few small houses
showing yellow light line the horizon. The church's steeple breaks up the
dark lines in the skylines. The relationship between the hill and the steeple
is repeated with the cypress and the comet. Thus, although the painting
is extremely energetic, it is not chaotic. Like the poem which stands alone,
this painting reflects loneliness in all its volatility, lost in a feverish
Perhaps we are surprised that this simple poem can lead us to such
dimensions. But the meaning of the poem is ever-changing, shifting as
we read, transporting us to other worlds. "Lonely Night",
"Silent Night", "Starry, Starry Night", each seemingly
alluding to the other, but in actuality, they are included in each other.
The music makes us forget the poem, and the painting makes us forget the
music because the poem is a part of the music and the music is a part of the
painting. The meaning of the poem can be recorded on a piece of paper just as
a painting can be photographed and stored. But if the experience with
the poem is recorded in this way, it will mean the death of the poem.
Because poetry is a form of life, that must constantly change with time,
flowing like a river. That river may take us to a place of rest and
relaxation, or to some other confused and foolish place, depending on us,
because it is a part of our existence.
3: Expressionism by John Canaday, The Metropolitan Museume of Art.
The Writers Post
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VOLUME 7 ISSUE 2 JULY 2005
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