Pham Duy 2010

Me Vietnam: An Introduction

Pham Quang Tuan

Me Vietnam (Mother Vietnam) was written during the 1960s as the Vietnam war was rapidly escalating. As Pham Duy recounts, ''in the troubled and divided atmosphere of that period, everybody was looking for a common denominator. I did not need to look very far: that common denominator was Mother Viet Nam! To find our lost nation, our compatriots, our people, our humanity, we had to go back to Mother Viet Nam. That's how Me Vietnam came about...'

A programmatic composition built on a highly structured and coherent symbolism, Me Vietnam comprises four parts: Mother's Earth, Mother's Mountains, Mother's Rivers and Mother's Sea. In the composer's own words, ''in her youth [Part I], Mother Vietnam embodies the fertile Earth, loving and passionate, the foundation of family, ricefields, villages and country. In middle age [Part II], she becomes the Mountain, patient, persevering, sacrificing, protecting the soldier son. Then her heart is broken at the sight of her divided children the Rivers [Part III], some of whom have gone astray, betraying mother and fighting each other for glory and dominance. In old age [Part IV], Mother becomes the great Sea, generous and forgiving, calling for her children to return...''

The work starts with OUR MOTHER, a solemn hymn, economical - almost spartan - in both music and words, as befits the homespun cloth of the subject matter. BEAUTIFUL MOTHER (No.2) is a masterly allegory, the geographical image of Viet Nam lying by the Pacific merging imperceptibly into that of a youthful, sensual woman waiting for love. MOTHER'S WAIT (No. 3) refers to the legend of the goddess Nu Oa, who had a contest with her husband to see who could raise the tallest pillar; Nu Oa won but in the process the sky collapsed, and she had to carry stones to mend it. Perhaps worth noting is Pham Duy's comfortable attitude towards the Chinese cultural heritage; Nu Oa is also part of Chinese mythology.

MOTHER'S RICE (No. 4) is, together with Mother Ocean (No.16), perhaps the most accessible piece, celebrating young love and Mother Earth's rice crop. In SHE WELCOMES FATHER (No.5) the important role of the Vietnamese woman in the family and the nation is highlighted. The song alludes to several legends. At her husband's instigation, Chau Long went to live with his friend and benefactor Luu Binh who had fallen in bad times, encouraging him to persevere and overcome his troubles, and all the time remaining faithful to her husband. Kinh Tam was a woman wrongfully accused of trying to murder her husband; to escape opprobrium, she disguised herself as a man and took on a monk's robes, only to be accused by a village coquette of fathering her baby. Out of kindness, she remained silent and raised the child to manhood. Finally the ''warrior with velvety eyes'' could be any of several national heroines of ancient Vietnam, the most famous being the Trung sisters and Lady Trieu.

The sky suddenly darkens as we enters Part II (Mountains). In MOTHER'S QUESTION (no.6) the shadow of war descends. The theme is elaborated in the melancholic THE FESTIVAL IS OVER (No.7), set to the tune of Hat Ly, a southern lullaby. The drums shaking the moonlight on the Great Wall is an image from Doan Thi Diem's Chinh Phu Ngam (Song Of The Soldier's Wife). In the second section, the legend of the Nam Xuong woman is introduced for the first time. While her husband Truong was at war, she amused her child by pointing to her shadow on the wall and calling it his father. When the soldier returned, the child told him, in the mother's absence, that he could not be his real father who came only at night. Truong thereafter angrily accused her of being unfaithful, whereupon she threw herself in the river. Here Pham Duy has adapted the legend and the shadow is cast by the setting sun on the dyke.

MOTHER IN THE TRAVELLER'S HEART (No.8) is a march, but an unusual one with a lingering feeling of compassion and a longing for peace. Lam Son (Blue Mountain) was the base from which Le Loi liberated Vietnam from the Chinese invaders in the 15th century, while Hoanh Son, a buttress of the Annamitic Range, was foretold by the great Vietnamese astrologer Nguyen Binh Khiem to give ''protection for ten thousand generations''. MOTHER'S ANSWER (No.9) gives a delayed reply to No.6, yet the tone is just as mournful.

In MOTHER TURNS INTO STONE (No.10), the shadow of the Nam Xuong soldier has come and gone for the four thousand years of Vietnam's history. Mother's milk has dried after witnessing all the hardships. At the sight of suffering in all directions, she turns into stone. Again this is an adaptation of a well known LONGING TO GO HOME (No.11) is a short, melancholic folk rhyme leading into the frenetic OBSESSED RIVERS (No.12). Mother Vietnam's children, represented by her rivers, are possessed by dreams of glories and begin to forget Mother. The mighty, often destructive Red River and the Bach Dang (White Crested) are mentioned, the later being the site of two famous naval victories, King Ngo Quyen's in the tenth century (which opened Vietnam's independence era) and General Tran Hung Dao's over the Mongols.

RIVERS ENTOMBING MOTHERS (No.13) contains references to three different stories, one real, one semi-mythical and one fictional. In 40 A.D., after her husband was executed by the Chinese overlords, Trung Nu Vuong rallied the people and liberated Vietnam from the Chinese yoke for a short period before being defeated by the Chinese general Ma Vien. She defiantly threw herself into the Hat river rather then submitting. The Nam Xuong lady is again mentioned. The last stanza refers to the wife of You Must Live, a short story by the contemporary writer Khai Hung; when a peasant couple was swept away by the rising flood, she refused her husband's help and gave up her life so that he might live and raise the children.

RIVERS WHICH HAVE LOST THEIR WAY (No.14) is a logical continuation of No.12 and is set to the same theme. The River children are now completely captivated by their ideologies, as represented by the colors red, brown, yellow etc., and having lost their souls begin to fight each other. RIVERS OF DIVISION (No.15) starts with an untranslatable word play, since ''nuoc'' means both country and water. There is a quick reference to the legend of the heavenly princess Chuc Nu, who fell in love with her father's cowherd; as a punishment he was banished to the other side of the Silvery River (Milky Way) and the couple was allowed to be reunited only once every autumn. Song Thuong's murky and clear halves flowing side by side have long been another symbol of separation. The Gianh divided Vietnam during the Trinh Nguyen secession (1600-1786) just as the Ben Hai river divided Vietnam after independence in 1954. At the end, a ray of hope comes with the faint voice of long forgotten Mother calling to her children, leading to Part IV (Sea).

The faint voice turns into a soothing lullaby as MOTHER OCEAN (No.16) brings a hopeful mood, then into persistent sea calls in the evocative WAVES ON THE EASTERN SEA (No.17). Finally the call is heeded in the joyful and rhythmic HOMEWARD SAIL THE BOATS (No.18). This song, and No. 20, end with the familiar ''stork'' folk strain symbolising a return to Vietnamese values.

LIGHTNING ON THE SEA, RAIN ON THE SPRINGS (No.18) brings a note of mysticism as sadness and joy intertwine. The title is from a folk rhyme, and Pham Duy himself explained: ''At her children's return, mother's joyous tears evaporate and rise to the sky to form clouds full-bodied and warm, which float away to cleanse the whole earth, closing the full circle of Me Viet Nam.'' This cyclic theme is developed further in SILTING SANDS AND SWIRLING CLOUDS (No.20), in which Sea Mother sends back silt and sand to build up the earth from which she came, as ''lifeblood circles back to the heart''. In the poignant O MOTHER VIETNAM (No.21), the repentant children promise to love each other and cherish Motherland for ever.

The Finale, VIETNAM VIETNAM, has been called the Vietnamese's ''unofficial national anthem'' and is one of their best loved songs. Its grand vision, built on universal love and humanity, is rare in Vietnamese literature and music. Contemporary history is never far, however - the innocuous ''sacred flame'' is an allusion to the monk Thich Quang Duc's fiery self-immolation, which contributed to the downfall of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963.

Me Vietnam

singing version by Pham Quang Tuan

Nota : (...) = words and syllable in parenthesis should be sung with an additional (short) note.

Me Vietnam, no rouge, no powder
Me Vietnam, just soil and sun
Me Vietnam, no silk, no velvet
Me Vietnam, just plain homespun

Her cheeks rosy, so rosy, her hands so white,
Slender of build, round-breasted, waist wasp-like,
-Enjoying the wind
O Me Vietnam, eyes so clear, hair a-streaming in the wind,
By the ocean, legs a-stretching, she's looking for the rain.
For husband fair she looks for husband fair,
The gentle earth is eager to welcome the ploughshare
Smiling in the wind
O Me Vietnam offers her suntanned body, Me Vietnam
Virgin ricefield, waiting still for seeds to come, Me Vietnam

Beneath the dawn sky
And in golden twilight
The swallows of spring are soaring in free flight
In search for love, Me Vietnam!

For her husband Mother waits,
Arms outstretched she mends the skies.
In hills and streams her love endures,
The light of Oa-Nu in her eyes.

We met when earth was brown,
Seeds still slept in the ground,
The rain in Spring came late,
Hand in hand, (we) held our breath.
Then rain at last came round,
Seedlings showed through the ground,
In close embrace we felt
Sweet raindrops dripping down.
Green ran the countryside,
Love grew one Summer night,
In (the) cool breeze from the South,
Under the moon we made our vows.
Far stretch the golden plains,
Sweet smells the ripened grain,
Young bride, I'll take you home
In the gentle Autumn rain...

She welcomes him, welcomes him with open arms.
Though life be hard, true love is in their hearts.
- Love is in their hearts -
O Me Viet Nam, all year round she works hard to feed her man,
O Me Viet Nam, day and night she warms the rice, fan the flames.
Devoted wife, she may have been Chau-Long
Repay(ing) his debts, always keeping her faith pure and strong.
- She is a Kinh-Tam -
O Me Viet Nam, she's the virgin who one day found a child,
Kind and loving, she took pity and raised him as her own.
She is the warrior with velvety eyes,
Deadly to her foes, she battles with a smile,
A smile for peace, Me Viet Nam!

For king
For lord
He goes...
O God how many foes
Must he kill, kill for them?

Springtime breeze, the pretty flowers bloom
On the hill
On the hill.
One day in Spring
The young mother asks
It's festival time
Where's the laughter gone?
Where have young folk gone?
They've gone long ago
When drums shook the moon
On Great Wall one night
The men went to fight
On far battlegrounds.
The festival is over now!
Summer breeze, the setting sun wanes

On the hill
On the hill.
One Summer day,
The young child asks
Where is my dad?
Like Nam-xuong's soldier
Is (he) gone forever?
The lingering light
Plays tricks on the dyke.
Could this shadow be?
My son, can you see
Your wish has come true!
Your father's come home to you

Nota : for this song, adjust the notes' duration as required
Deep run the forests
Tall rise the mountains
Yet we shall find the way.
Though hardships abound,
Though dangers surround,
Yet we shall see the day.
To Lamson we go
To Thatson we go
Sites of ancient battles won.
Hoanh Son's stretching wall,
Timeless guard standing tall
Yes we shall find the way.

Remember Mother's words
In days of old we heard
Life is made to share
Man is born to care
Yet the world has seen so many sorrows.
War rages 'cross our land,
Our people need our hand,
Let's join up in the mountains.
My Love, you're called to war,
I'll wait for evermore.
Our mulberry I'll tend,
Our child I'll defend,
While the soldier answers Mother's call.
Her arms spreading wide,
She stands by our side,
Her son for her love must fight!

For people
For country
For village,
Keep well my love and fight
I'll raise, raise our child.

Autumn wind, a young child sleeps
Mother sings,
Mother sings.
For four thousand years
The shadow has called
The shadow has gone
The shadow has fall-en
To nourish the fields.
Hilltops have gone white
As bones lay and dried
And blood stained the earth
And Mother's milk dried.
But when good news came
Her breast gave forth a sweet milk stream!
Winter chill, she stands and she looks

In the four winds
What does she see?
A ploughman in rags,
A peddling girl
And her unsold cakes.
She stands and she finds
A young begging child,
A human draft horse
With a lumbering cart,
A poet downheart-ed,
Then Mother turns into stone.

I stand on (the) bank each day
The homeward boat
never comes this way

Khoan hoi ho khoan oi khoan khoan ho ho khoan (*)
Why do you river run across my way?
Khoan hoi ho khoan oi khoan khoan ho ho khoan (*)
Why don't you ferry never come this way?

The mighty Red, so swift he flows,
The Da he grabs, the Lo he drags,
The Bach Dang buried many Northern foes,
Each brother vies to see how fast he goes.
Heigh ho heigh ho
For fame and glory look how fast they go!
Heigh ho heigh ho
Their mother's waiting but away they go!
Heigh ho heigh ho
Heigh ho heigh ho
(*) or: Heigh ho ho heigh heigh ho heigh ho ho heigh

In the flow unbowed by defeat, our mother chose a glorious death,
Borne away by the wand'ring Haat, her body drifted wide and far...
Deep beneath the waves the river has kept her defiant heart.
Reaching out to agrieved souls,
she gathers Nam-Xuong's wife in her arms.
O Mother! Mother!
For your sons and daughters you chose the river!
O Mother! Mother!
This water forever shall cleanse your children's hearts!
Driftwood, mother was gath'ring in the shallows by river's side.
Rising flood, flashing by, surging wild,
took her in a mad treach'rous tide.

Heigh ho ho heigh heigh ho heigh ho ho heigh
Engulfing rivers, murderous and wild,
Heigh ho ho heigh heigh ho heigh ho ho heigh
In many colors, treacherous they ride,
The blood red stream fights off the brown,
The sick and helpless green cries out,
The yellow king shows off his golden gown,
The snaking troops follow the dragon's crown.

Heigh ho ho heigh
For fame and glory they have gone astray,
Heigh ho ho heigh
Poor loveless souls who forgot mother's way,
Heigh ho ho heigh
Heigh ho ho heigh

Whereto do rivers go,
Splitting and parting as they flow?
As the Silv'ry Stream divides
The Cowherd and his Princess Bride,
Song-Thuong's dark and light
Keep to their own sides,
Stream of love and stream of hate and spite.
O Song Gianh scene of grandiose schemes!
O Ben Hai of shattered dreams!
Born of joyful springs
Floods of tears you bring,
Cold and grim, soullessly wand'ring streams!
Bonds of friendships and love you part,
Splitting brothers, estranging hearts,
Breaking bones and limbs,
Slashing flesh and skin,
Wounds that leave forever searing scars.
O how many a broken dream
Has passed under Hien Luong's beams?
Sund'ring North and South,
In the mist you flow,
Cold and grim, soullessly wand'ring stream!

Back home a mother yearns
For wayward children to return.

She sings a lullaby of gently lapping tide,
A vast embrace of turquoise blue she opens wide,
Bestows her gift of salt to bring us pleasure at meal time,
With fish and prawn she fills the net of (a) grateful child.
Our Mother's old and sweet
She threatens no big storm,
Her rain is gentle and her wind is mild.
Each day her hopeful heart turns to the morning sun's warm rays,
Each night her longing rises for the children gone astray.
She looks to Northern winds
And to the sunny South,
Love reaching out to vast and empty space.
The lullaby of pines and gently lapping tide
Is calling wayward children back to Mother's side.

Ha a a ho o hoy
Over the Eastern sea
Ha a a ho o hoy
The waves are roaming free
Calling on wand'ring sails
To return home from all four seas.
Ha a a ho o hoy
Ha a a ho o hoy
Rivers come from far and wide
Born on snow-lined mountainsides
To Viet Nam they converge
And merge in Mother Ocean's tide.
Ha a a ho o hoy
Ha a a ho o hoy

With billowin' sails we catch the fresh'ning breeze,
Along the river t'wards the sea we ride with ease,
We ride the playful waves, the playful waves.
We ride the playful waves, so playful the waves.
The children are returning home to Mother Sea,
Our mother's waiting, waiting tirelessly.

Our mother's waiting, waiting tirelessly,
As wand'ring swallows flock home from, from four seas,
Our home so sweet and full of beauties.

Our home so sweet and full, so full of beauties!
The waves so gentle and the sea, the sea so kind.
We'll live in peace with all, all mankind.

We build a home of love, our home Viet Nam,
We'll bring our love to all the world with open arms.
Ting ting tang, tang ting ting,
For our Mother, let us sing
We shall love, we shall share
We shall love, we shall share.

Last night light flashed on (the) sea
And rain fell down on mountainsides...
Sadness and delights it brought, laughs and sighs.
She smiled and sent the clouds
Rising, floating to lofty skies,
And rain washed away
The sins of mankind...

The waves are rising rising with the tide,
In (the) moonlit night with silt and sand they come ashore,
The surging, swirling waves in (the) moonlight

The waves are surging swirling in the moonlight
And salty deltas grow in(to) plains of fertile earth
And lifeblood circles back to our heart.

And lifeblood circles back to our heart,
Young children watch the happy larks soar and fly
And clouds that float so high, oh so high!

And clouds that float so high, so light and so high!
They roll and swirl and weave their veils (a)round the sun,
As seasons come and go, they weave on.
As seasons come and go, they weave their dreams
And bring down Mother's rain in sweet, gentle streams

Ting ting tang, tang ting ting
Hand in hand, let us sing
Now we know how to love
Now we've learnt how to love...

Me Vietnam always in our hearts (*)
Me Vietnam always in our hearts (*)
We long for the touch of your hand,
We swear to cherish Mother's land.
Life's but a brief moment in time,
A mother's love will never die,
O Me Viet Nam,
O Me Viet Nam.
(*) or: Me Vietnam oi, Me Vietnam oi

Viet Nam, Viet Nam the sounds I heard
The very day I saw the world,
Viet Nam, my land!
Viet Nam, Viet Nam the words I'll say
The very last on my dying day.
I see thy many splendors,
Heights of soaring grandeur,
Mighty neverending streams.
I hear thy voice proclaim
That freedom is thy aim,
That happiness for all is thy dream.
Thy future is in sight,
A sacred flame so bright
That one and all on Earth shall see.
For Mankind we shall fight
With love instead of might
To build a world that's just and free.
Viet Nam, Viet Nam!
Eternally will shine thy flame!
Viet Nam, Viet Nam!
For ever live thy name!