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The Cake That Drifts In Water -- Ho Xuan Huong

Guest poem submitted by Laura Germine:
(Poem #617) The Cake That Drifts In Water
 My body is both white and round.
 In water I may sink or swim.
 The hand the kneads me may be rough,
 But I still shall keep my true-red heart.
-- Ho Xuan Huong
A female Vietnamese poet of the late 18th century, Ho Xuan Huong has been
referred to as the Asian Sappho because of the sexual themes and uniqueness
of her poetry. Living in a Confucian society during a period in which women
did not enjoy great freedom or status, Ho Xuan Huong was nevertheless
recognized during her time and continues to be well-known in Vietnam today.

Her poetry can often be read in a variety of ways. Often, there is one layer
of meaning which refers to nature. This layer, however, barely conceals the
sexual undertones common to almost all her poems. This poem for instance, is
superficially describing a Vietnamese dessert. It is not difficult to see,
however, that the poem is also her assertion that no matter how much her
body is mistreated by men, she still is able to keep herself and her
integrity intact. The dessert the poem is referring yo, by the way, can be
said to bear some similarity to female breasts.

For those of you who are Vietnamese, here is the original, and much less
mangled version: (forgive me that I can't put the accents in)

 Banh Troi Nuoc

 Than em vua trang lai vua tron
 Bay noi ba chim voi nuoc non
 Ran nat mac dau tay ke nan
 Ma em van giu tam long son

     -- Ho Xuan Huong

Laura Germine.

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