For almost three decades I had not given enough attention to Vietnamese music of the war years for its generally languorous, melancholic and maudlin sentimentality. There was to me a certain depressing quality to period music that I would rather not endure, preferring the generally more upbeat Western classical music.
I did not realize how much I had missed of the beauty and romance that was encapsulated in so much of the music of pre-war years and of the tragic period of modern Vietnamese history.
The fall season has always captured my imagination, from my youthful days in Saigon, and more profoundly from my graduate school days in the Midwest, so much so that about a year and half ago, and rather belatedly, I decided to gather into one article a reasonable number of poems and songs dealing with the season that I could find in French, English, American, and Vietnamese literature or music.
The principal reason I included Ngo Thuy Mien's song resides in the beauty of its lyrics, which to me pass all the tests of poetry. This is not to say that the music is indifferent. In fact the melody is so romantic and soul-satisfying that I kept playing it over and over, even though the instrumental arrangement of my version left something to be desired. It had totally missed bringing out the richness of the tune, and the romance, the esthetics, and the lyrical character of the words.
The reason why I had not included more Vietnamese works in my article was my own impoverished knowledge of Vietnamese literature in general, and the paucity of Vietnamese literary works in my possession in particular.
At the time of the song's inclusion, I had no idea of its author's name or its title, but it so inspired me that I thought it would have been a mistake not to present it to the reading public.
All I had to get started was the song sung by a female singer. I had to play it repeatedly in order to transcribe the words. And the words I was able to write down led me to believe that they were addressed by a woman to her lover. Throughout the work I saw the word "anh" as the recipient of the tender feelings, and lovely heart of this woman in love. I assume, given my ignorance and the meager evidence I had, that I was dealing with the voice of a young woman speaking to her man. To me it was only natural for a woman in love to spill her heart and feelings out at a highly inspiring time such as autumn.
It was pointed out to me that the original version of the song uses the pronoun "em" instead of "anh," making the speaker a man. But it was a stroke of genius about the marvelous nature of the lyrics that either interpretation was equally appropriate, equally enchanting, and equally beautiful.
I hope by saying this that I did not offend the more sensitive members of the audience about giving voice to a woman where love is involved. In a culture that constrains female amorous expression such as ours it might be anathema to even think of a woman openly declaring her love in the same way as a man is accustomed and encouraged to do. Logically, though, I see no reason why a female heart should be any more or less free to express itself than a male one is. If we are for equality, men and women both should be allowed the same cultural right of expression. Viewed in this light my "wrong" interpretation of the original version is defensible. And I hope Ngo Thuy Mien as well as others agrees with me on this score.
I love the song's lyrics for its highly poetic imagery and lyrical quality.
Whether you are a man or a woman, I want to lead you into the world that Ngo Thuy Mien has conjured up for us. Ladies, follow me, and you too, gentlemen, follow me, out of your present world.
Close your eyes and picture yourself in a wood, where the light drizzle of fall weaves its strands of tiny droplets across the landscape, where leaves are drifting every which way carried by the whims of a refreshing breeze. Can you see that in your mind's eye? With your eyes still closed, listen now to the courtship song of a deer hidden somewhere among the trees. If you have difficulty with the deer's song, substitute your own love song.
And listen to the solitude that envelops the scene. Do you sense utter serenity amid loving nature? Breathe in deeply. Do you feel a sense of peace from the fresh pure air? Do you feel the caring hand of autumnal nature surrounding you in its protective shield, as if to safeguard you from harm while you are communing with yourself, with your lover, and with nature itself?
Now let go of yourself, and free up your soul from care. Turn your attention to your own heart. Listen carefully to the stirrings of your heart, its strings vibrating to the gentle and tender touch of the breeze caressing your face, teasing your hair, and causing your lips to tremble with the intense feelings welling up from inside. Imagine now that your lover is there by your side. Keep your eyes closed still. With your lover by your side, grasp him or her in your arms, and very very gently place a tender kiss on his or her lips. Sing into his or her ear a lullaby, softly, softly… Tomorrow, my friends, the rain will lash the sheer hillsides, and you and your lover will plunge into a deep, voluptuous love in each other's embrace. Savor every minute of these enchanted moments for soon they will be just a memory, but one that will last you a lifetime.
Prolong the ecstasy a little more, and grasp the divine feelings that you and your lover share in this wondrous world. It is not a fantasy, not a phantasmagoric vision with the fleeting life of a shooting star, but a real experience. An experience that you will cherish for the rest of your life. For where else but in the world of autumn can you find such exquisite feelings, such strong yet tender emotions, and such blissful moments as only this season can bring you?
Now open your eyes. If they got misty, don't be embarrassed for, my friends, you have just experienced the magic world of love that Ngo Thuy Mien has given you, without asking for anything in return. If you look in your heart and see it filled with love, and sob because your heart begins to ache from love, tell Ngo Thuy Mien how much his creation has changed your life.
For I believe love changes your life. Read his song below, or sing the song if you know the tune, and find out for yourself what I mean.
20 February 2003
Anh có nghe mùa thu mưa giăng lá đỗ,
Anh có hay mùa thu mưa bay gió nhẹ
Náng úa dệt mi em và mây xanh thay tóc rối.
Anh có mơ mùa thu cho ai nức nở