This one is also for you Dennis….

….because you love the image of Vietnamese girls in their ao dai so much.

This poem was written in 1953 by Doan Linh Cam when he was traveling through Hue en-route to Saigon. At that time the Vietnamese emperor Bao Dai still reigned under the tutelage of the French and Cam stopped near the Perfume River and dreamed of times gone by when emperors had cruised by in their sumptuous barges. He was in this reflective frame of mind when he became entranced by the passage of a group of schoolgirls dressed in white ao dai who crossed a bridge over the river before him. To him it appeared as if they were floating magically above the water and he began to compose this poem.

In early 1954, Cam was imprisoned by the French in the Hoa Lo prison camp and he recited his poem to another inmate, Nguyen Khac Can. It is Can who is finally responsible for the reproduction of Cam’s poem in its entirety over 50 years after it was written.


Oh Hue, city of one thousand years,
Your river reflects the shadows of
many a beautiful lady.
I’ve come back here, well rid of the
wordly dust
To speechlessly gaze upon fairy-like
young women
Whose graceful look is enhanced by
their poetic conical hats slanting in
golden beams of winter light.
They fill me – a solitary walker –
with charm and rapture.
Indeed, I follow them with my eyes
and am struck by an inexplicable
Nay, I am bewildered as they are
gone far, far away.
Oh, Mount Ngu, Perfume River and
Imperial tombs,
Secretly you are waiting for poets
Who bring along ineffable sadness,
affection and longing,
Since sorrows from ten thousand
roads ultimately gather in Hue.
You maidens of the city, love poems
and quietness.
Your flaps of white dresses flutter
With poetic conical hats discreetly
kept in hands,
You pace hesitantly in periods of
fine weather.
The natives of Hue are solemn and
You are prone to melancholy while
others rejoice.
The many confidences never escape
from your lips.
Oh dear daughters of Hue, you are
truly reticent and hate gossip.
My beloved Hue, now I am far from
There remains a single city in my
Which I adore and treasure
In the innermost of my mind with
eternal love of poetry.