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Some Things Can't Be Translated From Vietnamese to English: "Ode to Bánh Mì"

November 21, 2016

I find the English language has some shortcomings compared to my mother tongue.  Perhaps my English vocabulary is lacking, or I'm simply not a poet.  But often times, I find myself unable to find appropriate translations from Vietnamese to English that truly completes the depth of the intended meaning of phrases or words.  This struggle is also discussed in depth by Vuong Vu's article A Tale of Three Translations in Poetry.

 

Here is my first attempt at writing a simple piece of poetry, as an adult, titled "Bánh Mì."  It is more of a riddle, but has 3 separate meanings.  The first describes the ingredients that goes into making a Bánh Mì, the 2nd describes a couple's relationship, and the 3rd describes different aspects of love: from pain, suffering, joy, and acceptance. 

 

In Vietnamese, I feel the poem is quite "poetic," just to boast a little.  In English, it sounds crude, flat and immature.  There is simply no comparison.

 

Why write about Bánh Mì?  I love everything about it, it is my chosen last meal.

Please share with me your thoughts.  Take a bite!

 

Bánh Mì

 

Thân em trong trắng ngoài nâu

Sinh ra mềm dẻo bị đời cắt khoanh

Cuộc đời có ngọt có chua

Sắt da xẻo thịt đưa vào tâm em

Lúc vui thì leo hóng mát

Lúc buồn thì mắt em cay

Khi đời lạt lẽo mặn nồng anh đưa

Sống sao vui hết kiếp này

Để lại mảnh vụn cho đời thổi bay.

 

 

 

Bánh Mì

 

Inside I’m white outside I’m brown

God made me soft life cuts me down

Growth brings sugary sour gifts

My soul is sliced too thin

Happy cool air climb high

Sorrow burns great my eye

When life lacks salt you bring me tang

Live it until it end

So all that’s left are flakes in hand.

 

 

 

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Trami Nguyen Cron

Founder, Chief Editor
 

Trami is the founder of Chopsticks Alley and author of VietnamEazy, a novel about Mothers, Daughters and Food.  She is passionate about the emergence of the VietNow culture in America.  As a Vietnamese-American, she created Chopsticks Alley as a platform for the younger Vietnamese generation to have a space to express their point of views about news, business, art, food, and culture.  She hopes this platform will also help to unite the Vietnamese Community all over the world.

 

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