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Mar 13, 2023

Duong Tuong: A Life Dedicated To Literature

“There is everything new in poetry, and one should find his own way to tap into it.”
Duong Tuong: A Life Dedicated To Literature

Source: Bao The thao Van hoa

Poet and translator Duong Tuong passed away on February 24 in Hanoi at 92. He was honored with different translation awards from Vietnam Writers’ Association and Hanoi Writers’ Association.

In Jan. 2009, Duong Tuong was awarded the French government’s Order of Arts and Letters by Ambassador Hervé Bolot. The award honored his contributions to promoting cultural diversity and his dedication to introducing Vietnam to the international audience, especially in francophone countries.

In remembrance of Duong Tuong for his contributions to Vietnamese literature.

Duong Tuong made his mark as a dedicated and prolific translator in the literary world. He spent over half a century introducing many world classics to Vietnamese readers, including Gone with the Wind, Wuthering Heights, Anna Karenina, Kafka on the Shore, Death on Credit, and Lolita. He also translated the first two volumes of the timeless classic In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.

As a devoted wordsmith behind more than 50 translations, large and small, his career was closely associated with the history of Vietnam’s translated literature and publishing industry.

Duong Tuong was also a renowned poet, many of whose love poems were set to music by composer Phu Quang and turned into popular songs, such as Tình khúc 24 (Love song 24) and Dương cầm lạnh (The cold sound of a piano).

A diligent and earnest translator

Duong Tuong established himself as a celebrated translator. Pham Xuan Nguyen, a critic, stated that Duong Tuong worked on translations with an artistic and poetic soul in all seriousness of a civil servant.

Duong Tuong was known in the literary scene as a diligent and earnest wordsmith, wholeheartedly dedicating himself to literature.

The late translator’s motto in translation was:

“An ideal translation should be a work in which the translator is the co-author.”

That’s why he habitually immersed himself in an original work before rendering a translation. On average, he spent a year on a literary work. Before embarking on a translation project, he always perused the source text at least twice and studied its author’s biography, writing style, and status.

His secret of becoming such an accomplished translator was never erring on the easy side. He always opted for complicated works that challenged his ability.

From his perspective, translating challenging works resembled standing on his tiptoes to reach for something high above him. He was constantly compelled to make an extra effort and thereby upskilled himself. He never wasted a day, tirelessly devoting himself to literature.

His dedication was evident in his quiet working style and innovative mindset toward both selecting literary works for translation and poetry creation.

Each of his translations has a life whose literary value is elevated by the author-translator perfect pairing. The more complicated an original work was, the more excited he was, as it challenged his ability while allowing him to showcase his word craftsmanship and the beauty of the Vietnamese language.

Death on Credit (Chết chịu, Céline, 2019) was Duong Tuong’s swansong as a translator | Source: Zing.vn

Critic Pham Xuan Nguyen said in a seminar on the Vietnamese edition of Death on Credit (Louis-Ferdinand Céline) in 2019 that Duong Tuong “slept” with the original work to “give birth” to a translation. More often than not, he woke up in the middle of the night just because a word or an inspiration cropped up in his mind.

Duong Tuong often spent a year or more on a translation project where a lot was spared to read through a literary work in the original at least twice and study the author’s biography and writing style.

He maintained a consistent perspective on translation. For him, the challenge facing a translator has little to do with foreign languages but one’s level of mastery of their mother tongue. It is indeed a valuable lesson on translation for the next generations.

Living with wisdom and humility

Duong Tuong made his name as a poet with a passionate, sensitive, and creative poetic soul. He was so obsessed with poetry despite his well-established reputation as a translator.

Duong Tuong was greeted with controversy across the poetry scene as he introduced a new poetic form that was foreign to the mainstream. However, his poetry is a testament to his efforts to create a unique style of poetics.

His ultimate goal was to innovate poetry with linguistic creativity, as seen in his famous monostich set to be his epitaph, “I am on the side of tears.”

“The main ingredient of my poetry has little to do with words but sounds. If those verses render any meaning, it results from a rainbow-like synergy of sounds that shed meaningful light on words,” explained Duong Tuong.

His unique approach to poetry is manifested in a short poem entitled Chợt Thu (Suddenly It’s Autumn.)

Chiều se sẽ hương (The afternoon smells fragrant) / Vườn se sẽ sương (The garden looks misty) / Đường se sẽ quạnh (The road appears lonesome) / Trời se sẽ lạnh (The weather feels crisp) / Người se sẽ buồn (The folk seems lonely.)

From the late poet’s perspective, “There is everything new in poetry, and one should find his own way to tap into it.”

Duong Tuong committed to a literary career with a passionate love for the Vietnamese language while leading a simple, sincere, and humble life.

He made his bold and distinguished mark in the history of Vietnamese literature with his creativity and dedication, leaving a significant literary legacy for the country.