Today is the 125th birthday of Ho Chi Minh, regarded as the father of this country. He died at the age of 79 in 1969, not living quite long enough to witness the people’s victory over the invading U.S. forces, but able to see it coming.
Ho Chi Minh led the Việt Minh independence movement for more than three decades, fighting first against the Japanese, then the French colonial power and then the US-backed South Vietnamese government. He was President of North Vietnam from 1954 until his death in 1969.
Aside from being a brilliant political thinker and military leader, Ho was also a sensitive memoirist, writer and poet. Here, in his memory and honor, are four short poems.
With hungry mouth open like a wicked monster,
Each night the irons devour the legs of the people:
The jaws grip the right leg of every prisoner:
Only the left is free to bend and stretch.
Yet there is one thing stranger in this world:
People rush in to place their legs in irons.
Once they are shackled, they can sleep in peace.
Otherwise they would have no place to lay their heads.
Advice to oneself
Without the cold and desolation of winter
There could not be the warmth and splendor of spring.
Calamity has tempered and hardened me,
And turned my mind into steel.
To live without freedom is a truly wretched state.
Even the calls of nature are governed by restrictions!
When the door is opened, the belly is not ready to ease itself.
When the call of nature is pressing, the door remains shut.
On reading “Anthology of a Thousand Poets“
The ancients used to like to sing about natural beauty:
Snows and flowers, mood and wind, mists, mountains, and rivers.
Today we should make poems including iron and steel,
And the poet also should know how to lead an attack.
From The Penguin Book of Socialist Verse. Originally published in Ho‘s Prison Diary.
Photo: While James Jackson served as CPUSA international affairs secretary, he traveled to Hanoi and interviewed Ho Chi Minh. This photograph of the two men was one of his prized possessions.