Nancy Arbuthnot

Lê Pham Lê

Nancy Arbuthnot and Lê Pham Lê Translate Lê Pham Lê

Poetry in Translation Issue
Volume 16:3, Summer 2015

In Annapolis

The cherries blossomed late this spring.
Why couldn’t they have waited one more day?
They left town the moment I arrived.
Dusk falls early on the port tonight.

I press flower petals in a book.
The last remaining scent drifts off.
Time won’t relent.  But—sent by whom?—
Love comes tumbling through clouds.

Thăm Annapolis

Nơi ấy năm nay đào nở muộn.
Sao em không nán lại một hôm?
Vội rời phố cũ ngày tôi đến.
Bến cảng chiều nay đượm sắc buồn.

Ép đài hoa thắm vào trang giấy.
Một chút hương thừa vụt cánh bay.
Muốn níu thời gian quay trở lại.
Ai gửi tình ai theo bóng mây?


Translator’s note from Nancy Arbuthnot: Translating poetry is a balancing act for me, perched as I am over the abyss of mistakes, trying to make my way from one side to the other, between form and meaning. Working with Lê’s poems and with Lê herself makes the act a delightful (though still delicate) dance.


Nancy Arbuthnot, professor emerita, United States Naval Academy, is a poet and memoirist. She enjoys translating poetry from all languages she comes into contact with, including co-translating from languages she is only very slightly familiar with, such as Vietnamese. She and Lê Pham have co-translated two books of Lê's poems from the Vietnamese; currently they are working on Valley of Clouds, the libretto for a musical theater piece about a Vietnamese-American family.

Lê Pham Lê, born in Da Lat, Viet Nam, earned her B.A. in Vietnamese Language and Literature and taught for five years before coming to the United States in 1979, where she raised her three children and worked for many years as a lab coordinator at Los Medanos Community College in California. Her books include From Where the Wind Blows (Sacramento: Vietnamese International Poetry Society, 2003, in Vietnamese and English) and Waves Beyond Waves (Osaka, Japan: Chikurinkan, 2013, in Vietnamese, Japanese and English).