The Unwed Mother

by Hồ Xuân Hương

Lovely, a classic gem of leaving unsaid everything but what is needed. A heart unfolding.

I so admire John Balaban, translator and poet, also a Viet Nam vet. His tender love for this strong-woman poem has endless implications.

In Spring Essence, I wrote an extensive endnote on this poem that begins: "For an upper class woman, pregnancy out of wedlock could be punished by being forced to lie down while an elephant trod on her stomach, killing both mother and unborn child. For peasants, socially far more free in sexual encounters, there's a folk proverb:

"No husband, but pregnant, that's skillful.
Husband and pregnant, that's pretty ordinary."

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