“Three Mountain Pass” — Connecting to Vietnam

July 17, 2020

For teenagers, the world they live in is often described as “normal” and everything else is “weird.” One of my goals as a history teacher is to help my students recognize difference, but also to feel connected to people who lived in a much different place and time than them. Ho Xuan Huong’s poem, “Three Mountain Pass“ provoked in me admiration of her artistic talent, curiosity (“Who is this woman who can write such clearly sexual poems in 18th century Vietnam?”) and a sense that we had a shared experience of love and passion that shortened the distance between us.

“Three Mountain Pass” helped me understand the extremely high value Vietnamese culture places on poetic imagery – such that transgressive poetry could flourish because of its beauty. It also made me think deeply about the space Ho Xuan Huong carved out to express herself (and challenged the notion, propagated by American media, of Vietnamese women as passive objects, rather than educated artists with agency.) I am grateful to John Balaban for helping to bring these poems to me and to an American audience more generally, and that I was able to first feel a deep connection to Vietnam through this poem.

“Three Mountain Pass”: https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/three-mountain-pass/