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Literal Translation: Late in the afternoon [I] stand at the back gate, facing my mother’s country, my heart aches many times.
English Equivalent: Home is where the heart is.
This is Asian Heritage Month in Canada and the second Sunday of May is Mother’s Day. Instead of a proverb, we have chosen to share a short poem/ folk song that speaks to these celebrations, as well as this issue’s theme of home. The beauty of the verse lies in its ambiguity. Some of the words, such as “trông” and “quê,” have multiple meanings and uses in the Vietnamese language that all make sense within the context. In the first line, the repetition of the word “chiều” (afternoon) gives the impression that the action of standing at the back of the house is repetitive. The timeframe of afternoon is significant because a Vietnamese wife, as part of her daily chores, is expected have cooked dinner by then and the afternoon is she has less things to do. Even though the poem does not specify a gender, the image invoked is of a young woman. Precisely selected words “Chiều” and “ngõ sau” (back of the house), introduce a tranquil, melancholy mood, setting the stage for the second line, which expresses the young woman’s sad yearning for her mother. “Trông” can mean looking/ facing or waiting/ longing for, while “quê” can mean home in the countryside or native place/motherland. This gives the poem two perspectives. On a small scale, the poem can be understood as a daughter, married and moved far away, who longs for her mother. On a larger scale, the poem captures the sentiments of displaced immigrants, longing for their motherland.
This poem falls into what the Vietnamese call a “ca dao.” “Ca” means to sing while “dao” means to sing without music. A ca dao is a folk song or poem that has been orally transmitted for centuries.