A Resistance Love Letter

Published September 7, 2015 in Episode 20

Music has the power to transcend time, connecting different generations and giving voice to enduring ideals even as the world around us changes.  

Our Solitary Envoi segment usually features works from behind prison walls. This week, we embark to a faraway jungle, near the Thai-Laotian border. A song written from a small resistance base, by the light of the moon, speaks to the sacrifices made by those who have committed themselves to their country.

“Trăng Chiến Khu” (Moon Over the Resistance Base) begins in the darkest of forests, with a freedom fighter longing for his family, preparing for the perilous journey ahead.   

The moon in Vietnamese lore represents an ideal beauty. In this song, the writer appeals to her lyrical quality. Looking to the moon, he speaks to her of his longing for home. “Home” here holds a dual meaning of both his family and his homeland.

Việt Tân’s first chairman Hoàng Cơ Minh wrote the poem in 1982 for his wife. The words were put to music composed by his comrade Trần Thiện Khải.

At a time when a flood of refugees escaped Việt Nam by boat, Hoàng Cơ Minh led a group of Việt Tân’s founding members, back from their safe havens abroad, into the jungles near Việt Nam. There, Việt Tân’s earliest leaders built a resistance base to prepare to slip on foot through the Bamboo Curtain and take their message of a people powered movement back to Việt Nam.

Musically, Trần Thiện Khải begins with a somber tone to match the moon gazer’s sense of overwhelming solitude, his intense longing for loved ones, and his deep commitment to follow his convictions.

Midway through the song, a major key is adopted, shifting the mood to a more optimistic tone, as he imagines reuniting with his family in a peaceful Việt Nam. The gun he carries for protection becomes a poor stand-in for the wife he longs to embrace.

The song’s sentiment travelled far beyond the resistance base, perhaps even further than the author had imagined the moonlight could carry it. In the summer of 1983, a delegation of researchers and professors from Japan visited the resistance base and it was there that they first heard the song.

They loved it so much, they brought it back to Japan and translated it. A play titled “Remembering My Motherland from Afar” was written with “Trăng Chiến Khu” as its main musical feature. The Japanese rendition of the song was recorded by the renowned Vietnamese singer Khánh Ly.

Today, “Trăng Chiến Khu” reminds us how long the journey was - and still is - and of the depths of love and conviction that informs the dream of a truly free Việt Nam.

Trăng Chiến Khu
Lời: Hoàng Cơ Minh; Nhạc: Trần Thiện Khải

Ngồi quanh xem trăng sáng chiếu ven chân rừng
Lặng lẽ muôn ngàn lá ru lời theo gió
Trăng nhớ mong ai từ chiến khu mờ
Bên lửa hồng một ngày xông pha giết thù

Rừng ơi mang trăng sáng đến rung bao lòng
Vì nước nên lìa mái gia đình êm ấm
Trăng hỡi theo ta, về dưới mái nhà,
nhắn ai chờ một ngày ta sẽ trở về

Chân vui theo bước tang bồng
Đêm nay ôm súng mơ mộng
Hẹn người cuối tận trời mong
Một ngày cách mạng thành công

Cây nghiêng, nghiêng bóng mây dài
Quê hương đang thiết tha lời
Từ ngày quân giặc vào đây
Là ngày oán hận ngàn nơi

Hò ỡi, hò ỡi.... lòng đã quyết ra đi
Vì vương mang câu thề
Ngày mai sông núi kia
Ngời xanh bao ước mơ

Đàn chim say trăng sáng ngủ yên trên cành Trời  lắng đêm dần  vắng sương lạnh rơi xuống
Vai sát bên vai, lòng ấm bên lòng
Mắt căm hờn, chờ ngày đi ra chiến trường
Mắt căm hờn, chờ ngày đi ra chiến trường




Moon Over the Resistance Base
Lyrics: Hoàng Cơ Minh, music: Trần Thiện Khải. Translated by Loa

I sit and watch the bright moonlight shine on the forest floor
A thousand leaves sing a quiet lullaby to the wind
Moon, whom do you miss from this dimmed base?
By the glowing fire, awaiting the day we engage the struggle

Dear forest, may the moonlight move hearts
For our country, we had to part from our loved ones
Dear moon, take my message home
to those waiting, that I may soon return.

My feet eagerly follow freedom’s call
Tonight, I hold my gun and my dream
And I promise, at the end of the horizon we shall see each other again
One day, when the revolution has triumphed

Trees sway against the vast blue sky
My motherland calls on me
The day enemy troops marched in
Sowed resentment upon a thousand paths

My heart and soul have already set out
Unable to ignore the pledge I made
Tomorrow that river, that mountain
Will glow from  luminous dreams

Birds, besotted by the moonlight,  asleep on the branches
The night grows lonely, , cold dew gradually falls
Shoulder to shoulder, our hearts warm
Our eyes fierce, awaiting the day we go to battle