Diplomat promotes German literature in Vietnam

Last update: 18:20 | 31/12/2017

For the first time, the entire 67-poem Lyrical Intermezzo of renowned German author Heinrich Heine's collection Book of Songs has been translated into Vietnamese by Chu Thu Phuong, a diplomat who spent years living in Germany.


Some Heine poems were translated by Vietnamese poets half a century ago, but most of the translations were based on French and Russian versions. 

Chu Thu Phuong decided to translate Heine’s poems after a debate with her friends in a literature forum while she was working at the Vietnamese Embassy in Germany in 2013. 

At that time, Phuong was struck by the question: “How do you understand Heine?" It took her more than a year to find the answer because there are only a few translations of his works. 

Phuong started with Heine’s most popular collection: Book of Songs. At first, she translated only a few poems. But they were not sufficient for full understanding, so she translated more and more, all from the Lyrical Intermezzo section. 

Chu Thu Phuong said, “Heine’s poems use very simple words that are easy even for ordinary people to understand. Some argue that’s not poetic enough but I think it’s their simplicity that makes Heine’s poems stand out”.

It took Phuong more than a year to translate 67 poems.

In order to learn more about Heine, Phuong went to Marburg, Germany to meet Guenter Giesenfeld, a professor of German Literature and chairman of the Viet Nam - Germany Friendship Association, and translator Marian Ngo.

She also visited Heine's homeland, Duesseldorf, to find out more. Phuong said, “Heine’s use of language has rhythms and musical characteristics. Music researcher Nguyen Van Nam showed me the beauty in Heine’s poems. With his advice, I managed to translate the rhythms of the poems”.

A concert combining traditional music and the romantic poems of Heinrich Heine from his Lyrical Intermezzo collection was organized at the Goethe Institute in August. 

Poet Nguyen Duy said, “Chu Thu Phuong studied in Germany and knows a lot about German culture. Some poets had previously translated Heine’s poems from a French version. Phuong translated directly from the original version. I was so surprised to hear Heine’s poems set to traditional Vietnamese music”.

Before Lyrical Intermezzo, Phuong translated some verses by well-known German authors like Goethe and Brecht into Vietnamese.


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