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Prison Diary

1. Imprisonment

My body is in jail, but my spirit is free
and now may it leap to the sky.
I never thought much about poetry,
but in jail, what else can you do?
In jail, all time is long.
A song might brighten it up.

As I entered Jingxi District Prison,
the old hands came to greet me
and white clouds chased black clouds
across a wide Guanxi sky.
The clouds are all free:
the people are in jail.

I had crossed treacherous mountains
and scrambled down steep cliffs:
but on the open road I was captured.

I met a tiger up in the hills. He looked at me:
I looked at him. We went our separate ways.
But on the open road, where I thought I was safe,
it was human beings who captured me.

I came to China to speak for Vietnam
but I was arrested on the open road.
By way of a welcome, they threw me in jail.

I am an honest man, with nothing to regret
but now the Chinese call me a traitor.
That’s a universal law: everything changes.

Imprisoned: 29 August 1942
Released without charge: 10 September 1943

For the rest of the Prison Diary please subscribe to MPT or purchase 'Poetry and the State'

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About the translation:
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Ho Chi Minh
Timothy Allen
Original language:
Series 3 No.15 - Poetry and the State

About the author

Ho Chi Minh

Original poet

Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) was President of Vietnam from 1945-1969.

In August, 1942, a middle-aged Vietnamese gentleman ordere...

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Timothy Allen


Timothy Allen

Timothy Allen was born in Liverpool in 1960, and as a former aid worker has lived in many parts of the developing world. He ha...

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