The Cry of Vietnam

Published in 1968, The Cry of Vietnam is a short collection of heart-breaking poems and stirring drawings by Thich Nhat Hanh and Vo-Dinh.

The book’s epigraph is taken from the classic Vietnamese work, The Tale of Kieu: “The rising cry for justice would pierce heaven itself.”

Thich Nhat Hanh and his brother and sister Buddhists advocated for peace in South Vietnam and many of them paid the price of their lives. This book was intended to communicate this Buddhist commitment to an American population growing increasingly agitated by the war waged by the Johnson administration.

Here is one representative poem, “Those That Have Not Exploded”:

I don’t know,
I just do not know
Why
They hurl grenades
At these young people.

Why wish to kill
those boys with still innocent brows,
those girls with ink-stained hands?

What was their crime?—
To hear the voice of compassion?
To come and live in a hamlet,
To help the villagers,
Teach the children,
Work in the rice paddies?

Last night when those grenades burst,
Twelve young people fell
With mangled bodies and burst skin.
One girl’s flesh took more than 600 metal buts of shrapnel.

This morning, two are buried.
Each waits for the sun to rise again
In our motherland.
Each longs for peace,
To be reborn as a butterfly.

We accept death and sorrow.
But listen,
Brothers and sisters,
those grenades have burst
And ripped apart the sky.
Those boys and girls are gone,
Leaving a trail of blood.

But there are more grenades
Than those that burst last night.
There are more grenades
Caught in the heart of life.
Do you hear me?
There are more that are yet to burst.

They remain
Still
In the heart of man—
Unknown, the time of their detonation;
Unknown, when they will desecrate our land;
Unknown, the time they will annihilate our people.

And still
We beg you to believe
There is no hatred in our hearts,
No rancor in our souls.
What the world needs,
What we all need
Is love.

Come, hear me,
For time grows short
And danger is everywhere.
Let us take those grenades
out of our hearts,
our motherland,
humankind.
Let us stand.
Let us stand
side by side.

It is staggering to think of how many subsequent, comparable volumes have come from other writers and artists: The Cry of Chile… The Cry of South Africa… The Cry of El Salvador … The Cry of Haiti … The Cry of Guatemala…The Cry of Palestine … and The Cry of Iraq.

As citizens of this brutal empire, we need art and poetry to provoke our memory, prick our consciences, and call us to embody the words of the 12th precept of the Order of Interbeing: “Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.”

 

Message by Vo-Dinh
Message by Vo-Dinh

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