Le Van Toan
This is the reason why from the time Prison Diary was first published until now, the collection is well received by politicians, scholars, and people in Vietnam and the world. 50 Vietnamese and international scholars translated and published the collection to 30 different languages. The collection is praised by many international politicians and scholars. The well-known Chinese writer and researcher Gou Morou wrote: “I read the poem collection many times. It is not just a poem collection it is the epic poems, a self-portrait, or a self-memoir in poet format of a revolutionist. The collection has over 100 poems, each reflects the livelihood of the life of Ho Chi Minh, a historic, polite, wise, calm, humble and determined revolutionist. Indeed, poems are his personalities”. Nicolai Niculin, a Russian doctor of literature wrote: “In Prison Diary, there is not big word and the shallow eloquence… It is a lively and poem collection with power of persuation. It is an advanced development of the socialist reality arts in Vietnam. The arts open an unprecedented width and diversity in the characteristics of the revolutionist”.
The Arabian writter A. Malech Khalin wrote: “Vietnam is the wakening call in our era and Mr. Ho Chi Minh is the person awoke us…” and hundreds of international scholars highly appreciate Prison Diary of Ho Chi Minh.
Prison Diary is simple but sharp, plain but full of wisdom, the more we read, the more we explore the wise, the traditional culture and the continuing refreshing values which vary according to each person’s approach, cultural background and artistic level. In an essay which cannot discuss too many aspects, we discuss just the humanity in the poem collections.
Prison Diary of the Uncle Ho is the love for nature, life and country, but first and foremost is the love for humans. Hoai Thanh said: “The lights from the soul of Uncle Ho, from the poems, first and foremost is the love for humans”. Our late Prime Minister Pham Van Dong said: “Humanity, the love for countrymen is the most precious values of President Ho”. With Prison Diary, in over 100 poems composing in difficult situations, Uncle Ho cannot say all what he wanted. But it does not prevent the morality of Uncle Ho to be expressed in the poems.
Vien Ung, a Chinese poet, after reading Prison Diary wrote: “We meet a great soul of a great intellectual, great man, great bravery,…I feel the great heart still light up in the dark conditions, dark times. Uncle Ho is a great poet.”.
From history to now, the artistic creations of human beings have never been lack of humanity, it effectively increase love and friendship in our life. In Prison Diary of President Ho Chi Minh, we see the great humanity.
It is his love for the man living in jail, who used paper to cover himself in a cold autumn night, and could not sleep like him. It is his love for the jailed gambler who was starving while the rangers enjoy so much food. It is his love for the prisoner who shared the same ward with him the previous night and died in the next morning.
A jailed gambler dies
Nothing but skin and bone remained of him
He slept close to my side only last night
But misery, cold and hunger were the end of him
And this morning gone he was to the world of eternal night.
(Poem number 62, “A jailed gambler dies”)
It is his love for the workers who worked hard under the rain to earn little money. He described a small rice soup vendor, a common stop of many passengers.
Uncle Ho is always kind to everyone. In Prison Diary, the topic of gratitude is repeated in many poems, to many people: scholar Quach, Mr Mo the chief-warder, Mr Luu the chief-ranger of Long An, Mr Ngu the faculty leader, Mr Hoang the faculty, Mr Tran the faculty who visited him, Mr Hau the head of the office giving him a collection of books. The sincere compliments to those who were keeping him in the jail indicate his empathy to humankinds regardless of class.
A generous man, Mr Mo, the Biniang chief-warder
He buys rice for the prisoners with his own money
“He is doing a good job for Mr Luu the chief-ranger
Everyone says he is fair”.
(Poem number 93, “Mr Mo, the chief-warder”)
Uncle Ho seems to lean on the principle “Everyone is born with kindness”. This principle does not only come from the East. The well-known man of the Enlightment era of the West, Jean Jacques Rousseau, also said the same: “Shaped by the hand of nature, everything is good”. Prision Diary mentions this principle of kindness:
In sleep an honest look all faces adorn,
Only when people wake does good or evil show
Good and evil are not qualities inborn,
More often than not from education they flow.
(Poem number 100, “Midnight”)
People come to the pure kindness in their sleep, but when they wake up, their kindness or harshness depends on their education.
In jail, Uncle Ho feels pity for a woman visiting her husband:
“He is in the bar,
She is out the bar.
They are close to each other,
But the distance between them is the sea and sky”.
(Poem number 35, “The visit of a wife of a prisioner”).
Listening to the flute of a prisioner, Uncle Ho understand the thought of this prison. He thinks about the woman who is missing her husband.
Nostalgically a flute wails in the ward.
Sad grows the tone, mournful the melody.
Miles away, beyond passes and streams, in infinite melancholy
A lonely wife mounts a tower to gaze abroad.
(Poem number 15, “The flute of a fellow-prisoner”)
The humanity of Ho Chi Minh is reflected by his love for people and nature. Ho Chi Minh’s poems in Sino-language in general, and Prison Diary in particular, the love for nature is always a prominent theme, caring for nature is caring for life and people.
Dispite the harsh life of a prisoner, Uncle Ho always find the gentleness and openness in nature. No prison can restrict the presence of nature in this mind. A sunlight comes to the jail, bringing hope: “The sunlight brighten up my face”. During the move to another prison, with his hands and feet in cuff, soaking his clothes and hat in sweat, and with torn shoes, He just thinks about songs of the birds, flowers on mountains, a field in harvesting season, and the grand openness of the mountainous scenery. The thought of nature helps him relax and brings sense of freedom. Who alse can enjoy the nature in such difficulty?
Carried by the current, the boat sails towards Yongning
My legs are tied to the rail, a new style of hanging!
On both river banks a truly prosperous countryside;
In midstream light fishing-boats swiftly glide.
(Poem number 58, “In a boat to YongNing”)
“Moon” in poems of Ho Chi Minh is a strange romantic person. East and West poets often enjoy and depict the beauty of the Moon, including Puskin, Li Bai, Zhang Ki and many poet in Tang Dynasty of China, as well as ancient Vietnamese poets, such as Nguyen Trai, Nguyen Du, Ho Xuan Huong… For these poets, the Moon is an artistic subject, while for Uncle Ho, the Moon is his soulmate. He and the Moon explores the inner beauty of each other. The Moon in Prison Diary comes up in strange situations, sometimes close to the poet, sometimes far from him, but is never separated from him, and always inspires the romance.
In jail there is neither flower nor wine,
What could one do when the night is so exquisite?
To the window I go and look at the Moonshine
Through the bars the Moon gazes at the poet.
(Poem number 21, “Moonlight”)
A spiritual party need three elements: wine, flowers and Moon, but the two former elements are lacking. Uncle Ho still has a party in a strange situation: the man and the Moon looking at each other through the jail bars. The poet and the Moon are at the beginning and the end of the poem, while the jail bars are at the middle. In the relationship between the human and the nature, the bars are the symbol of harshness.
When he cannot find the Moon, Uncle Ho misses the Moon and expresses his desire for the Moon:
“I am not free to enjoy the Moon light
My mind is over the Moon of autumn”.
(Poem number 23, “Mid-autumn Festival”)
In many other poems about the Moon, composed by Uncle Ho when he is free, for example the poem “Full Moon in the night of the first lunar month”, “Announcing the good news”, we see Uncle Ho and the Moon are the two sould mate.
Uncle Ho is very gentle and sensitive for nature. He does not only describe the beauty of nature but also consider the nature is his friend.
A rose blossoms, and then fades
It blooms and withers – listless.
But its scent the cells invades
And arouses the prisoners’ bitterness.
(Poem number 14, “Evening scenery”)
This poem can be understood as the beauty of nature is temporary, whether the flower blossoms or fades, it won’t last forever. Temporality of the Beauty in life is the eternal topic in poems. In this poem, the flowers and poet both are angry because of the temporality of the beauty. The scent of flowers comes to the jail to find its soulmate who can calm down its anger. The souldmate of nature is Ho Chi Minh, the great grand poet Ho Chi Minh.
Poems in Prison Diary express the sense of humanity of Ho Chi Minh. Karl Marx said: “Human beings are shaped by social context, therefore, the context has the characteristics of human beings”. Our Uncle Ho, our poet Ho Chi Minh, is the typical model of humanity in this duality.
The author is the Founding Director and Chairman of Research Committee of Centre for Indian Studies, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics
 Gou Morou , “Now steel embed in poems – thoughts after reading Prison Diary”, Nhan Dan Newspaper, Sunday 13-11-1960.
 N. I. Niculin, Russian doctor of literature, writter and commentor, Studies of literature and poems of Ho Chi Minh, Social Science Publishers, Hanoi, 1979, p.591.
 A. Malech Khalin, “Short comments”, Studies of literature and poems of Ho Chi Minh, Social Science Publishers, Hanoi, 1979, pp.523-524.
 Vien Ung, “Uncle Ho, the great poet”, Journal of Literature, Vol.5-1060, pp.38-40.