Repentance – A Poem about human rights activism by Tran Duc Thach

Poet Trần Đức Thạch (b. 1952) was a soldier in the North Vietnamese army and the author of the short story ‘The Haunting Mass Grave.” He was sentenced in 2009 to three years in prison for “propaganda against the state.” His human rights activism came spontaneously. He denied military orders from above to “better kill by mistake than let them slip through”, after he was taken under friendly fire.

A founder of the human rights activism group the Brotherhood for Democracy, Thạch was arrested a second time in 2020 and sentenced to 12 years for “conspiracy to overthrow the government.” His appeal of his 12-year sentence was denied on March 24, 2021 and he is still in prison for his human rights activism.

Below is one of Thach’s original poems, both translated and in the original Vietnamese.


Every day my hair grays a little quicker

Questioning where our country’s heading

Drowned by the sins of my generation

Weighted by shame, we face our children

In vicious war my generation grew up

In victory civilization we abandoned

With victory we brought our people grief

And let the bastards ascend to the throne.

Utterly lost is my sad generation

We forsook our culture for Marx and Lenin

Our thinking ill, our worldview warped

In our children seeds of hate were sown

Much blood we wasted, my generation

Meaningless all when our people suffered

Meaningless all when our country’s plundered

As foreign players nibble away our land

A bitter life my generation led

Our souls we lost, against the future we sinned

We see our errors only when we’re near death

This is not poetry, this is repentance

We are guilty, a million times over

Wondering which way our nation’s heading

(translated by ianbui)


Sám Hối

Mái đầu tôi mỗi ngày càng nhanh bạc.

Với câu hỏi đất nước sẽ về đâu?

Thế hệ chúng tôi tội lỗi ngập đầu

Nhìn con cháu lòng muôn hổ thẹn…

Thế hệ chúng tôi một thời chinh chiến.

Thắng lợi mang về là xua đuổi văn minh.

Thắng lợi mang về là làm khổ dân mình.

Để đểu cáng lên ngôi gây tội ác.

Thế hệ chúng tôi hoàn toàn lầm lạc.

Quên dân tộc mình theo chủ nghĩa Mác Lê Nin.

Bệnh hoạn tư duy méo mó cách nhìn.

Gieo thù hận trong lòng con cháu.

Thế hệ chúng tôi đổ bao xương máu.

Chẳng ý nghĩa gì khi dân tộc điêu linh.

Chẳng ý nghĩa gì khi đất nước tanh bành.

Lãnh thổ giang sơn bị ngoại bang gậm nhắm.

Thế hệ chúng tôi cuộc đời cay đắng lắm.

Mất chính mình mang tội ác với tương lai.

Gần đất xa trời mới thấy được cái sai.

Không phải thơ mà những lời sám hối…

Xin ngàn lần triệu lần chịu tội.

Trước băn khoăn đất nước sẽ về đâu ???

Trần Đức Thạch

Translation © 2021 The 88 Project