John Balaban's Ca Dao Recordings

Ca Dao Recordings

Listen to ten minutes of Vietnamese Folk Poems (mp3, 10.5 mb) taped by John Balaban in 1971-72.

Also available is an audio commentary by John Balaban (mp3, 18.7 mb).

Recordings (c) 2003 John Balaban.


  1. Mother Egret
  2. Love Lament
  3. Untitled
  4. Venturing Out
  5. Lullaby
  6. Leaving the Village
  7. Complaining about the Second Wife
  8. The Red Cloth
  9. Riddle
  10. The Saigon River
  11. At the Exiled King's River Pavilion
  12. Talking About Birds

Mother Egret

Egrets bear egret sons.
Mother's after shrimp. Little one's at home.
Mother Egret has flown far off
To alight...and be roped by Brother Eel!
Nearby, a man poling a bamboo keel
slides through cattails to catch eel and fowl.
Poling clumsily, he rams his prow.
Brother Eel dives. Mother flies off.

Love Lament

Stepping into the field, sadness fills my deep heart.
Bundling rice sheaves, tears dart in two streaks.
Who made me miss the ferry's leaving?
Who made this shallow creek that parts both sides?

(no title)

Hatred for Diem-Americans will last a thousand years.
Seven years now of laying waste our southern land.
So I must shoulder a gun and head for the fighting.
Your fate is a girl's: house, garden, and fields.

Venturing Out

Each evening, ducks paddle, egrets fly.
Mister Elephant snaps sugarcane then strides into the forest.
I'll follow to strip rattan for plaits,
Fetching them home to make a sling for you to go peddling.
Selling at no loss? Why, that's a profit.
Go on, have a look at the sun's face. At the moon's.


Little one, go to sleep. Sleep soundly.
Mother's gone to market; father ploughs the fields.
for rice and clothing, so the land yields a good home.
Study hard, little one, grow up
to tend our native place, these mountains and rivers.
Become worthy of our Lac-Hong race
so our parents' faces can widen in smiles.

Leaving the Village

Even when cross planks are nailed down,
bamboo bridges are shaky, unsound. Hard going.
Hard going, so push on home to tidal flats to catch crab,
to the river for fish, to our sandy patch for melons.

Complaining About the Second Wife

A breeze stirs banana leaves behind the house.
You're crazy about your second wife and neglect our children.
The children-well, with one on each arm,
how should I draw the water or rinse the rice?

The Red Cloth

Sad, idle, I think of my dead mother,
her mouth chewing rice, her tongue removing fish bones.

The Red Cloth drapes the mirror frame.
Men of one country should love one another.


He: Your face is so pretty with make-up.
     How many big fellows can your boat take on?

She: This boat is long-sided, deep-bottomed.
     Previously it freighted your daddy's coffin.

The Saigon River

The Saigon River slides past the Old Market,
its broad waters thick with silt. There
the rice shoots gather a fragrance,
the fragrance of my country home,
recalling my mother home, stirring deep love.

At the Exiled King's River Pavilion

Evening, and all around the King's pavilion
people are sitting, fishing, sad and grieving,
loving, in love, remembering, waiting, watching.
Whose boat plies the river mists
offering so many river songs
to move these mountains and rivers, our nation?

Talking About Birds

Sexy and alluring? That's the little Moor Hen.
Manner offends? That's nasty Cormorant.
Slaves like an ant? Yes, the traveling Teal.
Straining to overhear? Drongoes snoop in trees.
Shaky in its knees? The skinny, brown Egret.
Stays at home each night? It's cowardly Snipe.
Hungry for their tripe, the Pelicans carouse.
Hungry by the house? There, the darting Larks.
Poling a shallow bark? Peacock plies his art.
Red crest, blue feathers? That's a jungle Pheasant.
Bickering unpleasant? The sneaky Plover.
Got a magic Book of Colors? The Soothsayer Hawk.
Never married, never caught. That's Wanderer Grebe.
Mate long since dead? The poor Widow-Wed.
Heart as thick as lead? That's the teasing Jay.
Eggs, but won't lay? Duckbirds live that way.

Sitting around, talking about kinds of birds,
Offspring grow up and look for each other.
See, the Weaver is clever and wise.
The Owl nests only at the edge of the island.
Watch: the Magpies have brought some news;
If they hover then call, our sisters are coming.
But Crows, really, are just like us, cawing
from far off, 'Wash up. The journey's over.'

(c) John Balaban, Ca Dao Vietnam: Vietnamese Folk Poetry
(Copper Canyon Press, 2003)