5/12/2016 4:06:01 PM
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Poems and lines of prose composed by Nguyen Dynasty emperors grace many royal buildings in Vietnam’s former imperial court
Poem in  Thieu Tri’s Mausoleum

The verses and prose of Nguyen Dynasty emperors were carved or painted onto parallel scrolls and broads, and written in Chinese characters on large signs used to adorn royal buildings in Hue. Materials included gilded wood, copper, blue enamel, ivory, bone, ceramic and porcelain. The resulting signs and parallel scrolls are invaluable treasures of Hue and Vietnam, which form a rich literary collection with special aesthetic, cultural and historical values. This collection is phenomenal in the history of Vietnam’s feudal monarchies and perhaps unrivalled elsewhere.

Verses composed by Nguyen Dynasty royals were used to adorn royal palaces, temples, shrines and mausoleums from the reign of Minh Mang (1820-1841) until the reign of Khai Dinh (1916-1925),The carving were carried out by generations of the nation’s finest craftsmen. Through the ravages of time, natural disasters and warfare, Hue has preserved more than 3,000 pieces in all genres: poetry, prose, parallel sentences and huge Chinese sign, etc. These form a treasure trove of ancient literature.

Poem in Thai Hoa Palace


Hue has preserved more than 3,000 pieces in all genres, forming a treasure trove of ancient literature

Each poem or statement was usually accompanied by a picture. In royal buildings, these verses may be found on gables, under beams or on the edges of constructions both indoors and outdoors so as to allow people a closer look from any angle. Poems are conventionally five-worded or seven-worded while parallel sentences are more varied with no regulated word count. Huge signs mainly comprise fine characters with auspicious meanings. The calligraphy and presentations are extremely diverse in all four scripts of Regular, Cursive, Oracle and Clerical in horizontal and vertical formats. The two poems in Long An Palace were even arranged in a perplexing Baguo map so that while each poem comprises just 56 words it can be interpreted as 64 different poems! Paintings that accompany verses are rich. Apart from popular themes such as the Eight Treasures, Four Moments or Four Seasons, there are also landscape paintings and ancient maps, etc. Materials include wood, bronze, marble, concrete, plaster and limestone. The ancient craftsmen skillfully chose appropriate colors and techniques to suit the verse messages and their accompanying paintings. While the poetry used in Hue’s royal architecture was written by emperors, their themes and messages were quite diverse. In the area from the Midday Gate to Thai Hoa Palace, the central and most important hub of the Imperial Palaces where royal rituals and festivals took place, verses extolled the honor of a civilized and powerful country, the beautiful natural landscape, the Nguyen Dynasty for its deeds or national unification and territorial expansions and the prosperous dynasty. Nearly 300 poems on the Midday Gate and Thai Hoa Palace follow these themes, notably a poem carved in the center of Thai Hoa Palace :

The poem carved in the center of Thai Hoa Palace

The nation of millennia of civilization

Now unified up to a thousand miles

From its dawning in Hong Bang

A nation became one under the Southern sky

The poems in temples of the Imperial Palaces, including the Trieu To Temple, the Thai To Temple, the Hung To Temple and the The To Temple, mainly praise the first emperors’ significant deeds and highlight the triumphs of the dynasty’s founders.

Poems in royal mausoleum, particularly in Minh Mang’s Mausoleum, Thieu Tri’s Mausoleum, Duc Duc’s Mausoleum, Dong Khanh’s Mausoleum and Khai Dinh’s Mausoleum, mainly convey the emperors heartfelt feelings about the mundane world, their interest in commoners’ lives, concerns about the nation’s agriculture and praise for their mausoleum’s beauty. Before Khai Thanh Palace in Emperor in Emperor Khai Dinh’s Mausoleum lies a pair of beutiful parallel sentences in ceramic anf porcelain:

All the four direction are wonders, the landscape is otherworldly in this universe

A thousand years nurtured this spirit of prosperity, mountains and rivers embrace and patronize this land forever

These verses reflect the wisdom and talent of Nguyen Dynasty emperors and reveal signature cultural traditions of Hue, the birthplace of many famous poets

Many of the literary verses in Chinese characters decorating Hue’s royal buildings remain intact. Many researchers feel these verses are special literary gems because, beyond reflecting the wisdom and talents of Nguyen Dynasty emperors, they also reveal signature cultural traditions and the identity of Hue, a land of famous poets. This collection deserves to be acknowledged as a World Documentary Heritage to be honored and sustainably preserved for later generations.

Dr. Phan Than Hai