The Vietnam War found a profound reflection in the literature and poetry of the country’s citizens, affected by the continuous loss of lives and the division of the country into North and South Vietnam. The demonstration of a soldier’s inner thoughts in the poem “Thoughts of Hanoi” by Nguyen Thi Vinh provides a personalized view of a person fighting against his compatriots (n.d.). Thus, the poem reflects the history of one of the most inhumane conflicts of the modern world, characterized not only by vicious chemical warfare but also by fraternal strife.
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The structure of the poem is reflective of the way people think, providing the reader with an insight into the mind of one of the South Vietnamese soldiers. Written as free verse with numerous enjambments and little punctuation except for question marks, Nguyen attempts to create a sense of the depicted soldier’s thoughts being jagged and intertwined, both reminiscent and deeply melancholic (n.d.). Thus, the idea of rest during an inescapable change is presented to the viewer, as if the soldier is becoming ready for conflict in which he is obligated to participate.
The language used supports the pensive mood, allowing the viewer to empathize with the soldier’s wistfulness. Through mentioning places, Nguyen places her readers in a position of being native to the depicted country despite never being there themselves; for example, “How is Hang Dao now? / How is Ngoc Son temple?” (n.d.). Furthermore, the language supports the notion of never again seeing those places, making the poet and the poem’s soldier no better than the reader.
Apart from the landscape imagery, the poet’s depiction of Vietnam before the war as an appeal to solidarity establishes the genuine sorrow of the conflict. Resolving to call the addressee of the poem dually “my friend / my foe?” is demonstrative of civil war, which will not be soon resolved or forgotten (Nguyen, n.d.). Thus, upholding the idea of duty over kinship makes war the central theme of the poem.
Nguyen Thi Vinh depicts the civil conflict that uprooted the commonality between North and South Vietnam and turning them instead into ideological adversaries. Using symbolic language and making the reader emphasize a profound sense of loss, the poem shows the replacement of personal affinity with emotionless duty. Thus, the focal theme of the poem is war and the idea of obligation over friendship, kinship, and even family.
Nguyen, T. V. (n.d.). Thoughts of Hanoi. Web.