Bang Nhat Linh


Summer Grasses


Iron and concrete cabinet, ceramic vase, dry grasses and light bulb
Dimensions variable

Bang Nhat Linh’s Summer Grasses is informed by two poems, the first of which, Nam Quốc Sơn Hà (南國山河, or Mountains and Rivers of the Southern Country), is carved into the iron and concrete cabinet and illuminated from behind. This anonymous 10th century poem, one of the best known in Vietnamese literature, is written in a form of classical Chinese poetry called the seven-character quatrain (four lines of seven characters each) and is known as the first declaration of an independent Vietnam.

The haiku Summer Grasses, from which the work owes its title, was written by Matsuo Basho, a poet of the Edo period in Japan who, upon visiting the ruins of former battle sites, pondered thus:

Summer grasses,
All that remains
Of soldier’s dreams*

The dried grass reaches out from a vase painted with scenes of victory from the Battle of Bach Dang; behind, a picture of its current site, wooden stakes still visible in what has now become swamp land. Conveying the melancholic within the victorious, the work reflects, as Basho did, on the inevitable working of time and the seasons that covers old glories with a carpet of summer grass.

*Translated by Lucien Stryk, an American poet and translator of Buddhist literature and Zen poetry.

(Edited from text excerpts provided by the artist, with references to “A Dream of Ruined Walls” by Paul Rouzer in Simply Haiku, a quarterly journal of Japanese short form poetry)

This work was commissioned by the Nguyen Art Foundation.