SCHOOL OF MY HEART, TOMORROW I WILL BE SEPARATED FROM YOU!(1)
by CHẾ LAN VIÊN
Translated from the Vietnamese by TRÚC HUY
The blazing rays of sunshine, little by little, condense; and the South Wind, with its swirls of dust, returns and embarrasses our noble thoughts. Each morning, the flamboyant flowers open out and shine under the sun. On its red mattress and its blue blanket, the Day takes its siesta peacefully. In the silence of midday, some cicadas tune their monotonous song to the tranquility of the country. At the moment when Space yearns for gazing again upon the gilded rays of the setting sun, the afternoon passes by laboriously.
Probably, it passes time in reverie while going by.
Alas! The Sky and the Earth carry suddenly away the spirit of a wandering Jew. The salted odor of the South Seas pleasantly cherishes his heart with the breath of a wind that passes: that is the odor sent to us by the Indian Ocean. If we glance at the cloud of dust that whirls in the air, we can easily guess that it has undoubtedly sojourned in the desert of the Sahara.
Nevertheless, discrete are the intentions of flamboyant flowers. Let us listen to the sap of life that comes out from them and leads us toward sadness! At every moment, increases old age: in only one day, the flamboyant flowers will fade and fall down. Alas! You who were born in scented bushes, you die in dust! And the cicadas also, once summer is over, one would sweep away and the poor dead cicadas and the faded fallen flowers.
Those schools, drunk under the scorching sun, for which reason they also, pale of sadness without name, become wandering Jews? With their large gates opened, I hear them call their ingenuous students and say to them:
“My children! Autumn and winter have passed, we should not remain thus together for always. Now that the weather is fine, it is the favorable moment for you to leave your school and to part far. Yes, you must leave and part far, my children! And, without regret, you can abandon me here, forever! O my God! My roofs quiver in hearing the calls from on high, why do you all seem to be insensitive to those external charms which attract us unceasingly?”
In spring, when flowers abound and their perfumes exhale, no invitation is much clearer than that one. Now that the sun is becoming increasingly severe and the wind increasingly stronger, it is for us the moment of separation on the thorny path where young people are struggling very hard.
Those students who, these years, lived peacefully amidst of desk seats, became wandering Jews! I caught sight of them who, during the hours of class, sat down nonchalantly in front of their books, with a faraway look, being charmed by I don’t know which luminous points that might wander in space.
Yes, some of them probably dream of a beautiful house leaning over some pleasant hill, where they will be able to live, thanks to a few hectares of land, with the help of an ox or a water buffalo. Others wish to earn wages and be employed in some companies as slaves, day after day, of the director’s watch. However, the majority thinks about abandoning their dear school to leave far. The length of the path will excite their taste of adventure (as passion normally expires with the termination of youth).
Wandering Jews, they have never imagined they might return one day to their native soil! O poor ingenuous hearts! You who are white doves, don’t leave your dovecote! Mud will not be long in soiling your hearts, until your hearts and mud mix together!
What to do then? When the car of an intern comes out of the school and Edgar Poe’s Raven is not there to say to him this gloomy lamentation: “Never more!”
I will expose to you my idea (please do not laugh at it!): In front of the school gate, I would like to have built three very high steps. At the exit of the school, you would choose an old professor and invite him to get up there; and each student would pass in front of him in silence to hear him say: “My child, you go down into life.” – Life, that is not something that makes us go up!
Now that the separation is near, formerly insensitive and cold hearts raise suddenly impassioned calls. At the recreation, the students, by bands or groups, generally of two, walk in the courtyard. One of them lowers his head and looks at his moving shadow attached to his feet; the other raises his head and awaits a fine cloud that will pass by in front of him. The two friends walk in silence. The rare words, which slip out from time to time, drop as the evening (the imprecision makes them understood how much there is far from thoughts to words).
In the evening, if his friend is an intern, he will remain another half an hour at school with him; or if his friend is an extern, he will come to see him at his home; or if they are both interns, in seldom attended places, in quiet rooms, you can hear their irregular breathing.
The reason is that there will be no more than one month left to us, only one month, and we will separate from each other.
In one month, we will separate from each other! These words, carried by the wind, traverse the schoolyard and enter the classrooms. Some students even heard them just before they reach the gate of school.
One starts to say:
“In one month, we will separate from each other. Do we still have some worries which are worth that we talk about?”
“My darling, in one month, I will not have you any more! Will you remember me?”
“My friend, in one month, I will not have you any more! If you don’t like me, please don’t tell me the truth! Let us preserve our illusions!”
In one month, they will separate from each other, and it will be all over! One of them will go into life; the other, on purple writing paper, will write the name of another friend. The two children make oaths, promises. Taking advantage of the little time left to them, they want to cherish each other even more; and, when happiness is between their hands, suddenly tears run down, because time passes so quickly!
In one month, they will separate from each other! And then, one evening (why only the evening?), the school will dream that its gates would open by themselves, and that somebody would put slightly the foot on its threshold. And the students, scattered to the four corners of the earth, during long summer holidays, will remember their school and will regret its red roof and its green trees.
And then, one evening (why always the evening?), the school will dream that its gates would open by themselves, and that somebody would put slightly the foot on its threshold. And the students, scattered to the four corners of the earth, during long summer holidays, will remember their school and will regret its red roof and its green trees.
A student will remember a far-off morning of spring: as he opened the window of his class, his glance fell on a flowery meadow where butterflies were fluttering. Five or ten butterflies, no more than that! At the recreation, he came out, pursued them. When he had put the nose near the grasses to smell, he was very much surprised by the lack of perfume! He had forgotten, poor child, that he was not a butterfly with gold wings! He laid nevertheless a blank paper sheet there, hoping that the butterflies would not find the trace any more.
Remained alone, he pondered: “Who could erase the trace of my school? Would somebody have laid there a blank paper sheet?”
A student will remember a certain afternoon (the memory may probably come to him from the summer): as he was inflating the tires of his bicycle, he heard, coming from an upstairs laboratory, a sound of a harmonica that accompanied the words sung by a lovely voice, now high now low in pitch. The words and the music went together in a dream like a couple of lovers. Soir de Rafles, J’ai deux amours (2)… Those songs are indeed very old; and nowadays, it is likely that no one would remember them. The song helped him revive his dear memories: a kiss that he received the day of his entry in school, a concert of music when he was still in fifth year class, a boy who walked and sang softly under the pines…
The memories sadly loomed up out of mists of the past.
Everyone preserves his memory faithfully, and it is the memory of the school of his own. For me, my school is like a heart. With all my heart, I had pity on myself, because there will be no more than one month left to me, only one month, and I will abandon my school.
To abandon my school! To abandon my school! Who thus obliges me to abandon my school, which is so dear to me?
Ah! I will abandon my school! How strange it is: nobody shouts these words to me, yet I hear them as an echo that resounds in my heart.
How strange it is: nobody shouts to me these words, yet I hear them as an echo that resounds in my heart.
School of my heart! Tomorrow, I will be separated from you and will be thrown, in spite of myself, in the swirls of life.
One cannot, with a smile stuck on his lips, make an easy statement like formerly at a windowsill:
“To find happiness, it is not quite difficult thing. It is just enough to distinguish the blue of the sky from the pink of peach flowers which are opening out.”
To tell the truth, always blue is the sky; and, if you don’t bother to take the trouble to go a little farther toward the south of Vietnam, dear reader, you would notice that the pink flowers of peach open out all year long. Alas! The beauty of the sky, as well as the beauty of flowers, does not make our eyes shine any more!
Students, my dear friends, in spite of the good advice that others might give you, once you returned to your home, I am seriously afraid that your innocence might be dispossessed by your family!
As for me, in a small provincial town, I will return to live, solitary, withdrawn from the world. Then, one morning, I will remember my school where we had separated. A railway ticket, some coins, and that’s how I find again my school, the school of my own. Ah! How cold and sad it was! Other people noticed more my shoes and my hat than my heart that I had brought to them. Perhaps, my most intimate friend differed from the others by a handshake a little more cordial.
And that’s all.
What seems to me the saddest and most monotonous situation, that is the following one:
One day, by giving me a woman, one will confine me to the humility of the family. Each late afternoon, sitting in front of my house, I will look at the clouds that pass by and I will listen to the blow of the wind. The mountains in the distance – I don’t know of what they will have thought – will suddenly become more somber than ever. I don’t know either what will help me remembering my school. Then I will have tears running down in my eyes. Some drops will come out and remain suspended on my cheeks. If my wife were with me at that moment, what would she think of these tears, still all warm? Who will explain to her for me that I regret my life of schoolboy, at that precise moment?
Ah! To abandon one’s school! To abandon one’s heart! Students, my dear friends, after the last class, at the exit of the school, don’t forget to leave all your books and notebooks to the janitor of your school. Don’t worry not to be able to read them again, or to preserve some as souvenirs! Although you would keep them with much care and affection, I bet that they would not be for you of any usefulness. Furthermore, it would be futile for you to sigh, at the exit of the school: “Our memories will firmly remain engraved in our brain!”
No, no! The corpse never retains the soul. You should say this instead: “The memories will hustle to flee through the gate of our heart; and money and dishonesty will steal everything from us, perfume and beauty of things.”
Oh! The brilliant sun is already at its zenith. The solitary sky opens its immense gates. The trees spread out their foliage to the freshness of a light breeze that passes. The chirp of sparrows falls into thousands of luminous drops…
In one moment, it is the recreation. The students will get out and walk on that layer of gravel there; and the schoolyard will cover itself with a new memory.
(1) – Original title “Bỏ Trường Mà Đi”, poetic essay extracted from the collection of essays “Vàng Sao” (The Gold of Stars) published in 1942. Chế Lan Viên (real name: Phan Ngọc Hoan, 1920-1989), Vietnamese poet and essayist, published, in 1937, his collection of poems “Điêu Tàn” (Ruins) which made him famous.
(2) – In French in original text. Evening at Rafles, I have two loves.