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SCHOOL OF MY HEART,
TOMORROW I WILL BE SEPARATED FROM YOU! (1)

by CHẾ LAN VIÊN
Translated from the Vietnamese by TRÚC HUY


The burning rays of the sun gradually condense. And the South Wind, with its swirls of dust, makes its return and embarrasses our noble thoughts. Every morning, the flamboyant flowers bloom 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 the space burns with desire to see the golden rays of the setting sun, the afternoon passes by laboriously. Probably it passes time in reverie while going by.

Alas! Heaven and earth suddenly carry the soul of a wandering Jew. The salty scent of the South Seas pleasantly strokes his heart with the breath of a passing wind: that is the odor sent to us by the Indian Ocean. If we take a look at the cloud of dust swirling through the air, we can easily guess that it has undoubtedly sojourned in the desert of Sahara.

Nevertheless, discreet are the intentions of the flamboyant flowers. Let us listen to the sap of life that comes out from them and leads us to sadness! Old age increases at every moment: In just a few days, the flamboyant flowers will fade and fall down. Alas! You who were born in the scented bushes, you die in the dust! And the cicadas too, once summer is over, the dead cicadas and the withered flowers would be swept away.

Those schools, drunk under the scorching sun, for which reason they also, pale of nameless sadness, become wandering jews? Their doors wide open, I heard them call their ingenuous students to tell them:

“My children! Autumn and winter are over, we must not stay together forever. Now that the weather is nice, it’s a good time for you to leave your school and part far away. Yes, you must leave and part far away, my children! And without any regrets, you can leave me here forever! O my God! My roofs shudder to hear the calls from on high, why do you all seem insensitive to the external charms that attract us all the time?”

In spring, when the flowers abound and their perfumes exhale, no invitation is clearer than this one. And now, with the sun becoming more and more ardent and the wind stronger and stronger, it is for us the time of separation on the thorny road where many young people are struggling very hard.

ooOoo

Those students, who lived peacefully these years amidst of desk seats, became wandering Jews! I saw them who, during school hours, sat down nonchalantly in front of their books, with a faraway look, being charmed by I don’t know what bright spots that could wander in space.

Yes, some of them are probably dreaming 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 want to earn a salary and be employed in some companies as slaves, day after day, of the director’s supervision. But the majority thinks of abandoning their school to go far, far away… The length of the path will excite their taste of adventure (as passion normally expires with the end of youth).

Wandering Jews, they never imagined that they could one day return to their native land! O poor naive hearts! You who are white doves, do not leave your dovecote! Mud will not be long in soiling your hearts, until your hearts and mud mix together!

So, what to do? When the car of an intern comes out of school and Edgar Poe’s Raven is not there to tell him this lugubrious lament: “Nevermore!”

ooOoo

I would like to expose to you my idea (please do not laugh!): In front of the school gate, I would like to build three very high steps. At the exit of the school, you would choose an old teacher and invite him to get up there. And each student would pass silently in front of him 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, once insensitive and cold hearts raise suddenly impassioned calls. At the recreation, the students, in bands or groups, usually two, walk in the courtyard. One lowers his head and looks at his moving shadow attached to his feet; the other raises his head and awaits a thin, isolated cloud that will pass by in front of him. The two friends walk in silence. A few words, which slip out from time to time, drop as the evening (the imprecision lets understand how far there is from thought to words).

After class in the afternoon, if his friend is an interne, he will stay another half hour with him; or if his friend is not an interne, he will come and see him at his home; or if they are both internes, in seldom attended places, in quiet rooms, you can hear their irregular breathing.

Because there will be no more than one month, and they will be separated from each other.

In one more month, we will be separated from each other! These words, carried by the wind, pass through 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 more month, we will be separated from each other. Do we still have some issues that are worth talking about?”

Then:

“My darling, in one more month, I will not have you any more! Will you remember me?”

“My dear friend, in one more month, I will not have you anymore! If you don’t like me, don’t tell me the truth! Let us keep our illusions!”

In one more month, they will be separated from each other. And all will be finished. One will go into life; the other, on purple writing paper, will write the name of another friend. The two lovers make oaths, promises. Taking advantage of the little time left, they want to love each other even more. And when gold is at hand, suddenly tears flow, because time passes so quickly!

In one more month, they will be separated from each other! And then, one evening (why only the evening?), the school will daydream that its doors open by themselves and that someone slightly put his feet on its doorstep. And the students, scattered to the four corners of the earth, during the long summer holidays, will remember their school with its roof of red tiles and green trees.

ooOoo

In one more month, they will be separated from each other! And then, one evening (why always the evening?), the school will daydream that its doors open by themselves and that someone slightly put his feet on its doorstep. And the students, scattered to the four corners of the earth, during the long summer holidays, will remember their school with its roof of red tiles and green trees.

A student will remember a far-off morning of spring: As he opened the window of his class, his eyes fell on a flowering meadow where butterflies were flying. Five or ten butterflies, no, maybe more than that – a day of celebration for butterflies on a flat ground. At recess time, he came out and pursued them. When he put his nose near the grass to smell, he was very much surprised by the lack of perfume! He had forgotten, poor child, that he was not a butterfly with wings of gold! Nevertheless, he laid there a sheet of white paper, hoping that the butterflies would no longer find the trace.

Remaining alone, he began to think: “Who could erase the trace of my school? Would anyone have laid there a blank sheet of paper?”

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 a laboratory on the first floor, the sound of a harmonica that accompanied a lovely song, sung by beautiful voice, now high now low in pitch. The lyrics and music walked 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 emerged sadly from the mists of the past.

ooOoo

Everyone keeps faithfully the memory of his school. For me, my school is like a soul.

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 obliges me to leave my school, which is so dear to me?

Ah! I will abandon my school! How strange it is: Nobody shouts these words to me, and yet I hear them as an echo that resonates in my heart.

ooOoo

How strange it is: Nobody shouts these words to me, and yet I hear them as an echo that resonates 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 on his lips, make an easy statement like formerly at a windowsill:

“To find happiness, it is not difficult thing. It is just enough to distinguish the blue of the sky from the pink flowers of the peach which are opening out.”

In fact, the sky is always blue, isn’t? And if you don’t bother to go a little further to the south of Vietnam, dear reader, you would notice that the pink peach flowers bloom all year round. Alas! The beauty of the sky, as well as the beauty of the flowers, no longer make our eyes shine any more!

ooOoo

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 train ticket, a few coins, and that’s how I found again my school, the school of my own. Ah! How cold and sad it was! 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 more cordial handshake.

And that’s all.

ooOoo

But what seems to me the saddest and the most monotonous is the following situation:

One day, giving me a wife, I will be confined to the humility of the family. Each late afternoon, sitting in front of my house, I will look at the clouds pass by and I will hear the wind blowing. The mountains in the distance – I do not know what they would have thought of – will suddenly become darker than ever. I don’t know what could help me remember my school. Then I will have tears running down in my eyes. A few drops will come out and hang on my cheeks. If my wife were with me at that moment, what would she think of these tears, still hot? Who will explain to her for me that I regret my life of schoolboy, at that precise moment?

ooOoo

Ah! To abandon one’s school! To abandon one’s heart! Students, my dear friends, after the last class, at the end of the school year, don’t forget to leave all your books and notebooks to the janitor of your school. Don’t worry about not being able to read them again, or keep them as souvenirs! I bet that, even if you guard them carefully, they would be of no use to you. Furthermore, it would be futile for you to sigh, on leaving school: “Our memories will firmly remain engraved in our brain!”

No, no! The corpse seldom or never retains the soul. You should say this instead: “The memories will hustle to flee through the door of our soul; and money and dishonesty will steal everything from us, perfume and beauty of things.”

ooOoo

Oh! The bright sun is already at its zenith. The lonely blue sky opens its huge gates. The trees spread their foliage to the freshness of a passing wind. The chirping of sparrows is broken down into thousands of luminous drops. In a few moments, it is the recreation. The students will get out and walk on that layer of gravel over there; and the schoolyard will be covered with a new memory…



(1) - Original title “Bỏ Trường Mà Đi”, poetic essay extracted from the collection of essays Vàng Sao (The Gold of the 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 and gave him a place among the Vietnamese poets of his time.
(2) - In French in original text. Evening at Rafles, I have two loves.