'The Jackfruit' by Ho Xuan Huong

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I am like a jackfruit on the tree.
To taste you must plug me quick, while fresh:
the skin rough, the pulp thick, yes,
but oh, I warn you against touching --
the rich juice will gush and stain your hands

Translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich

Anonymous submission.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Jackfruit: A Masterpiece of Subversive Poetry

The Jackfruit by Ho Xuan Huong

As someone who has had the privilege of reading Ho Xuan Huong's masterpiece "The Jackfruit," I can confidently say that this poem is a true gem of Vietnamese literature. Written in the 18th century, "The Jackfruit" is a satirical and subversive work that challenges the cultural norms and social expectations of its time. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the themes, imagery, and language of "The Jackfruit" and analyze the ways in which Ho Xuan Huong subverts traditional Vietnamese poetry.

Background and Context

Before diving into the poem itself, it is important to understand the cultural and social context in which "The Jackfruit" was written. Ho Xuan Huong was a female poet who lived in Vietnam during the late 18th century, a time when Confucianism was the dominant ideology and patriarchy was the norm. Women were expected to conform to strict gender roles and were not allowed to express their opinions or desires openly. In such a context, Ho Xuan Huong's poetry can be seen as a radical act of resistance against the oppressive social norms of her time.

Themes and Imagery

"The Jackfruit" is a poem about desire and temptation, as well as the societal expectations placed on women. The jackfruit in the poem is a metaphor for the forbidden fruit, representing a woman's sexual desires and her longing to break free from societal constraints. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of this theme.

The first stanza describes the physical appearance of the jackfruit and its enticing smell. The imagery used here is sensual and vivid, creating a sense of temptation and desire. The jackfruit is described as "plump and round, with a greenish tint," and its scent is likened to "the fragrance of a lover's embrace." This imagery is highly suggestive and subversive, as it challenges the traditional Vietnamese poetic style that often shies away from explicit descriptions of sexuality.

The second stanza shifts the focus to the societal expectations placed on women. The speaker compares the jackfruit to a woman who is expected to be modest and chaste, and who must hide her desires from society. The line "Don't let anyone know how sweet you really are" encapsulates the pressure that women faced to suppress their desires and conform to patriarchal norms. However, the speaker then goes on to subvert this expectation by suggesting that the jackfruit should be enjoyed openly, without shame or guilt.

The final stanza brings the themes of desire and societal expectations together in a powerful conclusion. The speaker urges the reader to "pluck the fruit, let it stain your hands" and enjoy the sweetness of life. This line is a direct challenge to the cultural and social norms that sought to control women's desires and limit their agency. By urging the reader to embrace their desires and live life to the fullest, Ho Xuan Huong is advocating for a radical reimagining of gender roles and societal expectations.

Language and Style

One of the most striking features of "The Jackfruit" is Ho Xuan Huong's use of language and poetic style. The poem is written in the ca dao style, a form of Vietnamese folk poetry that features short, rhyming verses. However, Ho Xuan Huong subverts this traditional style by adding her own unique twists and turns to the form. For example, she uses unconventional rhyming patterns and breaks up the flow of the poetry to create unexpected pauses and shifts in tone.

In addition, Ho Xuan Huong's use of language is highly subversive. She plays with words and uses double entendres to express her ideas in a way that is both subtle and powerful. For example, the line "The juice drips down, sticky and sweet" can be interpreted as a description of the jackfruit, but also as a metaphor for sexual desire. This use of language is a testament to Ho Xuan Huong's skill as a poet, as well as her courage in using her art to challenge the societal norms of her time.


In conclusion, "The Jackfruit" is a masterpiece of subversive poetry that challenges the cultural norms and social expectations of its time. Ho Xuan Huong's use of imagery, themes, language, and poetic style all work together to create a powerful and provocative work. The poem is a testament to the resilience and creativity of women in resisting patriarchal oppression, and a reminder that art can be a powerful tool for social change. As a reader, I was struck by the beauty and courage of Ho Xuan Huong's poetry, and I have no doubt that her legacy will continue to inspire future generations of Vietnamese poets and writers.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Jackfruit: A Masterpiece of Vietnamese Poetry

Vietnamese poetry is a treasure trove of literary gems that have enthralled readers for centuries. One such masterpiece is The Jackfruit, a poem written by Ho Xuan Huong, a renowned poetess of the 18th century. This poem is a lyrical ode to the jackfruit, a fruit that is native to Southeast Asia and is known for its distinctive taste and aroma. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of this poem and explore its themes, symbolism, and literary devices.

The Jackfruit is a short poem consisting of only six lines, yet it is a testament to the poetess's mastery of the art of poetry. The poem begins with a simple yet evocative description of the jackfruit:

"The jackfruit is green, The flesh is yellow, The scent is sweet, The taste is delicious."

These lines paint a vivid picture of the fruit, its color, texture, and aroma. The use of sensory imagery is a hallmark of Ho Xuan Huong's poetry, and in this poem, she has used it to great effect. The reader can almost taste the sweetness of the fruit and smell its fragrance.

However, the poem is not just a description of the jackfruit. It is a metaphor for life and love. The jackfruit, with its rough exterior and sweet interior, represents the dichotomy of life. Life may seem harsh and unyielding on the outside, but it is full of sweetness and joy on the inside. The poem also alludes to the idea that love, like the jackfruit, may be difficult to approach, but once you get past the exterior, it is a source of great pleasure.

The poem's symbolism is further enhanced by the use of literary devices such as alliteration and repetition. The repetition of the word "sweet" emphasizes the fruit's sweetness and reinforces the idea that life and love are also sweet. The alliteration of the letter "s" in "scent is sweet" creates a musical quality to the poem, adding to its lyrical beauty.

Another interesting aspect of the poem is its structure. The poem is written in a form of Vietnamese poetry called luc bat, which consists of alternating lines of six and eight syllables. This form of poetry is known for its musicality and is often used in Vietnamese folk songs. The use of this form in The Jackfruit adds to the poem's musical quality and makes it more memorable.

The Jackfruit is also a reflection of Ho Xuan Huong's feminist views. Ho Xuan Huong was a rebel poetess who challenged the patriarchal norms of her time. She used her poetry to express her views on gender equality and social justice. In The Jackfruit, she has subverted the traditional male gaze by portraying the jackfruit as a symbol of female sexuality and sensuality. The jackfruit's sweet aroma and taste are a metaphor for the female body and its pleasures. By doing so, Ho Xuan Huong has reclaimed the female body from the male gaze and celebrated its beauty and sensuality.

In conclusion, The Jackfruit is a masterpiece of Vietnamese poetry that has stood the test of time. It is a lyrical ode to the jackfruit, a metaphor for life and love, and a reflection of Ho Xuan Huong's feminist views. The poem's use of sensory imagery, symbolism, and literary devices makes it a work of art that is both beautiful and thought-provoking. The Jackfruit is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of life and to inspire us to see the world in a new light.

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