Vietnamese Cyrano de Bergerac and the story of Truong Chi

The legend of unrequited love of Cyrano de Bergerac came from the historic figure of the French satirist and dramatist of the same name whose works combine political satire and science fiction. He has been the basis of many romantic but unhistorical legends, of which the best known is Edmond Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac (1897) in which he his portrayed as a gallant and brilliant but shy and ugly lover, possessed (as in fact he was) of a remarkably large nose.

The Vietnamese story of Truong Chi probably predates the French legend. It is one of the most tragic love stories in Vietnamese folklore where unrequited love and death from ridicule are the elements that distinguish it from the Western theme of the beauty and the beast.

Truong Chi and My Nuong.

Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful young lady, My Nuong, beloved daughter of a great and wealthy mandarin. She seemed to have every thing in life to be happy.

Yet the beautiful My Nuong was not happy, for she was lovesick. Day and night she dreamt of the charming voice of a mysterious stranger who used to row his craft along the river, down there, beyond the garden, singing wonderful songs. He sang his love for living, his love for nature and mankind, and whenever he expressed his thanks to Heaven for all these blessings his voice was so enchanting and ethereal that no other human voice could match it.

"Oh! That the mysterious stranger were here", sighed the young lady," then I should be able to see his handsome face and his manly manners-for he must be a noble prince and a learned scholar. That is the only thing in the world that I am longing for!"

Then she grew thinner and thinner and became seriously ill. Doctors were called for, but the more medicine she took, the weaker she became. Then the youngest and cleverest of the maids said:? Our lady became thoughtful and sad since the stranger came and sang wonderful songs on the river yonder?. Then the mandarin said:" Let the stranger be brought here, and let him marry my beloved daughter, if such is her wish."

Then servants went to fetch the stranger, a very poor fisherman called Truong Chi who lived in a shabby hut on the edge of the city. The very moment her eyes met, he fell desperately in love with her.

But Mi Nuong, seeing his plain face and ragged clothes, recalled the picture of a charming prince she had imagined of him, and burst out laughing. And with that laugh, her love sickness was cured forever.

Truong Chi grew very sad and melancholic when he was taken back to his hut. He sighed:" It was so pleasant when I was free and happy, singing and enjoying life. Now it is all past. I shall carry a sweet remembrance of my first and last meeting with her in my grave, when I die."

One morning, people found him dead in his miserable hut.

Years passed by, and one day, they dug his grave to remove his ashes to another place. His heart had been crystallized into a magnificent gem, and knowing his sad love for Mi Nuong, offered it to her father. It was carved into a lovely teacup, and whenever tea was poured into it, the image of Truong Chi appeared in the amber liquid. When Mi Nuong saw the sad face of Truong Chi, a tear of remorse rolled down her cheeks and fell into the cup, which suddenly vanished.

It was thought that even a tear from his beloved was sufficient to calm forever the restless spirit of Truong Chi, for now that the "debt of love" was paid, the "crystal of love" could at last disappear.

(Adapted and abridged from Vietnamese Legends by L. T. Bach Lan.)