Emblem of love

A quan họ (folk) singer wearing a yếm, at Dong Xuan market in Hanoi.
Photo: Thu Hien

Vietnam Heritage, February 2011 -- In folksong, the yếm is used as a motif more often than the shirt, scarf, mirror, comb, bowl, chopsticks, mat or bed, as it is the more attached (literally by two sets of strings) to the beauty of the woman.
In an article ‘The wonder of the breast-cover with its two strings’ Tran Thi Tram writes that the yêm ‘contains the secret thirst of attachment and bodily contact . . . is frequently a symbol of a deep and durable love, a transparent and faithful love . . .’
There are a great many folksongs with the yêm as a symbol. The following are examples of lines:
That my breast-cover [yếm] strings be long
So I may bind two of the young fellows
That the river be as narrow as my handspan
So I may use my breast-cover-strings as a bridge for him to come over
I don't want to be a human in the next life
I wish to be a breast-cover-string to bind my love
I don't know where to hide my love for you
I tie it with my strings to look at once in a while
With ten bedcovers I don’t feel as warm as with your breast-cover
Hey, the girl with a peach-blossom breast-cover
Walking in the festival, are you married, or not yet with a husband?

* Le Tan Thich is a teacher of literature at the Le Hong Phong Highschool, Tuy Hoa, Phu Yen Province

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