[Web Exclusive] "On Broadway" from Delights of life by Hwang Tong-gyu

On Broadway



One day at 9 a.m. in August 2009

a few raindrops blew outside my window but then the weather cleared up.

I come out of the Raddison Hotel on 32nd and Broadway.

There is no time blocking my path or following my trail.

After leaving the subway my eyes, as if washing tea cups,

lightly run across the buildings of NYU on 4th

where 22 years ago I spent a hard year doing nothing important.

Then I begin walking down Broadway.


The old memories rise and fall strenuously in my mind,

fluttering like a faded flyer at the bottom of my memory.

The midday mugging happened near 42nd.

Now I have quite an amount of cash in my pocket

but my face looks calm since my mind is light.

As before, I stop at the “Shakespeare and Company” bookstore near NYU;

leave carrying a couple of newly-published chapbooks

then stealthily enter the Grace Anglican church

that sits modestly among the bigger buildings.

The church with the simple exterior also has a simple interior.

I come out after listening to the choir practice a single hymn.


I go to the literature section of the famous “Strand,”

which I heard is the largest in the world;

if all lined up, the book spines would span over 17 miles.

As before, I walk along opening covers.

The distant, swaying horizon makes me thirsty

but I keep walking under dark cliffs

exhaling the musk of books.

I purchase the 1978 edition of Bronowski’s thin, aged book

at a cost slightly higher than wholesale.


When I leave the bookstore the world is bright.

Two blocks down, at the corner of Union Square

I look around holding rainbow ice cream I bought

and then sit on a bench behind half-naked female sunbathers.

White black brown red, not exactly this color nor that,

the colors of summer life in the middle of the city!


In the past, folding the pulsing sounds of internal combustion in my heart,

I walked flashing the high beams of my eye...

Born in April 1938, Hwang Tong-gyu graduated from the English Department of Seoul National University and went on to study at Edinburgh University in the UK. He was a professor at Seoul National University from 1968 until his retirement in 2003, and now he devotes his time to composing poetry. His father, Hwang Sun-won, was an established novelist. As a sophomore at Seoul University in 1958, the younger Hwang began writing poetry at the recommendation of poet Seo Jeong-ju. From the time of his first collection, One Clear Day (1961), until his most recent, Joy of Living (2013), Hwang has published fifteen books of poetry.

     With each successive poetry collection, Hwang Tong-gyu has evoked a different response from his readers. From this we can see that he does not come to anchor at a specific place, but is always casting about in search of new directions. He pioneered his own distinctive style of love poetry and created a body of work that overturned the conventions of lyric poetry in his efforts to use concrete experience as the basis for comprehending the reality of human existence.

     After he turned fifty, he devised a new poetic language through which he revealed new angles of perception as he tried to break free from conceptual language to better determine the truth of experience. Hwang’s different forays into the world of poetic expression are imbued with a deep love of people and the world. Even at the age of seventy-seven, he tirelessly continues his variegated poetic creations, releasing close to twenty poems a year. Even given his exalted position within Korean literary circles, it has been said that as Hwang Tong-gyu ages, his poems become ever more youthful.