Canzone Napoletana

  • onOctober 21, 2015
  • Vol.29 Autumn 2015
  • byHwang Tong-gyu


Coming out of the lounge for retired professors,
Failing to conclude the inconsequential debate on the death of literature
(Hey, have I been kicking against empty air all my life?)
I started the car and turned on the audio.
The Canzone Napoletana sung by the old Tenor Stephano,
On the Circular Road, suddenly my eyeballs are brimful with cherry blossoms.
Opening the windows and driving slowly to pull up at the sidewalk,
I accompany my humming with the songs.
Thirty years ago,
The azure-blue waves lapping against the Napoli seashore,
When the aroma of orange flowers invaded my brain humming like a swarm of bees.
Still the waves may cast soul-stirring resonances against the shore.
As if mesmerized by the song, a couple of flower petals fly into the car and
Touch my face. My body is electrified in spite of myself,
Slowly my eyes are closed and black-out, come on, where am I?
The spot where you can look upward at the St. Lucia Cathedral?
Yet, cobalt-blue waves undulate before your eyes.
Indubitably, how can Napoli exist only in Napoli?
At Anhung in Taeangun,
A Yesongri in Bogildo before the beach resort was opened,
Cobalt-blue spring waves undulated sending spasms of electricity all over my body.
Petals sit on my head and hands.
What if the flame of literature flickering is snuffed out all of a sudden?
How on earth can literature exist in literature only?

Translated by Hwang Hoonsung
The original version of this poem was first published in Munhakdongne The Quarterly, Vol.84.


Author's Profile

Hwang Tong-gyu is a professor emeritus at Seoul National University and chairperson of the literature department at the National Academy of Arts. He was a visiting professor at UC Berkeley and NYU, and participated in the University of Iowa's International Writing Program. He has received the Lee San Literature Prize, Daesan Literary Award, Midang Literary Award, and Eungwan Order of Cultural Merit. His books of poems have been translated into English, German, French, and Spanish.