Taste of Life

  • onOctober 21, 2015
  • Vol.29 Autumn 2015
  • byHwang Tong-gyu
Songs of Thorns and Flowers Vol. 3: Winter, 5 Minutes Past Midnight
Tr. Chan E. Park


A change of seasons, and this cold clogging up all my channels!
For a full half month I was inhaling and exhaling ashen grey air,
at about 38.5 degrees I lost my appetite,
for several days in a row I was waking up in the night hacking, nose running,
silently pouring out tears as though my lachrymal glands were wrung out,
then this morning suddenly,
seeping into the inner chambers of my alveoli is the dazzling sign of spring.
I no longer have in me the exuberance to stir things up here and there,
nor even as much hair as baby’s breath over the sparseness of a bouquet,
still on this walk taken after a long interval, the forsythias form yellow fences,
from a distance it may be the voice of the spicebush,
on the ground, violets and gerberas are blooming quite noticeably.
The fragrance of the late blooming apricot is so enticing
that I miss a step.
Where the fever’s gone, an instant ignition of hunger, the splendor of being alive!
Would I find flowers in spring? Rather, I would be covered in spring amidst flowers bloomed ad nauseam.
I walk in wide strides.
A few steps ahead of me, a hopping magpie also hops in wide stride.
In departing this world,
is the choicest taste of life which must be brought along,
not of perfect health, but of recovery?
Though by chance the Honorable illness you can recover from without suffering
may be tarrying somewhere in the world.

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.