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Brexit: The Big Decision

Friday, 8 July, 2016

The poem Che fece… il gran rifiuto has appeared in publications with the title translated simply as “The Big Decision.” C. P. Cavafy took the heading from Dante’s Inferno and the original couplet refers to the decision of Pope Celestine V to abdicate the Papacy in 1294 and allow Dante’s enemy, Pope Boniface VIII, to gain power:

Vidi e conobbi l’ombra di colui
che fece per viltade il gran rifiuto.

(I saw and I knew the soul of him,
who cowardly made the great refusal.)

A fortnight on from the historic Brexit referendum that resulted in an overall vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, that Big Decision has upended British politics and sent shockwaves around the globe. Deciding to declare “the great Yes or the great No” has consequences, whether in the 13th or the 21st century, says Cavafy.

Che fece… il gran rifiuto

For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes from honour to honour, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he’d still say No. Yet that no — the right no —
drags him down all his life.

C. P. Cavafy (1863 — 1933)


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