Tag: C.P. Cavafy

For Mother, who would have been 91 today

Monday, 29 July, 2019

We celebrate the birthday of Kit O’Donnell today with the poem In the Same Space by C. P. Cavafy, translated from the original Greek by Edmund Keeley. We also remember the love, the generosity, the wit, the words and the indestructible legacy.

In the Same Space

The setting of houses, cafés, the neighbourhood
that I’ve seen and walked through years on end:

I created you while I was happy, while I was sad,
with so many incidents, so many details.

And, for me, the whole of you has been transformed into feeling.

C. P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 – 29 April 1933)

Mother


He caught the fever that reaped a harvest

Saturday, 2 February, 2019

Poetry provides visions and so does fever. The great C.P. Cavafy combines the two here.

Kleitos’s Illness

Kleitos, a likeable young man,
about twenty-three years old—
with an excellent upbringing, a rare knowledge of Greek—
is seriously ill. He caught the fever
that reaped a harvest this year in Alexandria.

The fever found him already worn out morally
by the pain of knowing that his friend, a young actor,
had stopped loving and wanting him.

He’s seriously ill, and his parents are terribly worried.

An old servant who brought him up
is also full of fear for Kleitos’ life;
and in her terrible anxiety
she remembers an idol she used to worship
when she was young, before she came there as a maid,
to the house of distinguished Christians, and turned Christian herself.
She secretly brings some votive cake, some wine and honey,
and places them before the idol. She chants whatever phrases
she remembers from old prayers: odds and ends. The fool
doesn’t realize that the black demon couldn’t care less
whether a Christian gets well or not.

C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 – 29 April 1933)

*Translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard


Cavafy on the Mediterranean migrants

Monday, 14 May, 2018 0 Comments

One can read C.P. Cavafy’s In the Harbour-Town as a poem about home-sickness or a poem about migration, or both, as the two are often intertwined. In another way, it can be interpreted as a poem that speaks to our times because he mentions “a Syrian harbour” in the same breath as “the great pan-Hellenic world”. Recent reports of a rise in unaccompanied child migrants reaching Greece and Cyprus through the Central and Western Mediterranean Routes make this Cavafy poem sound uncannily prescient.

In the Harbour-Town

Emis – young, twenty-eight –
reached this Syrian harbor in a Tenian ship,
his plan to learn the incense trade.
But ill during the voyage,
he died as soon as he was put ashore.
His burial, the poorest possible, took place here.
A few hours before dying he whispered something
about “home,” about “very old parents.”
But nobody knew who they were,
or what country he called home
in the great pan-Hellenic world.
Better that way; because as it is,
though he lies buried in this harbour-town,
his parents will always have the hope he’s still alive.

C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 – 29 April 1933)

Translated from the original Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.

Harbour town


Brexit: The Big Decision

Friday, 8 July, 2016 0 Comments

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)


Thermopylae today

Sunday, 5 July, 2015 0 Comments

Thermopylae is famed for the battle that took place there in 480 BC, in which an outnumbered Greek force (including 300 Spartans) held off a substantially larger army of Persians under Xerxes. In his poem Thermopylae, C.P. Cavafy points out that although the Greeks knew they would be defeated, they were not deterred. They fought and died for their principles. Cavafy says that if we have values, we should defend them even if we know there is the danger of failure, loss and betrayal.

Thermopylae

Honour to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they are rich, and when they are poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.

And even more honour is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that in the end Ephialtis will make his appearance,
that the Medes will break through after all.

(translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)

C.P. Cavafy


Neither fading nor decaying, unaging

Wednesday, 13 November, 2013 0 Comments

If those much-derided artificial flowers on the hospital bedside table lack scent says C.P.Cavafy, there’s no need to get upset. “We’ll pour out perfume, burn romantic myrrh before them.” Oscar Wilde would have loved that approach to such an aesthetic challenge.

Artificial Flowers

I don’t want real narcissi — neither lilies
nor real roses please me,
decorating trite and common gardens. I am grieved,
fatigued, afflicted by their flesh
their perishable beauty bores me.

Give me artificial flowers — porcelain and metal glories —
neither fading nor decaying, forms unaging.
Flowers of the splendid gardens of another place,
where Forms and Styles and Knowledge dwell.

I love flowers made of glass or gold,
true Art’s true gifts,
their painted hues more beautiful than nature’s,
worked in nacre and enamel,
with perfect leaves and branches.

Their charm derives from wise and pure Good Taste;
they didn’t vilely sprout in dust or mud.
If they lack scent, we’ll pour out perfume,
burn romantic myrrh before them.

C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 — 29 April 1933). Artificial Flowers translated by Peter J. King and Andrea Christofidou

“But if the importance of Cavafy’s poetry is his unique tone of voice, there is nothing for a critic to say,” wrote W.H. Auden, and he continued: “For criticism can only make comparisons. A unique tone of voice cannot be described; it can only be imitated, that is to say, either parodied or quoted.” Then, paying the ultimate compliment, Auden noted: “I have read translations of Cavafy made by many different hands, but every one of them was immediately recognizable as a poem by Cavafy; nobody else could possibly have written it.”


In the Harbour-Town

Friday, 26 April, 2013 0 Comments

Emis — young, twenty-eight —
reached this Syrian harbour in a Tenian ship,
his plan to learn the incense trade.
But ill during the voyage,
he died as soon as he was put ashore.
His burial, the poorest possible, took place here.
A few hours before dying he whispered something
about “home,” about “very old parents.”
But nobody knew who they were,
or what country he called home
in the great pan-Hellenic world.
Better that way; because as it is,
though he lies buried in this harbour-town,
his parents will always have the hope he’s still alive.

C.P. Cavafy, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Harbour town