Thursday, 20 June 2013

Konstantinos Kavafis poetry

(*Constantine P. Cavafy was a Greek poet who lived in Alexandria. He is now considered one of the finest modern Greek poets. His poetry is taught at schools in Greece and in universities around the world. His poems are, typically, concise but intimate evocations of real or literary figures and milieux that have played roles in Greek culture. Uncertainty about the future, sensual pleasures, the moral character of individuals, homosexuality, and a fatalistic existential nostalgia are some of the defining themes. Many of his poems are pseudo-historical, or seemingly historical, or accurately, but quirkily, historical.)


Without consideration, without pity, without shame
they have built great and high walls around me.

And now I sit here and despair.
I think of nothing else: this fate gnaws at my mind;

for I had many things to do outside.
Ah, why did I not pay attention when they were building the walls?

But I never heard any noise or sound of builders.
Imperceptibly they shut me from the outside world.


The days of our future stand in front of us
like a row of little lit candles -
golden, warm, and lively little candles.

The days of our past remain behind us,
a mournful line of extinguished candles;
the ones nearest are still smoking,
cold candles, melted, and bent.

I do not want to look at them; their form saddens me,
and it saddens me to recall their first light.
I look ahead at my lit candles.

I do not want to turn back, lest I see and shudder
at how fast the dark line lengthens,
at how fast the extinguished candles multiply.

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
The barbarians are to arrive today.

Why such inaction in the Senate?
Why do the Senators sit and pass no laws?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
What laws can the Senators pass any more?
When the barbarians come they will make the laws.

Why did our emperor wake up so early,
and sits at the greatest gate of the city,
on the throne, solemn, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
And the emperor waits to receive
their chief. Indeed he has prepared
to give him a scroll. Therein he inscribed
many titles and names of honor.

Why have our two consuls and the praetors come out
today in their red, embroidered togas;
why do they wear amethyst-studded bracelets,
and rings with brilliant, glittering emeralds;
why are they carrying costly canes today,
wonderfully carved with silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today,
and such things dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't the worthy orators come as always
to make their speeches, to have their say?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today;
and they get bored with eloquence and orations.

Why all of a sudden this unrest
and confusion. (How solemn the faces have become!)
Why are the streets and squares clearing quickly,
and all return to their homes, so deep in thought?

Because night is here but the barbarians have not come.
And some people arrived from the borders,
and said that there are no longer any barbarians.

And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?
Those people were some kind of solution.
The God forsakes Antony

When suddenly, at the midnight hour,
an invisible troupe is heard passing
with exquisite music, with shouts -
your fortune that fails you now,
your works that have failed, the plans of your life
that have all turned out to be illusions, do not mourn in vain.
As if long prepared, as if courageous,
bid her farewell, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all do not be fooled, do not tell yourself
it was a dream, that your ears deceived you;
do not stoop to such vain hopes.
As if long prepared, as if courageous,
as it becomes you who have been worthy of such a city,
approach the window with firm step,
and with emotion, but not
with the entreaties and complaints of the coward,
as a last enjoyment listen to the sounds,
the exquisite instruments of the mystical troupe,
and bid her farewell, the Alexandria you are losing.

They should have provided

I have almost been reduced to a homeless pauper.
This fatal city, Antioch,
has consumed all my money;
this fatal city with its expensive life.

But I am young and in excellent health.
My command of Greek is superb
(I know all there is about Aristotle, Plato;
orators, poets, you name it.)
I have an idea of military affairs,
and have friends among the mercenary chiefs.
I am on the inside of administration as well.
Last year I spent six months in Alexandria;
I have some knowledge (and this is useful) of affairs there:
intentions of the Malefactor, and villainies, et cetera.

Therefore I believe that I am fully
qualified to serve this country,
my beloved homeland Syria.

In whatever capacity they place me I shall strive
to be useful to the country. This is my intent.
Then again, if they thwart me with their methods -
we know those able people: need we talk about it now?
if they thwart me, I am not to blame.

First, I shall apply to Zabinas
and if this moron does not appreciate me,
I shall go to his rival Grypos
And if this idiot does not hire me,
I shall go straight to Hyrcanos
One of the three will want me however.

And my conscience is not troubled
about not worrying about my choice.
All three harm Syria equally.

But, a ruined man, why is it my fault.
Wretched man, I am trying to make ends meet.
The almighty gods should have provided
and created a fourth, good man.
Gladly would I have joined him.

The Satrapy

What a misfortune, although you are made
for fine and great works
this unjust fate of yours always
denies you encouragement and success;
that base customs should block you;
and pettiness and indifference.
And how terrible the day when you yield
(the day when you give up and yield),
and you leave on foot for Susa,
and you go to the monarch Artaxerxes
who favorably places you in his court,
and offers you satrapies and the like.
And you accept them with despair
these things that you do not want.
Your soul seeks other things, weeps for other things;
the praise of the public and the Sophists,
the hard-won and inestimable Well Done;
the Agora, the Theater, and the Laurels.
How can Artaxerxes give you these,
where will you find these in a satrapy;
and what life can you live without these.

Nero's Term

Nero was not worried when he heard
the prophecy of the Delphic Oracle.
"Let him fear the seventy three years."
He still had ample time to enjoy himself.
He is thirty. More than sufficient
is the term the god allots him
to prepare for future perils.

Now he will return to Rome slightly tired,
but delightfully tired from this journey,
full of days of enjoyment -
at the theaters, the gardens, the gymnasia...
evenings at cities of Achaia...
Ah the delight of nude bodies, above all.

Thus fared Nero. And in Spain Galba
secretly assembles and drills his army,
the old man of seventy three.


I do not question whether I am happy or unhappy.
Yet there is one thing that I keep gladly in mind -
that in the great addition (their addition that I abhor)
that has so many numbers, I am not one
of the many units there.
In the final sum I have not been calculated.
And this joy suffices me.

The first step

The young poet Eumenes
complained one day to Theocritus:
"For two years I have been writing
just to create one mere idyll.
It is my only completed work.
Alas, I see that it is steep,
the ladder of Poetry is very steep;
and from the first step where I am now,
unhappy me, I shall never go higher."
Theocritus said: "These words
are unfitting and blasphemous.
For even if you are on the first step,
you should be proud and happy.
Coming this far is no small accomplishment;
what you have achieved is great glory.
And even this first step
is from the common world very far away.
To set foot upon this step
you must rightfully be
a citizen of the city of ideas.
And in that city it is hard
and rare to become a citizen.
In its agora you find Lawmakers
whom no scoundrel can fool.
Coming this far is no small accomplishment;
what you have achieved is great glory."


When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood, what these Ithacas mean.

Days of 1903

I never found them again - the things so quickly lost
the poetic eyes, the pale face, in the dusk of the street.

I never found them again - the things acquired quite by chance,
that I gave up so lightly,
and that later in agony I wanted.
The poetic eyes, the pale face,
those lips, I never found again.


Amid fear and suspicions,
with agitated mind and frightened eyes,
we melt and plan how to act
to avoid the certain danger that so horribly threatens us.
And yet we err, this was not in our paths;
the messages were false
(or we did not hear, or fully understand them).
Another catastrophe, one we never imagined,
sudden, precipitous, falls upon us,
and unprepared -- there is no more time -- carries us off.

Che fece .... il gran rifiuto

To certain people there comes a day
when they must say the great Yes or the great No.
He who has the Yes ready within him,
immediately reveals himself,
and saying it he follows his honor and his own conviction.

He who refuses does not repent. Should he be asked again,
he would say no again.
And yet that no --the right no -- crushes him for the rest of his life.

The windows

In these darkened rooms, where I spend
oppresive days, I pace to and fro
to find the windows. -- When a window
opens, it will be a consolation.
But the windows cannot be found,
or I cannot find them. And maybe it is best that I do not find them.
Maybe the light will be a new tyranny.
Who knows what new things it will reveal?

Alexandrian kings

The Alexandrians were gathered
to see Cleopatra's children, Caesarion, and his little brothers,
Alexander and Ptolemy, whom for the first
time they lead out to the Gymnasium,
there to proclaim kings,
in front of the grand assembly of the soldiers.

Alexander -- they named him king
of Armenia, Media, and the Parthians.
Ptolemy -- they named him king
of Cilicia, Syria, and Phoenicia.
Caesarion stood more to the front,
dressed in rose-colored silk,
on his breast a bouquet of hyacinths,
his belt a double row of sapphires and amethysts,
his shoes fastened with white
ribbons embroidered with rose pearls.
Him they named more than the younger ones,
him they named King of Kings.

The Alexandrians of course understood
that those were theatrical words.

But the day was warm and poetic,
the sky was a light azure,
the Alexandrian Gymnasium was
a triumphant achievement of art,
the opulence of the courtiers was extraordinary,
Caesarion was full of grace and beauty
(son of Cleopatra, blood of the Lagidae);
and the Alexandrians rushed to the ceremony,
and got enthusiastic, and cheered
in greek, and egyptian, and some in hebrew,
enchanted by the beautiful spectacle --
although they full well knew what all these were worth,
what hollow words these kingships were.

As much as you can

Even if you cannot shape your life as you want it,
at least try this
as much as you can; do not debase it
in excessive contact with the world,
in the excessive movements and talk.

Do not debase it by taking it,
dragging it often and exposing it
to the daily folly
of relationships and associations,
until it becomes burdensome as an alien life.


From all I've done and all I've said
let them not seek to find who I've been.
An obstacle stood and transformed
my acts and way of my life.
An obstacle stood and stopped me
many times as I was going to speak.
My most unobserved acts,
and my writings the most covered -
thence only they will feel me.
But perhaps it is not worth to spend
this much care and this much effort for them to know me.
For - in a more perfect society -
someone else created like me,
will certainly appear and freely act.


While looking at a half-gray opal
I remembered two lovely gray eyes—
it must be twenty years ago I saw them.

We were lovers for a month.
Then he went away to work, I think in Smyrna,
and we never met again.

Those gray eyes will have lost their beauty—if he’s still alive;
that lovely face will have spoiled.

Memory, keep them the way they were.
And, memory, whatever of that love you can bring back,
whatever you can, bring back tonight.

Morning sea

Let me stop here. Let me, too, look at nature awhile.
The brilliant blue of the morning sea, of the cloudless sky,
the yellow shore; all lovely,
all bathed in light.

Let me stand here. And let me pretend I see all this
(I really did see it for a minute when I first stopped)
and not my usual day-dreams here too,
my memories, those images of sensual pleasure.

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