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Wednesday 15 May 2013

Words on Wednesday: Kavafy, Kontinues...

Here are some 'later' poems by Constantine Cavafy (1863 - 1933). Although they are not his 'last' work, so instead it probably counts as his 'middle period', coming from a productive time when Cavafy was in his late forties and into his fifties and publishing much more regularly. 

This is part two of three collections of some of my favourites of his poetry.

Unlike his earlier works, Cavafy is now (rather, in this period) much more open and eloquent about his sexuality. 

As before, all these poems come from 'C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems' Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard (London: Catto & Windus, 1998)

THE CITY (1910)

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart - like something dead - lies buried.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. 

You'll walk the same streets, grow old 
in the same neighbourhoods, will turn grey in these same houses.
You'll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there's no ship for you, there's no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.


Even if you can’t shape your life the way you want,
at least try as much as you can
not to degrade it
by too much contact with the world,
by too much activity and talk.

Do not degrade it by dragging it along,
taking it around and exposing it so often
to the daily silliness
of social relations and parties,
until it comes to seem a boring hanger-on.

“For the gods perceive future things, ordinary people things in the present, but the wise perceive things about to happen.”
Philostratos, Life of Apollonios of Tyana, viii, 7.
Ordinary mortals know what’s happening now,
the gods know what the future holds
because they alone are totally enlightened.
Of what’s to come the wise perceive
things about to happen.

Sometimes during moments of intense study
their hearing’s troubled: the hidden sound
of things approaching reaches them,
and they listen reverently, while in the street outside
the people hear nothing whatsoever. 


Try to keep them, poet,
those erotic visions of yours,
however few of them there are that can be stilled.
Put them, half-hidden, in your lines.
Try to hold them, poet,
when they come alive in your mind
at night or in the noonday brightness.

I'VE LOOKED SO MUCH . . . (1917)

I’ve looked on beauty so much
that my vision overflows with it.

The body’s lines. Red lips. Sensual limbs.
Hair as though stolen from Greek statues,
always lovely, even uncombed,
and falling slightly over pale foreheads.
Figures of love, as my poetry desired them
.... in the nights when I was young,
encountered secretly in those nights. 

BODY, REMEMBER . . . (1918)

Body, remember not only how much you were loved,
not only the beds you lay on,
but also those desires that glowed openly
in eyes that looked at you,
trembled for you in the voices -
only some chance obstacle frustrated them.
Now that it’s all finally in the past,
it seems almost as if you gave yourself
to those desires too - how they glowed,
remember, in eyes that looked at you,
remember, body, how they trembled for you in those voices.