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The spellbinding verse of one of the most distinctive poetic voices of the twentieth centuryC P Cavafy is one of the most singular and poignant voices of twentieth century European poetry conjuring a magical interior world through lyrical evocations of remembered passions imagined monologues and dramatic retellings of his native Alexandria's ancient past Figures from antiuity speak with telling interruptions from the author in such poems as 'Anna Comnena' and 'You did not understand' while precise moments of history are seen with a sense of foreboding as in 'Ides of March' 'The God Abandoning Antony' and 'Nero's Deadline' And in poems that draw on his own life and surroundings Cavafy recalls illicit trysts or glimpses of beautiful young men in 'One Night' 'I have gazed so much' and 'The Café Entrance' and creates exuisite miniatures of everyday life in 'An Old Man' and 'Of the Shop' Winner of the prestigious Harold Morton Landon Translation Award 2009For than seventy years Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English speaking world With than 1700 titles Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors as well as up to date translations by award winning translators


10 thoughts on “The Selected Poems of Cavafy

  1. says:

    Great poems A few that I liked a lotVoicesIdeal voices the beloved voicesof those who have died or of those who arelost to us as if they were deadSometimes they speak to us in dreams;sometimes in thought the mind hears themAnd with their sounds for a moment returnsounds from our life’s first poetry –like music at night far off fading out CandlesThe days of the future stand before uslike a line of burning candles –golden candles warm with lifeBehind them stand the days of our pasta pitiful row of candles extinguishedthe nearest still sending up their smokecold and melted withered sticksI don’t want to look; their image makes me sadit saddens me to recall their kindlingI look ahead at the ones still burningI don’t want to turn and see with horrorhow uickly the line of shadow lengthenshow uickly the number of snuffed candles grows PrayerThe sea’s taken a sailor to her depths below –his mother still unaware rushes to golight a narrow candle before the Virgin’s shrinefor his swift return good weather or a signthat she struggles against the wind to hearBut as she bows and reiterates her prayerthe icon listens sorrowful and glumuite sure that her son will never come The Year 31 BC in AlexandriaFrom his small village on the city’s outskirtspowdered in dust from the journeythe peddler arrived ‘Frankincense’ and ‘gum’‘the finest oil’ and ‘perfumes for your hair’he cries through the streets But amid the tumultthe bands playing and the parades he can’t be heardHe is bumped jostled by the crowds untiltotally confused he asks ‘What is this madness?’Then someone tosses him the palace’s gigantic lie –that Antony is victorious in Greece Of Coloured GlassI am uite touched by one detailin the coronation at Blachernai of John Cantacuzenusand Irene daughter of Andronicus AsanBecause they had only a few precious stonesthe poverty of our wretched kingdom being so greatthey wore artificial gems hundreds of pieces made of glassred green and blue There is nothingbase or undignified in my viewabout these little bitsof coloured glass On the contrary they seemlike a sorrowful protestagainst the undeserved misfortunes of the crownThey are the symbols of what should have been wornof what assuredly ought to have been wornat the coronation of Lord John Cantacuzenusand his Lady Irene daughter of Andronicus Asan Anna ComnenaIn the prologue of her AlexiadAnna Comnena laments her widowhoodHer soul is awhirl ‘And with rivers of tears’ she tells us‘I bathe my eyes in sorrow for the tempests’ of her life‘sorrow for the insurrections’ she faced The grief burns‘in the very marrow of my bone in the rending of my soul’But the truth is there was but one griefthat this ambitious lady ever knew;only one profound regret did she feelthis haughty Greek lady even though she will not admit itshe never managed for all her cunningto take possession of the empire She watched as it was takensnatched from her very hands by the insolent John Nero’s DeadlineNero was not particularly concerned when he heardthe Delphic oracle’s prophecy‘Years seventy and three beware’He still had plenty of time to enjoy himselfHe is only thirty The deadline appointedby the god seems far enough awayto take precautions about any future dangersHe will return to Rome now a bit fatiguedbut fatigued in a delicious way from this journeywhere every day provided some new delight –in the Greek theatres the gardens and gymnasiathe evenings spent in the towns of Achaeaand yes above all the joy of those naked bodiesSo much for Nero Meanwhile in Spain Galbasecretly recruits and trains his forcesan old man aged seventy three The FootstepsOn an ebony bedsteadadorned with eagles made of coralNero lies deep in sleep – uiet unconscious happyin the prime of his body’s vigour;in the beautiful ardour of his youthBut in the alabaster hallthat holds the ancient shrine of the Ahenobarbithe Lares of his house are anxiousThese minor household gods are tremblingtrying to conceal their already negligible bodiesFor they heard a terrible noisea deadly sound spiralling up the staircaseiron soled footsteps shaking the stepsThe miserable Lares near fainting nowhuddle in the corner of the shrinejostling and stumbling over each otherone little god falling over the nextfor they knew what sort of noise it was;they recognize by now the footsteps of the Furies


  2. says:

    Cavafy's writing was shaped by a sense of fatalism and loss he lost his father and a family fortune in his childhood; as an adult he lost ten people he was really close to in twenty years; he found it difficult to adapt to parochialism in Alexandria the necessity of working for a living he worked in a ministry but supplemented his income with gambling and playing the stock market; he had to hide his homosexuality Fascinated by history and literature of ancient Greece and Byzantium in his poetry he built a cyclic endless vision of history happening here and now He distributed his poems to friends telling them every now and them to return them so that he could make the necessary corrections; he published rarely and reluctantly dividing his poems into the canon the repudiated and the hidden A poets' poetThe CityYou said 'I will go to another land; I will try another seaAnother city will turn up better than this oneHere everything I do is condemned in advanceand my heart like a dead man's lies buriedHow long can my mind remain in this swamp?Wherever I turn wherever I look I gazeon the ruins of my life here where I’ve spentand botched and wasted so many years'You will find no new land; you will find no other seasThis city will follow you You will wander the samestreets and grow old in the same neighborhoods;your hair will turn white in the same housesAnd you will always arrive in this city Abandon any hopeof finding another place No ship no road can take you thereFor just as you’ve ruined your life herein this backwater you’ve destroyed it everywhere on earth before 1911 1910translated by Avi SharonCavafy often uses the form of dialogue or dramatic monologue; what strikes me the most in this poem is how it changed between its first version In the Same City and the final one above the speaker's personal plea of the earlier version I hate the people here and they hate me here where I've lived half my life changes into a universal reflection on human fate and the fact that many of us carry a secret which in our view makes it impossible for us to find fulfillmentThe Afternoon SunThis room how well I know itNow they’re renting it and the one next dooras commercial space The whole house is nowoffices for brokers salesmen entire firmsAh this room how familiar it isHere near the door stood the sofaa Turkish carpet just before it;nearby was a shelf with two yellow vases;on the right—no facing it — was an armoire with a mirrorThe desk where he wrote stood in the middlealong with three large wicker chairsBeside the window lay the bedwhere we made love so many timesAll of these poor old furnishings must still exist somewhereBeside the window lay the bed;the afternoon sunlight reached only half way across itThat afternoon at four o’clock we partedjust for a week alas that week became forever 1919translated by Avi SharonAround 1919 Cavafy's erotic poems gained a decidedly homoerotic character – before that he would often write obscuring the lover's sex However convinced he was that his sexual orientation was absolutely normal and however strongly he believed that Later in a perfect society someone else made just like me is certain to appear and act freely he still felt that his society was not ready to accept him as he wasAs Much As You CanIf you cannot fashion your life as you would likeendeavour to do this at leastas much as you can do not trivialize itthrough too much contact with the worldthrough too much activity and chatterDo not trivialize your life by parading itrunning around displaying itin the daily stupidityof cliues and gatheringsuntil it becomes like a tiresome guest 1911translated by Avi SharonPathologically according to his friends shy and withdrawn Cavafy proposes to his readers life far from the frenzied crowd by their own rules untrivialized in the vein of the French proverb „pour vivre heureux vivons cachés”The God Abandoning AntonySuddenly around midnight when you hearan invisible troupe of players passwith exuisite music and solemn voices do not lament in vain your vanishing luck the many deedsundone all of your life plansgone astray no do not lamentEmboldened now and as one long preparedmake your farewell to her the Alexandria that is leavingAbove all do not fool yourself do not sayit was just a dream or that your ears deceived you;do not stoop to such empty hopesEmboldened now and as one long preparedas is fitting for someone like you worthy of such a cityapproach the window steadilyand listen stirred but not to the pointof whining or complaining as cowards doLet that music be your final joythe exuisite instruments of that mysterious troupeand make your farewell to her the Alexandria you are losing 1911translated by Avi SharonThis poem is based on a story related by Plutarch the night before Alexandria was conuered by Octavian Julius Caesar's son Mark Antony heard the voices of a spectral procession praising Dionysus his protective deity leaving the city and interpreted it as a sign that the god was withdrawing his blessing and support One of the many poems by Cavafy on the importance of losing beautifully and sticking to one's rules also when we know we are about to lose Thermopylae” Fun fact Mark Antony commited suicide that very nightIt took me a while to fully appreciate Cavafy and it was only this year when I understood his melancholic charm I find it interesting that though he does not seem to be taught much at a secondary school level my students really seemed to like him and did not find him too depressingNote on the translation I mostly prefer the Edmund KeeleyPhilip Sherrard translation but Avi Sharon's translations of some of the poems are pleasing Waiting for the Barbarians The Afternoon Sun The introduction is nothing to write home about but the historical notes were really usefulTitle image “Desiderium” by Edward Burne Jones 1873 The portrait of Maria Zambaco 1843–1914 CP Cavafy’s cousin the artist and model of the Pre Raphaelites via C P Cavafy twitter


  3. says:

    I love Cavafy and his totally free way of writing poetry This edition has both Greek and English poems The translation is pretty solid well made and the feeling is the same which is extrordinary His style has a lot to do with it and i would recommend it to people who are not familiar with poetry Amazing edition 3


  4. says:

    Utterly brilliant book of poems One of the best I have ever read Perhaps the best Many of the poems spoke to me directly especially during the time when I was reading them lockdown because of the coronavirus The themes of isolation nostalgia yearning hit me with great forceOne early poem in this volume ‘The City’ is perhaps my favourite poem by any poet It is one of the few poems I’ve read that made me shiver on first reading Aspirations are often or usually chained to doubts This particular poem is so close to the aspirations and doubts of my own heart that it is exactly adjacent to them “I will go to a new land I will try another sea” The rubric of escape and betterment of happiness elsewhere is the euation that has controlled my entire life In this poem the euation turns out to be erroneous self defeating “You will find no new land you will find no other seas” The unsatisfactory city is one we must inevitably take with us Yet I prefer to regard this poem as a warning and a prompting rather than a prediction or imprecation


  5. says:

    Part of The City so far my most favorite poem in the book You will find no new land; you will find no new seasThis city will follow you You will wander the samestreets and grow old in the same neighborhoods;your hair will turn white in the same housesAnd you will always arrive in this city Abandon any hopeof finding another place No ship no road can take you there For just as you've ruined your life herein this backwater you've destroyed it everywhere on earth I rejoiced in poems in which he recollects memories of previous lovers filled with explicitness with passion and desire and regret and longing and secrecy with admiration for beauty both physical and emotional no wonder i enjoyed so many of his works not the ones that are solely historical either because i found them cold or for my lack of knowledge as they mix reality and imagination and memory a city on decline and people living in this city and himself observing and mingling with these people


  6. says:

    It always amazes how sometimes one finds a book completely by chance and this book happens to be exactly what one needed at that very moment Those selected poems by Cavafy are such a book I knew the name but nothing else The cover caught my eyes I bought it And I immediately fell under the charm of those unusual poems which are like exuisite miniatures minuscule short stories that enthrall and evoke old faraway worlds Some poems take the reader back to the Greece of Antiuity and they're so vivid so full of life that they beautifully recreate the spirit atmosphere sense of life of those times Other poems are melancholic odes to the beauty of young men to forbidden desires to loves long gone to the allure of youth those are uite poignant and heartbreaking and their explicitly gay content remains stunningly powerful and contemporary Cavafy's writing isn't necessarily what one may expect from a traditional poet it's much than that


  7. says:

    Cavafy never published a volume of poetry in his lifetime instead he chose to publish each poem separately in magazines or small self published pamphlets given to anyone who's interested I think he did that on purpose considering the fact that he was famous enough to publish a full volumehaving to read these poems consecutively slowly becomes tiresome and boring since cavafy follows the exact same themes of greek history and homoeroticism poems that individually are uite wonderful and moving but after a while start all being predictable and all sounding the same non the less through these poems you could tell what kind of person cavafy was and what kind of poet and I definitely liked what I saw he wrote poetry for his own pleasure and happiness he was a rebel and a non conformist although slightly in denial of it despite his very reclusive lifestyle another wonderful thing about his poetry is unlike a lot of greek history themed poetry you dont really have to know the facts to follow the ideas and his style of poetry although revolving around the greek culture was apparently since I've never read greek poetry very Non greek and I could see that he was obviously a modern poetand lastly his attitude towards homosexuality he was born in 1863 and died in 1933 and as you may know thats not the funnest time to have gay sex but he realized what people thought of it what Christianity said of it but just simply dismissed it as bogus published slightly vague poetry about it and just lived on with grace thats pretty amazing I do however think his eroticism was a little too objectifying and did not deal with the emotional aspects and so it lacked the beauty it could have hadbut again it just got really boring to hear the same beautiful thoughts repeated over and over and over but every now and then an unexpected and beautifully written idea pops uphere are some of my favorite poems that you could just read online Voices Prayer The Horses of Achilles Done The God Abandoning Antony Insight Darius A Young Writer In His Twenty Fourth Year In The Same Space personal favorite I've also just read that the beauty of his poetry is almost completely lost in translation and thats super sad to hear


  8. says:

    Doth thou seeketh epigraphs?


  9. says:

    I have gazed so much on beautythat my eyes overflow with itI enjoyed Cavafy far than I anticipated and I expected to like him This book is organized chronologically and I admired the early poems the best Almost every one of the early ones I marked or annotated in some way for a great phrase image or impactful totality All of the poems are well executed and fall along a couple of themes glorying in the long rich history of the Greeks and celebrating male beauty Of course I delighted in the latter poems Sub themes include aging and memory and the contrast between Christian and pagan in Greek culture I believe this is a volume I will return to and cherish


  10. says:

    I came across a uote from one of Cavafy's poems while visiting an exhibition in Athens and I was intrigued enough to buy this small selection of his poems from the museum gift shop His directness and often melancholic style appealed to me as did the inspiration he drew from ancient historyMy favourites were for obvious reasons the historical ones Ithaca The God Abandons Anthony and Ionic but also the City I felt like his poems often echoed my own feelings about belonging and exploration and I see why he strikes a chord with so many people I definitely intend to give his entire 154 poetries a read