C. P. Cavafy

C
C. P. Cavafy
Reflections of an Old Man on Writing
The author has grown old. He is eighty now. He is a little surprised by the success of his prose and his poems, but as much by his longevity. Though his many stubborn beliefs—together with the approval of his readership—aid in the decline of his faculties. They have not yet failed completely, however. He recognizes that alongside the welcoming applause of the majority, there is the mild chill of the minority. The young are not interested in his work. Their movement is not his movement, their style not his style. They think and above all write differently. The old writer reads and studies their works open-mindedly but finds them inferior to his own. He considers the new school much less important—or at least not better—than his own. He believes that if he could, he would write in this new way. Though not now, obviously. It would take him eight to ten years to absorb the spirit of the new style—and it is almost time for him to go.

There are moments when he grows frustrated with their ideas. Why are they so important? A handful of young people who for some reason do not like his work? Millions admire him. But this makes him feel like he is going round in circles. He started this way, after all. He was one of fifty or so young people who developed a new idea, wrote in a different style, helped change the opinions of millions who revered a handful of the older generation and one or two out-of-fashion artists. (The deaths of the latter aided his cause greatly.) Thinking in this way, the old writer concludes that art must be a thing of vanity if fashions can change so quickly. Indeed, the work of these young people will be as ephemeral as his own—though this does not comfort him.

Reflecting further afield, he notes bitterly that from the age of forty or fifty the enthusiasms and artistry of any author begin to appear eccentric or risible. Maybe—it is one of his hopes—they will cease to be eccentric or risible aged one hundred and fifty or even two hundred. At that point, instead of  appearing démodé, they are classic.

He also has doubts about the brazen and sometimes conceptual assessments he made in much of his criticism. Those writers he criticized when he was young and later replaced—maybe he wrote what he did because he could not sympathize with them—not owing to their lack of genius, but because the act of criticism is probably corrupted by contemporary concerns—fashion again. Superficially, his criticism resembles that which the young people of today write about him. His opinions have not changed—at least the major ones. Most of those old writers he would criticize today as he did sixty years ago. But this is not any great proof that his criticism is well-founded. It is only proof that, mentally, he is still the same young man.Translated from the Modern Greek
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The Afternoon Sun
This room, how well I know it.
Now they’re renting it, and the one next to it,
as offices. The whole house has become
an office building for agents, businessmen, companies.

This room, how familiar it is.

The couch was here, near the door,
a Turkish carpet in front of it.
Close by, the shelf with two yellow vases.
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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 honor to honor, 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.
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The City
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 lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”
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In Sparta
He didn’t know, King Kleomenis, he didn’t dare—
he just didn’t know how to tell his mother
a thing like that: Ptolemy’s demand,
to guarantee their treaty, that she too go to Egypt
and be held there as a hostage—
a very humiliating, indecorous thing.
And he would be about to speak yet always hesitate,
would start to tell her yet always stop.
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In the Same Space
The setting of houses, cafés, the neighborhood
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.
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Ithaka
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
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Waiting for the Barbarians
What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.


Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What’s the point of senators making laws now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.


Why did our emperor get up so early,
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