The afternoon sun

C. P. Cavafy

This room, how well I know it.
Now it’s rented out, it and its neighbour,
as offices. The whole house is now
offices of middlemen, and merchants, and companies.

Oh this room, how familiar it is.

Near the door here was the couch,
and in front of it a Turkish rug,
nearby, the shelf with two yellow vases.
On the right – no, opposite – a wardrobe with a mirror.
In the middle, the table where he wrote,
and the three large wicker chairs.
Beside the window was the bed
where we romanced so many times.

They’re out there somewhere, poor things.

Beside the window was the bed;
the afternoon sun would bisect it.

… At four in the afternoon, we separated
for one week only… Pity –
that week became unending.

[Written 1918; Published 1919]

Original Greek Poem

Voices

C. P. Cavafy

Ideal and adored voices
of those who have died, or of those who are
as lost to us as the dead.

Sometimes they speak in our dreams.
Sometimes the mind hears them in its thought.

And with their sound return for a moment
sounds of our life’s first poetry –
like music, at night, distant, fading.

[Written 1903; Published 1904]

Original Greek Poem

Nero’s time

C. P. Cavafy

Nero was not upset when he heard
the report of the Delphic Oracle.
“Beware the age of seventy-three.”
He had time yet to enjoy himself.
He’s thirty years old. Ample
is the time the god grants him
to take care of the eventual dangers.

Presently he’ll return to Rome, a little tired,
but exquisitely so from this outing,
which was all days of indulgence –
at theatres, in gardens, the gym…
Achaean cities’ evenings…
Ah, but especially the delight of naked bodies.

That’s Nero. And in Spain Galba
secretly musters his army and exercises it,
the old man of seventy-three.

[Written 1915; Published 1918]

Original Greek Poem

Just occasionally

C. P. Cavafy

He is an old man. Worn out and hunched over,
crippled by the years, and by excess,
slowly shuffling, he crosses the alley.
And yet, as he enters his home to bury
his misery and decline, he contemplates
the stake he still has in youth.

Young men recite his verses now.
His visions pass before their lively eyes.
Their vigorous, wanton minds,
their graceful and taut bodies,
stir to his avowal of beauty.

[Written 1911; Published 1913]

Original Greek Poem

Understanding

C. P. Cavafy

My juvenile years, my libertine life –
now I see their sense so clearly.

How idle the regret, how futile…

But I didn’t see the sense in them then.

Through the dissolute life of my formative years
bled the instincts of my poetry,
the contours of my art were mapped out.

That’s why the regret would never stick,
and my resolutions to moderate, to change,
would last two weeks at most.

[Written 1915; Published 1918]

Original Greek Poem

I went

C. P. Cavafy

I didn’t hold back. I let go and I went.
Into delights which were half real,
half moulded in the mind,
through the bright night I went.
And I drank strong wines, the way
the stars of pleasure drink.

[Written 1905; Published 1913]

Original Greek Poem

Julian, observing contempt

C. P. Cavafy

“Therefore observing that there is much contempt
for the gods among us” – he says severely.
Contempt. But what did he expect, really?
Let him found a new religious order, if that’s what he wanted.
Let him write to the High-priest of Galatia, or others in that mob,
with prompts and commands to his heart’s content.
His friends were not Christian;
that much was positive. But they couldn’t what’s more
cavort like him (brought up a Christian)
with the precepts of a new religion,
absurd in both theory and practice.
They were Greeks, after all. Nothing in excess, Caesar.

[Published 1923]

Original Greek Poem

In a town of Osroene

C. P. Cavafy

Bruised from a bar brawl they brought us
our friend Remon yesterday about midnight.
Through the windows we left wide open
lighted the moon his lovely body on the bed.
We are a hash here: Syrians, Greeks, Armenians, Medes.
Such is Remon too. But last night as the moon
lighted his charming face,
our thoughts turned to the Platonic Charmides.

[Written 1916; Published 1917]

Original Greek Poem

The god abandons Antony

C. P. Cavafy

When abruptly at midnight you hear
an invisible troupe go by
with exquisite music, with shouts –
your luck that now rots, your efforts
that failed, your life’s plans
that turned out all delusive – do not vainly mourn them.
As though long prepared, as though courageous,
bid farewell to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all do not pretend, don’t say it was
a dream, that your ears were deceived;
don’t resort to such vain hopes.
As though long prepared, as though courageous,
as becomes you who were entrusted such a city,
firmly approach the window,
and listen with feeling, but not
with the pleas and complaints of cowards,
to the sounds, one final indulgence,
to the exquisite instruments of the mystical troupe,
and say goodbye to her, the Alexandria you are losing.

[Written 1910; Published 1911]

Original Greek Poem

Finished

C. P. Cavafy

In fear and suspicion
with worried mind and wounded eyes
we cower and plan how we can possibly
escape the inevitable
danger that horribly threatens us.
But we get it wrong, our path omits the danger;
the messages were false
(or we didn’t hear them, or we didn’t understand them well).
Another catastrophe, one we never imagined,
sudden, swiftly falls upon us
and – no more time! – captures us unaware.

[Written 1910; Published 1911]

Original Greek Poem