One night

C. P. Cavafy

The room was poor and miserable,
hidden above the crooked taverna.
The window had a view to the alley,
grimy and cramped. From below
drifted the sounds of some labourers
playing cards and carousing.

And there on the coarse and humble bed
I had love’s body, I had the intoxicating lips
voluptuous and rosy –
the rosy lips so potent, that even now
that I write, after so many years!,
in my empty home, I am drunk again.

[Published 1915]

Original Greek Poem

Before time could change them

For A. F.

C. P. Cavafy

They were greatly saddened at their parting.
They didn’t want it: it was the circumstances.
The need for a livelihood forced one of them
to flee far – New York or Canada.
Their love certainly wasn’t its former self.
The allure had gradually waned,
the allure had waned gravely.
But to be separated: they didn’t want it.
It was the circumstances. – Or maybe Fate
had appeared as an artist to separate them now
before their ardour froze, before Time could change them:
each for the other will be as if he’d remained always
the twenty-four year old, the beautiful lad.

[Published 1924]

Original Greek Poem

The mirror in the entrance

C. P. Cavafy

The grand house had in its entrance
a great mirror, very old,
bought at least eighty years earlier.

A very beautiful boy, a tailor’s apprentice
(on Sundays, an amateur athlete)
was standing with a bundle. He handed it
to someone from the household, who took it in
to produce a receipt. The tailor’s apprentice
was left alone, and waited.
He approached the mirror and stared into it
and straightened his tie. After five minutes
they brought him the receipt. He took it and left.

But the old mirror which had seen so much
in its long existence,
thousands of faces and things –
but the old mirror now rejoiced,
and was proud that it had displayed
pure beauty for a few minutes.

[Published 1930]

Original Greek Poem

The tobacconist’s window

C. P. Cavafy

They were standing amid many others
near an tobacconist’s illuminated window.
By chance their glances met,
and their illicit carnal desire
they expressed anxiously, haltingly.
Then, a few uneasy paces in the street –
until they smirked, and nodded slightly.

And after that the enclosed carriage ….
the sensual approach of bodies,
the locked hands, the locked lips.

[Published 1917]

Original Greek Poem