To the café’s entrance

C. P. Cavafy

Something they said near me directed
my attention to the café’s entrance.
And I saw the fine body which seemed
with his acute skill like Eros had formed it –
joyfully framing its shapely limbs;
raising its chiseled stature;
framing the face with devotion
and leaving with his hands’ caress
a feeling on the brow, the eyes, the lips.

[Published 1915]

Original Greek Poem

He’s the Man

C. P. Cavafy

An unknown – a stranger in Antioch – Edessan
writes much. And finally, look, the latest melody
is done. With that, eighty-three

poems in all. But such writing
wearied the poet, so much versifying,
and so much toil on Greek phrase,
and now everything is a burden to him. –

But one thought pulls him straight out
of despair – the sublime ‘He’s the Man’
that Lucian sometime heard in his sleep.

[Written 1898; Published 1909]

Original Greek Poem

Distant

C. P. Cavafy

I’d like to speak this memory…
But it’s effaced so, now… like nothing remains —
because it lies distant, in my first pubescent years.

Skin like made of jasmine…
That August — was it August? — night…
I hardly remember the eyes now. They were, I fancy, violet…
Ah yes, violet: a sapphirine violet.

[Written and published 1914]

Original Greek Poem

In the street

C. P. Cavafy

His nice face, a little sallow;
his brown eyes looking bloodshot;
twenty-five years old, but passing for twenty;
with something of the atelier in his style
– likely the colour of the tie, the shape of the collar –
he treads aimlessly in the street,
as though still hypnotised by the illicit pleasure,
by the highly illicit pleasure he has come into.

[Written 1913; Published 1916]

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

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

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

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 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

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