He came to read –

C. P. Cavafy

He came to read. Two or three books
lie open: historians and poets.
But he read for just ten minutes and
gave up. He drowses on the couch.
He is utterly devoted to books –
but he is twenty-three years old, and he’s very handsome.
And this afternoon love spread
through his perfect flesh, his lips.
Through his flesh, so full of beauty,
spread the erotic glow,
spared any silly shame for the pleasure’s form.

[Published 1924]

Original Greek Poem

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

Come back

C. P. Cavafy

Come back often and seize me
lovely sensation, come back and seize me –
when memory of the body wakens
and old desire again swirls in the blood;
When lips and skin remember,
and hands feel like they touch again.

Come back often and seize me in the night,
when lips and skin remember…

[Published 1912]

Original Greek Poem

Monotony

C. P. Cavafy

One monotonous day follows another,
monotonous and indistinguishable. The same things
will happen, they’ll happen again –
the same moments come and go.

A month passes and brings another.
We can easily predict what comes next:
more of yesterday’s tedium.
And, eventually, tomorrow feels like tomorrow no more.

[Written 1898; Published 1908]

Original Greek Poem

Anna Dalassene

C. P. Cavafy

In the chrysobull which Alexios Komnenos put out
to honour his mother expressly,
the highly intelligent Lady Anna Dalassene –
who was remarkable in her works, in her manners –
there are various tributes.
Here let us poach from them
one phrase, beautiful and kind:
‘Those cold words, “mine” and “thine”, were never spoken.’

[Published 1927]

Original Greek Poem

Their start

C. P. Cavafy

Their lawless pleasure discharged,
they rose from the mattress
and dress hurriedly in silence.
They come out separately, stealthily from the house; and as
they walk somewhat uneasily on the street, it’s like
they suspect that something on them betrays
what sort of bed they had just lain on.

But what a win for the life of the artist.
Tomorrow, the day after, or in the years to come, will be written
the powerful verses that had their start here.

[Written 1915; Published 1921]

Original Greek Poem

Che fece… il gran rifiuto

C. P. Cavafy

To some people comes a day
that they must say the big Yes or the big No.
It is clear at once who has it ready in him,
the Yes, and saying it on he goes

with honour and assurance.
He who refuses has no regret. If he were asked again,
No he would say once more. But that no –
the right one – his whole life cripples him.

[Written 1899; Published 1901]

Original Greek Poem

Days of 1908

C. P. Cavafy

That year he found himself out of work
and so lived off card games,
backgammon and small loans.

A position, three pounds a month, at a small
stationers had been offered him.
But he turned it down without any hesitation.
It wouldn’t do. That wasn’t a wage for him,
a young man, fairly educated, and twenty-five years old.

He would win or lose two or three shillings a day.
The best the lad could manage out of card games and backgammon,
at the coffee shops of his class, the common ones,
try as he might to play smart, as much as he picked marks.
The loans, those were worse.
Rarely a crown, normally a half,
sometimes he settled for a shilling.

For a week or so, sometimes longer,
to recover from the frightful late nights
he cooled off at the baths, with a morning swim.

His clothes were a terrible mess.
He always put on the same suit,
a much faded suit of cinnamon.

O summer days of 1908,
from your sight, beautifully,
the cinnamon suit was barred.

Your sight preserved him
as he was when he took them off, when he tore them from him,
the unworthy clothes, and the mended underwear.
And he stood stark naked; perfectly handsome, a wonder.
His hair was uncombed and ruffled;
his limbs a little tanned
from morning undresses at the baths and on the beach.

[Published 1932]

Original Greek Poem