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