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

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