Constantinos P. Cavafis
Kωνσταντίνος Πέτρου Kαβάφης
(1863 - 1933)
καφενείου του βοερού το μέσα μέρος
στων άθλιων γηρατειών την καταφρόνεια
που γέρασε πολύ· το νοιώθει, το κυττάζει.
συλλογιέται η Φρόνησις πώς τον εγέλα·
ορμές που βάσταγε· και πόση
απ' το πολύ να σκέπτεται και να θυμάται
No café, no lugar de dentro na zoeira turva
senta-se um velho na mesa se curva
com um jornal diante dele, sem companhia.
E no desdém da velhice miserável
pensa como usou tão pouco o tempo deleitável
em que força, e eloquência e beleza possuía.
Sabe que envelheceu muito; sente-o, é visível.
E contudo o tempo em que era novo ao mesmo nível
do de ontem. Que espaço apressado, que espaço apressado.
E considera como burlava dele a Prudência:
e como nela tinha confiança sempre – que demência! –
A perjura que dizia: “Amanhã. O tempo é demorado”.
Lembra-se de impulsos a que punhas freio; e sem medida
a alegria que sacrificava. Cada história perdida
agora troça da sua desmiolada sageza.
...... Mas do muito que foi pensando e não esquece
o velho atordoou-se. E adormece
no café apoiado sobre a mesa.
Κυττάζοντας ένα οπάλιο μισό γκρίζο
Για ένα μήνα αγαπηθήκαμε.
Θ' ασχήμισαν - αν ζει - τα γκρίζα
Μνήμη μου, φύλαξέ τα συ ως ήσαν.
Σ' ένα βιβλίο παλιό-
βιβλίο παληό -περίπου εκατό ετών-
Πλήν μάλλον ήρμοζε, «- του έρωτος των άκρως αισθητών».
ήταν φανερό σαν έβλεπες το έργον
NUM LIVRO VELHO
Num livro velho - mais ou menos de há cem anos -
Δεν εδεσμεύθηκα. Τελείως αφέθηκα κ'
As traduções para português (salvo outra indicação) são de Joaquim Manuel Magalhães e de Nikos Pratsinis e foram extraídas de Poemas e Prosas - Konstandinos Kavafis, Relógio de Água, 1994
Aqui está, porém, alguém que não gosta de Cavafis.
JANUARY 10 2017
A poem by C. P. Cavafy, translated by Ian Parks; introduced by Andrew McCulloch
Pharos and Pharillon (in his TLS review, John Middleton Murry notes that Forster “first gained the courage of his own vision” in Cavafy’s Alexandria), and he worked hard both to persuade Cavafy to allow his poems to be translated and to place them in British journals: “Come Back” – a poem from 1912 – was one of four that appeared in Oxford Outlook in February 1924. But a combination of Cavafy’s own ambivalence about publication (he circulated his poems in pamphlet form privately among friends) and the difficulty of getting Cavafy’s favoured translator, George Valassopoulo, to produce English versions quickly enough meant that no collection in English appeared in the poet’s lifetime. Not until 1935, after the entire Cavafy canon had been posthumously published in Greek, did John Mavrogordato translate it into English, and even this did not appear until 1951.
The Complete Poems, “the erotic world he depicts is one of casual pickups and short-lived affairs”). But it is a reticence perhaps matched by the poet’s language. For Cavafy, an immediate impression is not enough for a poem: it “must age, must fade itself, with time”. In this poem, for example, it seems that the speaker, beyond the specific sexual experience that “lips and flesh remember”, is creating a memorial to the shaping power of love.
he sensuous feelings that I love. Come back
as lips and flesh remember,
Come back and hold me through the night
C. P. CAVAFY
Επέστρεφε συχνά και παίρνε με,
αγαπημένη αίσθησις επέστρεφε και παίρνε με --
όταν ξυπνά του σώματος η μνήμη,
κ' επιθυμία παληά ξαναπερνά στο αίμα·
όταν τα χείλη και το δέρμα ενθυμούνται,
κ' αισθάνονται τα χέρια σαν ν' αγγίζουν πάλι.
Επέστρεφε συχνά και παίρνε με την νύχτα,
όταν τα χείλη και το δέρμα ενθυμούνται....
Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης
By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page BW12
Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933), as a Greek in his Egyptian city of Alexandria, was both native and alien. His work creates an Alexandria where neighborhood bars adjoin eternal mythology, and personal desires reflect the communal pageant of history. He considers large matters like the birth of Christianity and the decline of Rome as they are revealed in particular lives.
Cavafy is a great poet of human imperfection and exaltation. His poems devise beguiling combinations of candor and mystery, plain speech and elevation:
Too bad that, cut out as you are
for grand and noble acts,
this unfair fate of yours
never helps you out, always prevents
that cheap habits get in your way,
pettiness, or indifference.
And how terrible the day you give in
(the day you let go and give in)
and take the road for Susa
to find King Artaxerxes,
who, propitiously, gives you a place
at his court
and offers you satrapies and things
like that --
things you don't want at all,
though, in despair, you accept them
just the same.
You're longing for something else, aching for other things:
praise from the Demos and the
that hard-won, that priceless
the Agora, the Theatre, the Crowns
You can't get any of these from
you'll never find any of these in
and without them, what kind of life
will you live?
Τι συμφορά, ενώ είσαι καμωμένος
In Cavafy's tragic appreciation of the world, our failings and vanities are not the opposite of human dignity but at its heart. Here is Stuart Dischell's jaunty, comic, American version of something similar:
Days of Me
When people say they miss me,
I think how much I miss me too,
Me, the old me, the great me,
Lover of three women in one day,
Modest me, the best me, friend
To waiters and bartenders, hearty
Laugher and name rememberer,
Proud me, handsome and hirsute
In soccer shoes and shorts
On the ball fields behind MIT,
Strong me in a weightbelt at the gym,
Mutual sweat dripper in and out
Of the sauna, furtive observer
Of the coeducated and scantily clad,
Speedy me, cyclist of rivers,
Goose and peregrine falcon
Counter, all season venturer,
Chatterer-up of corner cops,
Groundskeepers, mothers with strollers,
Outwitter of panhandlers and bill
Collectors, avoider of levies, excises,
Me in a taxi in the rain,
Pressing my luck all the way home.
That's me at the dice table, baby,
Betting come, little Joe, and yo,
Blowing the coals, laying thunder,
My foot on top a fifty dollar chip
Some drunk spilled on the floor,
Dishonest me, evener of scores,
Eager accepter of the extra change,
Hotel towel pilferer, coffee spoon
Lifter, fervent retailer of others'
Humor, blackhearted gossiper,
Poisoner at the well, dweller
In unsavory detail, delighted sayer
Of the vulgar, off course belier
Of the true me, empiric builder
Newly haircutted, stickerer-up
For pals, jam unpriser, medic
To the self-inflicted, attorney
To the self-indicted, petty accountant
And keeper of the double books,
Great divider of the universe
And all its forms of existence
Into its relationship to me,
Fellow trembler to the future,
Thin air gawker, apprehender
Of the frameless door.
(C.P. Cavafy's poem "The Satrapy," translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, can be found in his "Collected Poems." Princeton Univ. Translation copyright © 1975 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Stuart Dischell's poem "Days of Me" appears in his book "Dig Safe." Penguin. Copyright © 2003 by Stuart Dischell.)
By Mary Karr
Sunday, April 20, 2008; BW12
Before there were rappers hollering about who they were "gonna mack up on," before Bob Dylan sang, with ruthless glee, "How does it feel/to be on your own," there were poets who brought laser-keen invective to fending off heartbreak. Odi et amo, Catullus wrote in Latin: I hate and I love. If we could just do one or the other, we wouldn't suffer such inner twists as bitter poems require, and there might not be so many nasty songs and poems.
Take Greek poet C.P. Cavafy. I always imagine he penned his poem "The City" after he'd been seduced and abandoned by some traveling Romeo, since the first stanza makes use of quotation marks -- separating the poet from the speaker.
You said: "I'll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I've spent so many years, wasted them,
destroyed them totally."
Η ΠόλιςΕίπες· «Θα πάγω σ' άλλη γή, θα πάγω σ' άλλη θάλασσα,
Μια πόλις άλλη θα βρεθεί καλλίτερη από αυτή.
Κάθε προσπάθεια μου μια καταδίκη είναι γραφτή·
κ' είν' η καρδιά μου -- σαν νεκρός -- θαμένη.
Ο νους μου ως πότε μες στον μαρασμό αυτόν θα μένει.
Οπου το μάτι μου γυρίσω, όπου κι αν δω
ερείπια μαύρα της ζωής μου βλέπω εδώ,
που τόσα χρόνια πέρασα και ρήμαξα και χάλασα».
In the second stanza comes the poet's smackdown comeback. Ever leave a painful conversation thinking, "I wish I'd said . . ."? Cavafy says it for you:
You won't find a new country, won't find another shore.
The city will always pursue you.
You'll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You'll always end up in this city. Don't hope for things elsewhere:
there's no ship for you, there's no road.
Now that you've wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you've destroyed it everywhere in the world.
Καινούριους τόπους δεν θα βρεις, δεν θάβρεις άλλες
Η πόλις θα σε ακολουθεί. Στους δρόμους θα γυρνάς
τους ίδιους. Και στες γειτονιές τες ίδιες θα γερνάς·
και μες στα ίδια σπίτια αυτά θ' ασπρίζεις.
Πάντα στην πόλι αυτή θα φθάνεις. Για τα αλλού -- μη ελπίζεις --
δεν έχει πλοίο για σε, δεν έχει οδό.
Ετσι που τη ζωή σου ρήμαξες εδώ
στην κώχη τούτη την μικρή, σ' όλην την γή την χάλασες.
We could interpret this poem as being about the payback inevitable for the pompously self-deceiving. Know thyself, Socrates taught, for not knowing is costly.
And yet, when a girlfriend of mine watched her husband of 30 years drive off in a fancy sports car to "find himself," she took comfort in those words of Cavafy's set down more than a century ago. They fit perfectly on a postcard, which she mailed off to aforementioned husband -- which proves the usefulness of poetry, if not its higher-mindedness.
(C.P. Cavafy's poem "The City" can be found in "C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems, Princeton Univ., 1975. Translation copyright 1975 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.)
Mary Karr is a poet and the Jesse Truesdell Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University.
The naked civil servant
CP Cavafy's life was an enigma, but his poems about ancient Alexandria and his longings for a 'Hellenic kind of pleasure' offer insights into a passionate nature
Saturday August 14, 2004
I was 18 when I heard David Hockney on the radio, talking about his Cavafy etchings, inspired by a modern Greek poet from Alexandria. I didn't know the name of Cavafy, but he sounded exotic, intriguing. He had a passion for the Greek and Roman past. He also had a passion for young men. He wasn't afraid to write about sex; his poems sounded oozingly erotic. I rushed out and bought the Complete Poems and read all night.
I liked the historical poems such as "Ithaka", and "Waiting for the Barbarians", and "The God Abandons Antony". I liked "Kaisarion", about the fate of the doomed son of Cleopatra, and "Footsteps", about the Furies swarming upstairs to nobble the Emperor Nero for murdering his mother. I loved the way Cavafy personalised history, making it seem as if the Battle of Magnesia took place last Tuesday. I loved his languid repetitions, his melancholy voice, his sad poems about beautiful dead boys, and the frisson in his poems about live ones. I was hooked, and it was all the better because Cavafy seemed a bit risqué, a bit naughty, so that to read him was both revelation and rebellion. Cavafy became, then, my own forbidden pleasure.
Constantine P Cavafy was born in Alexandria in 1863, the ninth son of a prosperous merchant who died young, leaving the family in financial difficulties. From the age of nine to 16, he lived in England. Thus his love of English, though his first language was Greek (which he spoke with a slight Oxford accent). Later he spent three years in Constantinople, but after he was 22 Cavafy never left Alexandria.
For 30 years he worked as a provisional clerk in the Ministry of Irrigation (Third Circle), translating documents and dealing with correspondence. Cavafy lived above a brothel in the Rue Lepsius - about which he said, "Where could I live better? Below, the brothel caters for the flesh. And there is the church which forgives sin. And there is the hospital where we die."
In his spare time he wrote his poems, trawling the history of the Hellenic world for subject matter - Athens, Rome, Antioch, Rhodes, Beirut, Byzantium - but always returning to write of the glorious Greco-Roman past of Alexandria. After his mother's bedtime, the young Cavafy had his adventures, picking up Greek boys in the Quartier Attarine, pursuing brief encounters with strangers. Often he recycled his experiences, turning his beautiful boys, his furtive embraces, into poetry: always he kept up this parallel outpouring of subtly erotic poems about the Alexandria of his own time.
Cavafy wrote about 70 poems a year, but ripped most of them up. Some he put in a drawer and worked at for as long as 15 years. He never published a word, but distributed individual sheets among a circle of trusted friends. Always he revised and polished, never calling a poem finished, not even the ones he had printed.
In middle age he dyed his hair, and asked for the wrinkles to be left out of his portrait. Later, throat cancer reduced him to a whisper. After a tracheotomy he lost his voice altogether and had to communicate by way of pencilled notes. On his 70th birthday in 1933 he wrote a full stop and drew a circle around it. That afternoon he was buried.
Cavafy's life remains something of an enigma, and it's all the more fascinating for that. But the solution to the enigma lies, quite clearly, in his poems.
Thirty years after first reading Cavafy, by some quirk of fate I am writing about ancient Alexandria myself, and the Greek dynasty of the Ptolemies, who built the city - so that I am treading on Cavafy's ground. For a long time I refused to come here - feeling it was enough to conjure up the past inside my head. When I did at last set out for the real Alexandria, it was with Cavafy in my pocket.
Alexandria has, of course, changed in the 71 years since Cavafy's death, but it still feels like his city. The cafés where he watched the world go by are still in business. The street markets and flaking 19th-century apartment blocks have not been swept away. Deep underground lies the buried city of the Macedonian Greeks and, somewhere, the lost tomb of Alexander the Great. Being here is like walking about inside Cavafy's poems.
Another Greek poet, George Seferis, wrote that Cavafy's life was uninteresting, that outside the poems he doesn't exist. But I find his quiet life very interesting. There is a terrible poignancy about a man who lived for poetry yet never offered a volume of poems for sale in his lifetime. More poignant still is the shipwreck that is his private life. Cavafy addresses nobody as beloved. There is no you in his work. Instead he hoards up the fragments of his ephemeral loves, keeps his memories alive, tries to defeat time. Memory alone survives, and is transformed into immortal poems: Cavafy is in them, and in "Hidden Things" he throws away the masks of history: "From my most unnoticed actions, /my most veiled writing - / from these alone will I be understood." It's clear that he wants us to read between the lines.
Cavafy's homosexuality made him what he was. Sometimes he hides it, often he fights against it, but gradually he reveals his true self. He dislikes keeping secret what he feels is natural. He wants to be open about his longing for "deviate, sensual delight", his lust for handsome young men. He yearns for "the dream-like face, the figure shaped for and dedicated to the Hellenic kind of pleasure".
In "The Twenty-Fifth Year of his Life", this is surely Cavafy talking: "Of course he tries not to give himself away. / But sometimes he almost doesn't care. / Besides, he knows what he's exposing himself to, / he's come to accept it: quite possibly this life of his / will land him in a devastating scandal."
In "Dangerous Thoughts" he goes back to the 6th century AD to speak through the lips of Myrtias, a handsome young Syrian student in Alexandria, steeling himself to follow his inclinations regardless of what anybody thinks of him: "I won't fear my passions like a coward; / I'll give my body to sensual pleasures, / to enjoyments I've dreamed of, / to the most audacious erotic desires, / to the lascivious impulses of my blood..." Always Cavafy weighs up the hated present against the beloved past, and finds the present wanting.
The public Cavafy is a charming, respectable gentleman with a passion for accurate historical detail, but in "Aimilianos Monai" it all sounds like a shield against the hostile world: "Out of talk, appearance, and manners / I'll make an excellent suit of armour; / and in this way I'll face malicious people / without the slightest fear of weakness."
At the other end of his life we find a different Cavafy, who says: "The ageing of my body and my beauty is like a blow from a frightful knife." He lets himself go, and becomes a filthy old man in a stained overcoat, who is attractive to nobody, but whose desires have not passed away, an old man with wandering hands - whom young men have to be warned about. Timos Malanos's Memoirs preserve a picture of Cavafy's "whole soul concentrated in his glance and the touch of his hand, ready to hazard in my direction a movement as of a carnivorous plant". The old man has one consolation: "However much his life has worn him out, / one blessing remains: he still has his memory."
In the Cavafy Museum, housed in his second-floor apartment in the Rue Lepsius (now Sharm el-Sheikh), I saw Cavafy's death mask, his brass bed, desk, books, and family photographs. I looked out on to his balcony and remembered the anecdote about his neighbours in the brothel below: "Poor things, one must be sorry for them. They receive some disgusting people, some monsters, but (and his voice took on a deep ardent tone) they receive some angels, some angels." Cavafy's angels are still everywhere in Alexandria.
In the maze of Ladies' Alley I caught sight of a young man of 23 or so, standing in front of a wall stacked high with bolts of cloth, looking out for customers, and I thought of "He Asked About the Quality": "They kept on talking about the merchandise - / but the only purpose: that their hands might touch / over the handkerchiefs, that their faces, their lips, / might move closer together as though by chance - / a moment's meeting of limb against limb."
Near Fort Qaitbey at dusk I thought of "One of Their Gods", and the young man so beautiful that the citizens of Selefkia think there is a god walking through the streets. Down in the Roman catacombs of Kom es-Shoqafa I couldn't help thinking of Cavafy's "Tomb of Iasis": "I, Iasis, lie here - famous for my good looks in this great city... / But from being considered so often a Narcissus and Hermes, / excess wore me out, killed me. Traveller, / if you're an Alexandrian, you won't blame me./ You know the pace of our life - it's fever, it's absolute/ devotion to pleasure." Beside Cavafy's grave in the Greek cemetery I thought of "the beautiful bodies of those who died before growing old" and of Cavafy's obsession with lost time,.
Here in Egypt, Cavafy seems very like the last contributor to the Greek Anthology, reinventing for modern times the exquisite ancient Greek erotic poem after the manner of Strato of Sardis and the Musa Puerilis. He is the heir and true successor to the great ancient Alexandrian poets Callimachus and Theocritus. His poems, like theirs, are delicate, usually short - like snapshots, like broken fragments, like sparkling bits of mosaic. He shares the ancients' love of the miniature.
Cavafy was born both behind and ahead of his times -Marinetti saluted him as a Futurist; poet Desmond O'Grady sees him as a Cubist. At the heart of his work lies a great howl of injustice, that because of the way he wanted to live and love, the only way he could love - what he calls "the abnormal form of pleasure" - he must lead a life of shame and fear and secrecy.
In 1923, Cavafy's friend EM Forster wrote: "Such a writer can never be popular. He flies both too slowly and too high..." But times change, and Cavafy's reputation is growing.
Rereading Cavafy got really interesting at the stage of comparing the different versions, when I decided that Cavafy is un translatable, that we still don't have a really fine English translation of Cavafy, and I wanted to read the original Greek. The efforts of Rae Dalven, John Mavrogordato, Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard all have their fine moments, but it's impossible to reproduce in English Cavafy's strict syllabics and rhyme schemes. What, then, do we have left of Cavafy in translation? We have his unique elegiac voice, his unmistakable tone of voice that feels like the voice of the past, like the voice of Alexandria personified.
· Duncan Sprott's most recent book is The House of the Eagle, published by Faber, price £12.99.
PÚBLICO, Mil Folhas, 21 de Janeiro de 2006
Magnífica tradução de Os Poemas de Konstandinos Kavafis levada a cabo por Joaquim Manuel Magalhães e Nikos Pratzinis está agora disponível numa edição bilingue.
Jorge Gomes Miranda
Os Poemas (edição bilingue)
Autor: Konstandinos Kavafis
Tradução, prefácio e notas: Joaquim Manuel Magalhães e Nikos Pratsinis
Editor: Relógio D’Água, 473 pp.
Em “Os Poemas”, de Konstandinos Kavafis (1863-1933), a poesia é o encontro entre uma leitura questionante do real e o conhecimento alargado da história, entendida como memória de um lugar, leito de ruínas de outros tempos e lugares. Aqui, o método poético inspira-se ainda no imprevisto, na troca de um tempo de plenitude, sexo e alma; significa risco e imaginação nos gestos sinónimos de outros, transfigurados numa relação artesanal entre autor e poema.
Nesta magnífica tradução pois respeita a minúcia e os escrúpulos linguísticos e sintácticos que o autor dedicou aos originais ,levada a cabo por Joaquim Manuel Magalhães e Níkos Pratzinis, vestígios do(s) outro(s) poderemos rastreá-los em inúmeros poemas de sensual idade temática e técnica, onde mora o ímpeto de corpos belos, vivos ou picturais; poemas amorosos, de sonoridades acariciadoras, não obedecendo a outra lei que a do seu magma vital, e que resgatam o prodígio do quotidiano, a memória de uma intensa deriva por quartos, cafés, ruas, tascos e lupanares mar de chamas “encaminhado/ para amor estéril e desaprovado”(p. 303). É este, por conseguinte, um registo de pendor biográfico, desvelador de um conhecimento profundo da essência humana do poeta. E que extraídos emocionantes escombros da paixão uma luz exaltadora da vida e uma grande fidelidade à própria experiência, como um labor que se vai tecendo e destecendo, levando dentro de si tempo da vida do seu autor. Um empreendimento em vista a tornar a existência mais inteligível e um pouco mais humana.
Auden afirma, na introdução a uma antologia inglesa dos poemas de Kavafis, ser este um mestre na apresentação de uma cena, de um sentimento intenso, ou de uma ideia (frequentemente irónica), em versos directos e sem ornamento”. Acrescenta que os seus principais temas são “o amor, a arte, e a política, no seu sentido grego original”. Grosso modo, e na esteira de inúmeros hermeneutas desta obra central para o entendimento de muita da melhor poesia do século XX, podemos encontrar na sua obra três grupos principais de poemas: os de pulsão erótica; os de recorte histórico, que nos falam do mundo lascinante do Oriente helénico, desde a antiguidade até ao presente; e, por fim, um terceiro grupo de poemas breves, que expressam uma ideia, geralmente melancólica ou de consciência da temporalidade, através de imagens simples e poderosas. Neles, a fidelidade a uma emoção, e a beleza como medida do mundo.
Kavafis é um poeta que usa a história e as alusões mitológicas. A sua Grécia é a Grécia da diáspora, do mundo helenístico e pós-helenístico. Saído de uma diáspora oriental, este poeta eleva-se contra todos os integrismos, ao afirmar que o helenismo não tem fronteiras senão as do espírito, pois para lá da morte, e do apagamento dos impérios e dos valores, a única vitória fundadora é a da dignidade humana. Lembrando-nos que os gregos possuem um grande sentido de identidade local, Kavafis, sendo sobretudo um poeta histórico porque possui uma visão histórica e não porque versifica a história, mistura o contemporâneo e a antiguidade, escolhendo trazer os seus deuses e heróis para a terra, sem contudo dar ao poema um tom heróico ou de celebração.
Neste livro imprevisível e rebelde, irrompe um ciclo de poemas sobre a íngreme arte da escrita: “A Teócrito queixava-se /um dia o novo poeta Euménès; / Há dois anos que escrevo e apenas fiz um idílio [...] Ai de mim, é alta vejo / muito alta a escada da Poesia”; Disse Teócrito; “Estas palavras / são impróprias e blasfémias. / E se estás no primeiro degrau, deves / ser orgulhoso e feliz assim./ Aqui onde chegaste, tudo é pouco;/quanto fizeste, grande glória.” (pág. 211)
Uma distinta unidade temática é constituída pelos poemas que colocam em contraponto pagãos e cristãos, ascetismo e impermanência: “Fortalecido com teoria e estudo, / eu as minhas paixões não vou temer como cobarde./ O meu corpo aos prazeres vou dar, /aos deleites sonhados, / aos desejos eróticos mais audazes, / aos ímpetos lascivos de meu sangue, sem / medo nenhum, pois sempre que queira / e terei vontade, fortalecido / como estarei com teoria e estudo / nos momentos críticos hei-de encontrar / o meu espírito, como dantes, ascético.” (pág. 105).
Para lá do estrito plano do desejo e das sensações há uma sabedoria que inclui uma meditação sobre a morte, um contemplar da existência a partir de uma distância grave e inteligente. O tempo é sentido como envelhecimento e destruição, engano e logro. Dai, também a utilização da elegia erótica, do epigrama funerário ou dos poemas do destino. O corpo, centro incorruptível do seu universo carnal, é um território profundamente sujeito à inclemência da passagem do tempo; do qual nada, nem mesmo a solidão ou o desconhecimento do caminho, o pode salvar ou consolar, pois “fundimos e planeamos o que fazer/para evitar o perigo/ [...] No entanto equivocamo-nos, não está esse no caminho;[..] Outra catástrofe, que não m a g i n á vamos , 1 b r Li 5C a, torrencial cai sobre nós, /e desprevenidos como teríamos tempo arrebata-nos.” (pág. 55 )
Kavafís, como sabemos, era muito escrupuloso: corrigia obsessivameute os seus versos; por vezes estes repousavam dez anos e só depois eram retomados. Muitos dos poemas, o que é conseguido soberanamente na tradução, apresentam, na versão grega original, ritmos e rimas particulares. Mas para o traduzir com exactidão e leveza não basta apenas conhecer o idioma, há que conhecer a mentalidade grega (conhecimento partilhado por J. M. Magalhães e N. Pratsinis, e do qual o prefácio fala por si), pois o deslumbramento provocado por Kavafis, em numerosos leitores, advém do facto de este, qual sismógrafo, conseguir com poucas palavras sondar o ambiente circundante; e, sobremaneira, expressar a desmesura de um Sentimento com uma precisão afastada de qualquer adorno supérfluo, longe como vai de alegorias e metáforas.
Esta edição portuguesa surge ainda enriquecida com a tradução de alguns dos chamados “poemas inéditos” (o que prefigura uma próxima recolha maior dos mesmos). Uma das diferenças entre estes e os poemas que publicou em vida é que agora leremos um Kavafis que fala na primeira pessoa e não na terceira. Também neste conjunto a sua Poesia não se confina a um sentimento da sexualidade de género. E o sentimento amoroso em si: “Vi o teu rosto desconhecido e viste-me […] Os nossos corpos sentiram e buscavam-se; / o nosso sangue e a nossa pele perceberam. // Mas escondemo-nos os dois, Perturbados” (pág. 432).
March 26, 2006
'The Collected Poems of C. P. Cavafy: A New Translation'
Review by BRAD LEITHAUSER
Maybe loneliness comes not only in varying degrees but also in different varieties, and the unprepossessing man seated in the corner of the cafe — thin, neatly mustached, bourgeois-looking — suffers loneliness of an especially rich and resonant sort. Let's say the man is Constantine Cavafy, who loved cafes. Greek by ancestry, Egyptian by choice, Cavafy (1863-1933) spent his professional life in Alexandria, working solidly but hardly notably in the irrigation section of the Ministry of Public Works. His imaginative life was far less circumscribed.
Cavafy was a poet, although acquaintances in the cafe plausibly might not know this. His poems, composed in Greek, were privately printed and little circulated during his lifetime. Cavafy was also a homosexual, a circumstance that partly explains his poetry's narrow distribution. He refused to truckle. On the page, he was an uncompromising spirit, ultimately unwilling to settle for sexually indeterminate pronouns like "one" and "you." His object of desire was an unmistakable "he" (an explosive blend of ethereal Apollo and begrimed manual laborer) and his poetry pledged its allegiance to the validity — the nobility — of his yearnings.
In the English-speaking world, Cavafy's fate has been inextricably linked with that of another homosexual writer, E. M. Forster — a man whose meekness was of that stubbornly principled sort that will inherit the earth. Forster, his imagination enflamed by Alexandria, wrote an essay on Cavafy's poetry that made no reference to his sexuality. And yet the essay is wise and capacious-hearted. Forster also passed along Cavafy's poems to T. S. Eliot and others in England. It's probably fair to say that Cavafy was more readily welcomed in the English-speaking world, and eventually in far-dispersed reaches of the non-English-speaking world, than in Greece, where his outspokenness unsettled critics.
So here sits Cavafy — in a cafe, nursing a drink. He has an eye out for beautiful men, particularly those — so his poems suggest — in their early 20's, robust and self-centered. Cavafy's often unvoiced desires ultimately found a voice, in poems translated into English a number of times, now by Aliki Barnstone, in "The Collected Poems of C. P. Cavafy."
Barnstone's translations have a number of virtues — cleanliness, loftiness, lucidity. Her version of what is perhaps Cavafy's most famous poem, "Waiting for the Barbarians," displays an admirable irony and urgency:
Why did our emperor wake up so
and, in the city's grandest gate, sit in state
on his throne, wearing his crown?
Because the barbarians are arriving today,
and the emperor is waiting to receive
their leader. In fact, he prepared
a parchment to give them, where
he wrote down many titles and names.
At the end of the day, however, she supplements but hardly supplants Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard's "C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems," whose translations are likewise clean, lofty, lucid.
For many of us with no firsthand familiarity with Greece, it's easy to forget that its celebrated ruins are a distortion and that we behold its ancient culture in its bare-bones lineaments. The austere white buildings of the Acropolis were once painted and parti-colored structures. Much the same might be said of Cavafy's poetry. He has come down to us — however translated — as a writer of plain-spoken (sometimes monotonously plain) observation. It's a bit of a shock, then, to discover that many of Cavafy's poems were strictly rhymed and painstakingly metrical. He was fond of elaborate constructions.
Often it's unwise for a translator to attempt to duplicate prosodic complexity — the result is a cage so airtight that the poetic creatures inside it die of asphyxiation — but I'm grateful to Keeley and Sherrard for supplying detailed notes about the originals' poetic forms. A reader gets too little sense from Barnstone of how Cavafy put his poems together; she emphasizes theme to the detriment of construction.
Barnstone's introduction opens with a bit of personal history: "It was Cavafy's erotic poems that first captivated me. Now I am astonished by the prophecy of his historical poems." It's a natural division for any critic of Cavafy's oeuvre, even if, as Barnstone notes, Cavafy's erotic and historic poems are "inseparably connected." Cavafy called himself a poet-historian, and his range of reference is both dazzling and daunting. Forster pointed out "how different is his history from an Englishman's. He even looks back upon a different Greece. Athens and Sparta, so drubbed into us at school, are to him two quarrelsome little slave states, ephemeral beside the Hellenistic kingdoms that followed them, just as these are ephemeral beside the secular empire of Constantinople."
Cavafy's historical poems brood upon catastrophe. He is endlessly drawn to that edgy, haunting moment of dual vision when the manifestly doomed do not yet recognize their fate. In "In Alexandria, 31 B.C.E.," the misinformed city revels in the victory of Antony over Octavian at the battle of Actium; in truth, Antony's forces have been routed and a kingdom is about to fall.
Many Cavafy titles suggest, in their blending of the broadly far-flung and the tightly specific, the singularity of his subject matter: "Of Dimitrios Sotir (162-150 B.C.E.)," "For Ammonis, Who Died at Twenty-Nine, in 610," "Young Men From Sidon (400 C.E.)." Barnstone is absolutely right about how "inseparably connected" history and desire, Clio and Eros, are in Cavafy's inner kingdom. Time and again his poems light out for remote territory, both geographically and temporally, in order to express predictable, unshakable yearnings. Cavafy's poems obsess over the unattainable — the pretty young man in the cafe who, in his callowness and charm, fails to recognize whose is the deepest gaze fixed upon him, or (the unattainable par excellence) the pretty young man in the market or tavern who cannot acknowledge any tributary gaze because he died centuries ago. Like another poet-classicist, A. E. Housman, Cavafy reverberated to the image of an athlete dying young.
Cavafy's poems are much taken up with little rooms — often the "closed, perfumed rooms" of illicit appetites:
When I entered the house of
I did not stay in the front rooms where they celebrated
conventional lovemaking with some order.
I went to the secret rooms
and I touched and lay down on their beds.
The poems themselves are like little rooms: most are of modest length, most are concerned with either private action or with scholarship's interior forays. Cavafy certainly was no nature poet. His poems give little indication that he ever saw with any clarity a tree or an animal or — despite Alexandria's maritime history — a seascape.
If Barnstone, in the long process of rendering and annotating Cavafy, was eventually most impressed by "the prophecy of his historical poems," what most powerfully struck me in her translations was how broadcast has become the work of this quiet man who long toiled in obscurity. This is prophecy of another sort — the emergence of a modern sensibility and tone that have become pervasive. These days, you seem everywhere to hear his measured voice — with its melding of fact and foreboding, lust and loss — among not only writers who were under his spell but also others who may have spent little time with him. He echoes through the pages of W. H. Auden, James Merrill, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Joseph Brodsky. The man in the cafe who loved to evoke small, closed rooms? He opened many doors.
Brad Leithauser's new book of poems, "Curves and Angles," will be published this fall.
A new translation offers fresh takes on the most celebrated Greek poet of modern times.
By Michael Dirda
Sunday, April 16, 2006; BW15
THE COLLECTED POEMS OF C.P. CAVAFY
Translated from the Greek by Aliki Barnstone
Norton. 264 pp. $25.95
Constantine Cavafy, said E.M. Forster in 1923, could sometimes be glimpsed standing in the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, "at a slight angle to the universe." Since then, the literary world's axis has shifted, and Cavafy now seems a central pillar of 20th-century poetry. The title of one of his poems, "Waiting for the Barbarians," has practically become a catchphrase, while "The God Abandons Antony" has long been an anthem of stoic hedonism. Here is Aliki Barnstone's new version (a collaboration with her father, Willis Barnstone):
When suddenly at the midnight hour
you hear the invisible troupe passing by
with sublime music, with voices --
don't futilely mourn your luck giving out, your work
collapsing, the designs of your life
that have all proved to be illusions.
As if long prepared, as if full of courage,
say good-bye to her, the Alexandria who is leaving.
Above all don't fool yourself, don't say it was
a dream, how your ears tricked you.
Don't stoop to such empty hopes.
As if long prepared, as if full of courage,
as is right for you who are worthy of such a city,
go stand tall by the window
and listen with feeling, but not
with the pleas and whining of a coward,
hear the voices -- your last pleasure --
the exquisite instruments of that secret troupe,
and say good-bye to her, the Alexandria you are losing.
What makes Cavafy (1863-1933) so distinctive, so memorable a poet is what W.H. Auden called his "tone of voice." To some, he may sound merely decadent, a celebrant of furtive homosexual encounters or a nostalgist for the Hellenistic culture of the Asian shore, but to the sympathetic his voice is knowing, accepting, kindly, with the wisdom of the retired epicurean. In "Ithaka," the Odysseus-like reader is urged to enjoy life's journey to the fullest, to "wish that the way be long" and that reaching home should come only after one has accumulated much knowledge, experience and treasure.
By instinct, Cavafy is primarily an elegist, capable of recalling with equal emotion the touch of a hand and the fall of an empire, of memorializing both the carnal favorites of ancient Antioch and the perfect limbs of a dirty young blacksmith down the street. For this Greek living in Egypt amid Arabs and British colonials, the world appears as a palimpsest: When Cavafy looks at Alexandria, he glimpses, beneath the blandness of a modern urban wasteland, the playground of youthful gods. That imagined city, a city of sybarites, teaches one to enjoy the sensual pleasures of this world, to live without self-delusion or self-pity, to meet all experience with irony and aesthetic appreciation, to admire the fleeting beauty of youth and the permanent beauty of art. Little wonder that Lawrence Durrell (in Justine ) called Alexandria "the great winepress of love."
There have already been several translations of Cavafy's poems, most notably those by Rae Dalven, Theoharis C. Theoharis, Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Though the Keeley/Sherrard versions have been long viewed as standard, all these editions (and now Barnstone) are worth acquiring, not only because it's nearly always rewarding to read several translations when one doesn't know a poem's original language, but also because the Cavafy canon isn't fully settled and the various collections tend to differ somewhat in their contents. Cavafy never formally published his work and disliked the fixity of hard covers. Though he did bring out a couple of booklets (the first in 1904, in an edition of only 100 copies), he much preferred to gather his loose-leafed poems into folders that he would simply give to his friends and admirers. He was constantly winnowing out the sentimental: Of the 148 known poems written between 1891 and 1900, he kept only seven for his "canon."
At its best, his mature work hardly seems poetry at all. (Marguerite Yourcenar once likened his short pieces to reading notes or aides-memoires .) Cavafy prefers nouns and avoids epithets, uses rhyme sparingly if at all, offers lots of historical or physical detail, and typically casts a poem as a dramatic monologue. Even his titles are oddly prosaic, though touched with a kind of shabby grandeur: "A Byzantine nobleman in exile composing verses" or "The melancholy of Iason Kleandros, poet in Kommagini, 595 C.E." In fact, Cavafy gains most of his power, as the Greek poet George Seferis insists, when we view his work as "one and the same poem" and "read him with the feeling of the continuous presence of his work as a whole. This unity is his grace." Even when Cavafy avoids speaking in his own person (as in his many poems on historical subjects), everything he writes sounds like a fragment from a great confession, melancholy, witty, refined, sexy:
When I entered the house of pleasure,
I did not stay in the front rooms where they celebrated
Conventional lovemaking with some order.
I went to the secret rooms
And I touched and lay down on their beds. . . .
Cavafy tended to divide his work into separate categories: historical, philosophical and erotic. But a poem about Caesarion, the son of Cleopatra and Antony, also comments on Alexandria's endemic taste for make-believe and theater, even as the princeling himself is lovingly described as a rococo male beauty. In general, the poetry about the Hellenistic past tends to dramatize minor or fictive historical figures or to explore a byway of antiquity; Cavafy has no taste for the obvious or monumental. Usually the poet will expand on a brief textual allusion -- it is said that he knew Plutarch by heart -- or try to reimagine a moment in the life of, say, the Emperor Julian (aka the Apostate) or the magician Apollonios. Such a remembrance of things past hardly differs from what he does in the erotic modern poems, in which a damaged photograph found in a drawer may recall ancient yearning.
Memory and revery, then, followed by the re-creation of the voluptuous past, are the central elements of Cavafy's technique (just as they are in Proust). Only art can preserve, even enhance, the vanished moments of ardor and fleeting encounters with youthful bodies. The resulting poems burn with passionate immediacy. "The artisan of words," said Cavafy, "has the duty to combine what is beautiful with what is alive."
For all his apparent paganism, Cavafy remained an orthodox, or perhaps unorthodox, Christian. He was reportedly timid, somewhat vain and fond of drink. As a boy, he spent a half-dozen years in England with his then wealthy family -- they lost most of their money after the father's death -- and he learned French and English well enough to work as a copyist and translator in Alexandria's Irrigation Department. Until he was 36, he lived with his mother and had to sneak away for his trysts; later he took an apartment with his brother on the Rue Lepsius: "Where could I live better? Below, the brothel caters for the flesh. And there is the church which forgives sin. And there is the hospital where we die." During the final days of his battle with cancer of the throat, he would read only detective novels, preferably by Georges Simenon.
In the years since his death in 1933, Constantine Cavafy has come to be honored as the finest Greek poet of the century. In critical esteem, his reputation in America rivals that of Rilke and Neruda. Certainly, his voice remains one of the most seductive in all modern literature. ·
Michael Dirda is a columnist for Book World. His books include "Bound to Please," "An Open Book" and, out in May, "Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life."
Alexandria's knotty bard
Reviewed by Cynthia L. Haven
Sunday, April 23, 2006
The Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy
Translated by Aliki Barnstone
NORTON; 264 PAGES; $25.95
It takes a delicate hand to translate the greatest Greek poet of modern times, Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933). The sophisticated Alexandrian led a claustrophobic and mysterious double life: claustrophobic, because he lived in the same second-story flat at 10 Rue Lepsius for decades, and mysterious, because his imagination, meanwhile, roamed freely throughout the centuries of the Hellenic and Byzantine worlds, as well as in the brothels of his native city. He was an unabashed homosexual in the vestigial Greek community within a Muslim country under British rule.
He stares out at us from his photo, with his sensual, lazy-lidded eyes hidden behind prim, round, horn-rimmed specs; his Western-style suit has a clean white pocket square. He was a clerk in the Ministry of Irrigation for 30 years.
And his city, Alexandria, was a cosmopolitan, complicated backwater with perplexing layers of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic, French and British sensibilities and influences. Cavafy's worldview was as nuanced, refined, ironic as his city.
There's always the danger, particularly pronounced in this instance, that the translator will attempt to drag Cavafy into our world, rather than allowing him to pull us into his. Aliki Barnstone, in her new translation of the "Collected Poems," succumbs to this temptation, but fortunately the nature of the poems themselves limits the effect.
Barnstone brings a boatload of solid credentials to this new "Collected Poems," but she doesn't really explain in the introduction why a new translation is needed at this time -- there are several good translations in print already. Both Barnstone, in her introduction, and poet Gerald Stern, in his foreword, quote and discuss W.H. Auden's introduction to Rae Dalven's translation to beef up their thoughts, which underscores the superfluity.
Barnstone's translation often updates some fusty Edwardianisms found elsewhere. Dalven's "Now don't try your clever sallies on me" becomes Barnstone's fresher, livelier, "Now don't start in with the wisecracks." But more modern does not necessarily mean closer to the spirit of the poet, who, after all, inhabited a particular era with a particular idiom (witness the flotilla of insufferably snappy Rumi translations floating about). If you are not going to try to re-create Cavafy's form, however, there's little to do besides modernizing the language and tweaking the odd word or phrase.
Form isn't a straitjacket; it's how the poet constructs his effects. The best punches, generally speaking, occur through the manipulation of form, not necessarily in punchy words or thought. Cavafy wrote in iambic lines of six to 18 syllables, much of it rhymed in complex and irregular schemes. He blended purist and demotic Greek in unique ways impossible to re-create in English; he had a sensitive ear for phonic values. Some of the poems translated with Barnstone's father, veteran sonneteer Willis Barnstone, help us sense some of the delight a Greek reader might have felt encountering these lines for the first time.
Otherwise, Aliki Barnstone has a misleading ax to grind: "Cavafy shows that Christianity is not so far away from the religion it overpowered," and, later, "Most of Cavafy's poems dealing with Christianity are satirical, especially those that deal with dogma." But as usual, the truth is more complex. "Myris: Alexandria, 340 C.E.," for example, is not so much a poem about "political analysis," "the horror of intolerance" or "group doctrine," as she writes, but one that deals primarily with the mysteries of the "other" -- how little we understand even our lovers. With heavy, tendentious feet, she treads on Cavafy's delicate sense of contradiction.
She emphasizes that Cavafy dwells in the "homeland of the erotic imagination, which not only accepts but embraces the other" and that "though Cavafy shows the ways a person's life may be tyrannized and destroyed by labels, names, custom, and doctrine, he sees the light of the individual, unobscured by these empty forms." Well, again, Cavafy wasn't nearly so shallow. He wasn't the very first Aquarian, as she would imply, though Barnstone changes the B.C. and A.D.s in Cavafy's titles to the trendier, politically correct B.C.E. and C.E.s.
We get silly stuff such as: "Just as the gods were human, so, too, are the holy ones depicted in the icons, and I have observed the erotic passion with which people kiss their faces. When I go to the panegyria, the festivals celebrating the saints' days (each at a different church, as if for a different god), I look out over the sea and mountains, knowing there have been sacred rites in this sacred spot for millennia and that we celebrate this anniversary, now called Christian, in much the same way that the pagans did. ... My mother, who says that Orthodox celebrations are pure Dionysian revelry, likes to tell the story of waking early to pick mountain tea, and finding a panegyri still going on, everyone drunk, and the musicians singing, 'Penis, penis, penis, vagina, vagina, vagina.' "
This New Age mush is too silly to tackle in one go. And Cavafy would never make the mistake of confusing these worlds: He lived on the tightwire tension between them. Barnstone boils it all into one stew. While Stern comments that "he really had no country, he only had a language," that's not entirely true, either -- Alexandria was more than a nation, and Cavafy was said to speak his native Greek with a British accent to his dying day (as well as ancient and modern Greek, English, French, Italian, Latin and Arabic). Cavafy is endless, and endlessly impossible to pin down; he saw more than one side, more layers to everything.
Cavafy's recurrent theme is time and death, particularly the death and disappearance of lovely young men, a synecdoche for the way time crushes us all -- itself a cliche, except that the banality was offset by Cavafy's clever juxtaposing of the futile, absurd struggle of some. Julian the Apostate or the unnamed pagan wannabe in his poem "Apollonios of Tyana in Rhodes" come to mind.
In her fascination with Apollonios of Tyana, "a magician, miracle maker, and healer like Christ," Barnstone misses, in "If Truly Dead," the pathos of the narrator, a wannabe imagining himself in larger, more expansive times. Is it, perhaps, Cavafy's amused self-portrait, as the poet himself longs for temps perdu, for invented worlds that never truly existed outside his cranium?
In her three pages of opening notes on "Julian at the Mysteries," and her fascination with Julian the Apostate, who embraced paganism and repudiated Christianity, Barnstone would seem to make Julian into a personal hero, perhaps a forerunner of Wiccans. But she rejects the likelier notion that Cavafy saw the emperor as a figure of fun. Perhaps Julian, an able ruler and a somewhat confused individual, aroused the contempt of the Alexandrian poet, himself able to master so many contradictory worlds within his one city. Or perhaps Cavafy projected his own ambiguities on the emperor, slyly mocking his own absurdities.
Who knows what truly lay in this enigmatic mind, in his second-floor flat with a balcony on Rue Lepsius? As Cavafy lay dying in the hospital a few blocks away from his home, the Patriarch of Alexandria visited to offer communion. Cavafy resisted angrily before reportedly acquiescing "with compunction." But compunction about his refusal, or his acquiescence? In his flat, above his brass bed, a glass case shows the Orthodox icons Cavafy treasured -- in the old-fashioned Victorian style -- a crucifixion, St. George and a few unidentified saints.
Cynthia L. Haven's "Czeslaw Milosz: Conversations" will be published this spring; "Peter Dale in Conversation With Cynthia Haven" was published last year in London.