At an Italian shore

C. P. Cavafy

Cimon son of Menedoros
spends his life
like they usually do
youths reared

But today he’s quite
sober and glum.
badly agitated
the ships with loot

an Italiote youth
in entertainments
the Greek settlers
in great wealth.

against his nature
Near the shore
he watches them unload
out of the Peloponnese.

Greek spoils

Corinthian loot

Today surely
it’s not possible
to have any desire

it’s not proper
for the Italiote youth
for entertainments.

[Published 1925]

Original Greek Poem

Ides of March

C. P. Cavafy

Be afeared of splendour, o soul.
And your ambitions, if you cannot
overcome them, then with hesitancy and caution
pursue them. Just as far as you advance,
be you so diligent and careful.

And when you reach your peak – a Caesar now:
when you bear the outline of a man so celebrated,
then, especially, take care as you go out on the road,
a ruler conspicuous with his escort,
if there happens to approach from the crowd
an Artemidoros, who brings a letter,
and hurriedly says: ‘Read this at once,
it is something important, which concerns you’
don’t neglect to pause; don’t neglect to postpone
all talk and toil; don’t neglect to rebuff
the multitude who salute and genuflect
(you’ll see them later); let even
the senate itself wait, and urgently grasp
the severe words of Artemidoros.

[Written 1906; Published 1911]

Original Greek Poem

Tyanan sculptor

C. P. Cavafy

As you might have heard, I am no novice.
Ample stone passes between my hands.
And in my country, Tyana, they know
me well. And here the senators
commissioned many statues from me.

Let me show you some now.
Look at this Rhea:
August, all endurance, primal.
Look at Pompey. Marius,
Aemilius Paullus, Scipio Africanus.
Faithful – as much as I could – likenesses.
Patroclus (I’ll retouch him a little).
By the yellowish marble
blocks there, is Caesarion.

And for some time now I’ve been intent
on making a Poseidon. I’m thinking
mostly about his horses, how to make them.
They must be made delicate, so that
their bodies, their feet clearly show
that they don’t contact the ground, but gallop on the swell.

But here is my most beloved work
which I slaved over feverishly and most carefully:
this one, one hot summer day
when my mind lifted to ideal things,
I dreamt of this man here, the young Hermes.

[Published 1911]

Original Greek Poem

Morning sea

C. P. Cavafy

I’ll stand here. I’ll too watch nature awhile.
Brilliant purples of the morning sea
and cloudless sky, and yellow shore:
all beautiful and fully luminous.

I’ll stand here. And pretend that I’m seeing this
(I really saw it for a moment when first standing)
and not here, too, my fancies,
my memories, the comforts of pleasure.

[Published 1915]

Original Greek Poem

Tomb of Lysias the grammarian

C. P. Cavafy

Close by, on the right as you enter,
in the Beirut Library we buried wise Lysias,
the grammarian. The space is very appropriate.
We placed him by his devices that he remembers
perhaps even there – commentaries, texts, concordances,
scripts, many works on Greek idiom.
And this way, too, his tomb will be seen by us
and honoured, as we pass by to the books.

[Written 1911; Published 1914]

Original Greek Poem

Forlorn

C. P. Cavafy

Wholly lost. And so now he seeks
in the lips of each new lover
the lips of the man; in union with every
new lover he seeks to deceive himself
that it is the same young man that he is prone to.

Wholly lost, as if he had never existed.
Because he wanted – said he – he wanted to be saved
from the disgraced, the diseased pleasure;
from disgraced – shame’s pleasure.
There was a chance yet – he said – to be saved.

Wholly lost, as if he had never existed.
In imagination, in illusions
in the lips of other lads his lips he seeks;
he tries to feel again that love of his.

[Written and published 1923]

Original Greek Poem

Passing

C. P. Cavafy

The things he meekly imagined when a pupil, are open,
exposed before him. And he gets around, and all-nights,
and strays. And as is (for our art) right,
pleasure exults in
his blood, fresh and warm.
His body is bested by
lawless erotic rapture; and his young
limbs succumb to it.
And so a plain boy
becomes worthy of our notice, and through the High
World of Poetry for a moment this passes too –
the shapely boy with his blood fresh and warm.

[Written 1914; Published 1917]

Original Greek Poem

Lovely and white flowers that well fitted

C. P. Cavafy

He entered the coffee shop where they used to go together. –
Here his friend three months ago had told him,
‘We are broke. We are two poor
boys – reduced to the cheap dives.
I’m telling you straight, I can’t go out
with you. Another man, listen, wants me.’
The other man had promised him two suits, and some
silk handkerchiefs – To reclaim him,
he rent the world, and found twenty pounds.
He returned to him for the twenty pounds;
but also, besides that, for the old friendship,
for the old love, for the deep feeling between them. –
The ‘other man’ was a liar, a good-for-nothing;
a single suit had he made him, and
even that reluctantly, after a thousand pleas.

But now he wants neither the suits,
nor the silk handkerchiefs at all,
nor twenty pounds, nor twenty pence.

On Sunday they buried him, at ten in the morning.
On Sunday they buried him: it’s almost a week now.

In his meagre coffin he put flowers for him,
lovely and white flowers that well fitted
his beauty and his twenty-two years.

When in the evening he went – he had an errand,
a pressing task – to the coffee shop where
they used to go together: a knife to his heart
the black coffee shop where they used to go together.

[Published 1929]

Original Greek Poem

Grey

C. P. Cavafy

Looking at a half-grey opal
I remembered two fine grey eyes
I saw, it must be twenty years before. . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
For one month we loved each other.
Then he left, I think for Smyrne,
to work there, and we never met again.

The grey eyes – if he’s alive – they’ll have faded;
the fine face will have collapsed.

O memory, keep them as they were.
And, memory, whatever you can of that love of mine,
whatever you can, carry me back tonight.

[Written and published 1917]

Original Greek Poem