Julian, observing contempt

C. P. Cavafy

“Therefore observing that there is much contempt
for the gods among us” – he says severely.
Contempt. But what did he expect, really?
Let him found a new religious order, if that’s what he wanted.
Let him write to the High-priest of Galatia, or others in that mob,
with prompts and commands to his heart’s content.
His friends were not Christian;
that much was positive. But they couldn’t what’s more
cavort like him (brought up a Christian)
with the precepts of a new religion,
absurd in both theory and practice.
They were Greeks, after all. Nothing in excess, Caesar.

[Published 1923]

Original Greek Poem

In a town of Osroene

C. P. Cavafy

Bruised from a bar brawl they brought us
our friend Remon yesterday about midnight.
Through the windows we left wide open
lighted the moon his lovely body on the bed.
We are a hash here: Syrians, Greeks, Armenians, Medes.
Such is Remon too. But last night as the moon
lighted his charming face,
our thoughts turned to the Platonic Charmides.

[Written 1916; Published 1917]

Original Greek Poem

The god abandons Antony

C. P. Cavafy

When abruptly at midnight you hear
an invisible troupe go by
with exquisite music, with shouts –
your luck that now rots, your efforts
that failed, your life’s plans
that turned out all delusive – do not vainly mourn them.
As though long prepared, as though courageous,
bid farewell to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all do not pretend, don’t say it was
a dream, that your ears were deceived;
don’t resort to such vain hopes.
As though long prepared, as though courageous,
as becomes you who were entrusted such a city,
firmly approach the window,
and listen with feeling, but not
with the pleas and complaints of cowards,
to the sounds, one final indulgence,
to the exquisite instruments of the mystical troupe,
and say goodbye to her, the Alexandria you are losing.

[Written 1910; Published 1911]

Original Greek Poem

Finished

C. P. Cavafy

In fear and suspicion
with worried mind and wounded eyes
we cower and plan how we can possibly
escape the inevitable
danger that horribly threatens us.
But we get it wrong, our path omits the danger;
the messages were false
(or we didn’t hear them, or we didn’t understand them well).
Another catastrophe, one we never imagined,
sudden, swiftly falls upon us
and – no more time! – captures us unaware.

[Written 1910; Published 1911]

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

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

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

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

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