Cavafy

166 Poems
Translated with an Introduction by Alan Boegehold
Hardcover: $18.00 • ISBN: 978-1-60419-005-2

“Cavafy’s is a poetic style so understated, so minimal, so extravagantly self-effacing as to seem to shout out. Boegehold has spent a lifetime living among the Greeks and is uncommonly good at finding a wealth of monosyllables and their most effective sequence to produce the striking effect of Cavafy’s demand to be let along while saying it all.”

Charles R. Beye (Professor Emeritus of Classics, CUNY)

“Boegehold catches that atmosphere and tone unique to Cavafy, an odd blend of world-weariness, irony, propriety, passion, and nostalgia found in no other poet, and does so in a minimalist translation, bare-boned like its original, that never wastes a single word. His introduction is perfect for anyone who comes to Cavafy for the first time.

Dr. Peter Green, FRSL (Dougherty Centennial Professor Emeritus of Classics, University of Texas at Austin)

Summary

Constantine Cavafy was the most improbable [and] remains among the greatest, of modern Greek poets. “He wore a straw hat and stood at an angle to the universe,” said E.M. Forster. Deceptively simple and with hardly a metaphor in sight, Cavafy’s poetry nevertheless presents an enormous challenge to any modern translator (and since his international discovery in the mid-twentieth century there have been plenty of them). Alan Boegehold has several rare advantages for the task. He is a fine classicist, to whom Cavafy’s forays into the Hellenistic and Byzantine past present no problems. His familiarity with the Greek language, both ancient and modern, makes him sensitive to subtle nuances that many would miss (no accident that he’s an expert on Greek gestures).

About the Translator

Alan Lindley Boegehold took his A.B. in Latin at the University of Michigan in 1950 and his Ph.D. in Classical Philology at Harvard University in 1958. He taught Latin and Greek mostly at Brown University (1960-2001) but he began at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and taught from time to time as visitor at Harvard, Yale, University of California at Berkeley, Amherst College, and Florida State University . In exploring the world of Classical antiquity he has tried to use language, literature, philosophy, the structures of justice, and all material culture as ways to understanding. His most recent books are When a Gesture Was Expected (Princeton University Press, 1999), The Lawcourts at Athens, vol. 28 of the Athenian Agora series (American School of Classical Studies, Princeton, 1995), and In Simple Clothes: Eleven Poems by Constantine Cavafy (Occasional Works, Woodside, CA, 1992).

Boegehold came to an appreciation of modern Greek literature by way of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, a graduate research institute affiliated with over 150 leading American colleges and universities, where he has been a professor in residence and chairman of the Managing Committee.

The Midwest Book Review – Small Press Bookwatch:

“A strong choice for those who seek well-translated classical poetry, Cavafy is a top pick.”

[Complete review: MidwestBook Review.com]

Tom D’Evelyn (The Providence Journal Bulletin):

“Boegehold’s versions startle one with a tough lyric fierceness as well as wisdom; his Cavafy is indeed ‘something previous and real.’”

[Complete review: ProJo.com]

Foreword

Acknowledgements

Introduction: Cavafy’s Values

Walls

An Old Man

Achilles’ Horses

Prayer

Sarpedon’s Funeral

Candles

The First Step

Old Men’s Souls

Che Fece . . . il Gran Rifiuto

Interruption

Windows

Thermopylae

Faithlessness

Waiting for the Barbarians

Voices

Desires

The Trojans

King Demetrios

Dionysos’ Band

Monotony

Footsteps

That’s He

The City

The Satrapy

The Ides of March

Finalities

Sculptor of Tyana

The God Leaves Anthony

Ionic

The Glory of the Ptolemies

Ithaca

The Dangers

Philhellene

Herodes Atticus

Alexandrian Kings

Come Back

At Church

Very Rarely

To the Extent that You Can

The Shop’s

I Went

The Tomb of the Grammarian Lysias

Eurion’s Grave

Chandelier

Long Ago

But Wise Men, Approaching Events

Theodotos

At the Café Door

He Swears

One Night

Morning Sea

Painted

Orophernes

The Battle of Magnesia

Manuel Komnenos

The Seleucid’s Displeasure

When They Stir

On the Street

Before the Statue of Endymion.

In Osroene’s City

Passage

For Ammones Who Died, Age 29, in 610

A God of Theirs

At Evening

To Pleasure

Grey

Iasis’ Grave

In the Month of Athyr

I’ve Looked So Hard

Ignatius’ Tomb

Days of 1903

The Tobacconist’s Window

Caesarion

Body Remember

Lanes’ Grave

Recognition

Nero’s Limit

Ambassadors from Alexandria

Aristoboulos

In Port

Aimilianos Monai, Alexandrian, 628–655 A.D.

From Nine O’Clock

By the House

Next Table

Afternoon Sun

To Stay

Of the Jews

Imenos

On Board

Demetrios Soter

If He Did Die

Young Men of Sidon, 400 A.D.

So They Come

Darius

Anna Komnena

Byzantine Official in Exile, Poetaster

Their Origin

The Benevolence of Alexander Vala

Melancholy of Jason Kleander, Poet in Commagene, 595 A.D.

Demaratos

I Brought to Art

From the School of the Famous Philosopher

The Silversmith

Who Fought for the Achaean League

To Antiochos Epiphanes

In an Old Book

In Despair

Julian Observing Too Little Esteem

Epitaph of Antiochos, King of Commagene

Theater of Sidon (400 A.D.)

Julian in Nikomedia

Before Time Changes Them

He Came to Read

31 B.C. in Alexandria

John Kantakouzinos Prevails

Temethos, Antiochene, 400 A.D.

Of Colored Glass

The Twenty-fifth Year of his Life

On the Italian Shore

In a Boring Little Town

Apollonius Tyaneus in Rhodes

Kleitos Ill

In a Town of Asia Minor

Priest at the Serapeion

In the Taverns

A Great Train of Priests and Laity

Sophist out of Syria

Julian and the Men of Antioch

Anna Dalassini

Days of 1896

Two Young Men, 23 to 24 Years Old

Greek from Old

Days of 1901

You Do Not Comprehend

A Young Man, for His Art—24 Years Old

In Sparta

Picture of a 23 Year Old Young Man Done by a Friend of the Same Age, Amateur

In a Large Greek Colony, 200 B.C.

A Duke from Western Libya

Kimon, Son of Learchos, 22 Years Old, Student of Greek Literature (in Kyrene)

On the Way to Sinope

Days of 1909, ’10, and ’11

Myres: Alexandria. 340 A.D.

Alexander Jannaeus and Alexandra

Pretty Flowers and White, How Very Right They Were

Come O King of the Lacedaemonians

In the Same Place

The Mirror

He Asked About the Quality

They Should Have Concerned Themselves

By Prescriptions of Greco-Syrian Magicians of Old

200 B.C.

Days of 1908

In the Suburbs of Antioch

At the Theater

The Bandaged Shoulder

Bank of the Future

Attires

The Death of the Emperor Tacitus

Half Hour

People of Poseidonia

Return from Greece

The Saving of Julian (unfinished)

Symeon

That Way

“The Rest I Shall Tell Them Below in the House of Hades”

From the Introduction: Cavafy’s Values

The Greek poet Constantine Photiades Cavafy was born in Alexandria in 1863 and died there in 1933. His poems, those that he circulated in his lifetime and those that he did not, have become more and more widely read and influential since his death, thanks to the subsequent publication in book form, first of 154 poems that he had acknowledged and approved, and after that a number of others, some finished, some renounced, and some unfinished. New translations from Greek into English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, and other languages continue to appear.

The details of his life, work, and publication practices are available in an increasing number of studies. A good place to start is the online catalogue, called “Ambrosia,” of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the British School at Athens, where close to 200 entries are listed under the poet’s name. The purpose of the present essay is to introduce Cavafy’s work into a series of books that in varying ways touch on values.

My own approach to the poet here is personal and without pretensions to an overview of what has been thought, written and said about him over the past hundred years and more. The opinions I record in the following pages are those of an appreciative reader and translator. They concern principally Cavafy’s sense of the worth of various things, as expressed in his poems.

Throughout the poems there is a keen appreciation of loss, both recent and in the distant past. A recent loss, often enough a lover, when irrecoverable, when repossessed only by memory, becomes, once it is a poem, possibly more valuable than the object of loss ever could be. Losses suffered by figures from antiquity are evaluated paradoxically and in the end recognizably on a scale consonant with the poet’s judgement of the object’s true worth.

*****

Walls

Without regard, compasssion or shame,

they built around me great high walls.

 

And I sit here now and despair.

No other thought: my fate eats me.

 

Because I had so many things to do outside.

Alas, when they were building the walls

how could I not pay attention?

 

But I never heard noise from the builders, not a sound.

Without my notice they closed me in from the world outside.

*****

Candles

The days of the future stand in front of us

Like a row of lighted candles.

Golden, warm, lively little candles.

 

Days past stay behind

A mournful line of extinguished candles.

The nearest ones still smoke,

Cold candles, melted, and lumpy.

 

I do not want to look at them. Their shape hurts me,

And it hurts me to remember their first light.

I look ahead at my lighted candles.

 

I do not want to turn around, to look and shiver,

How quickly the dark line grows longer,

How quickly the dead candles multiply.

*****

Monotony

One monotonous day another

monotonous day impermutable follows.

The same things will happen, will happen again.

Identical moments both find us and leave us.

 

A month passes and brings another month.

What is coming is easy for one to envision.

It is yesterday’s business, those boring things.

A tomorrow turns out to be not tomorrow.