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by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Priest At The Serapeum

 My dear old father,
who always loved me the same;
my dear old father I lament
who died the day before yesterday, just before dawn.
Jesus Christ, it is my daily effort to observe the precepts of Thy most holy church in all my acts, in all words, in all thoughts.
And all those who renounce Thee I shun.
-- But now I lament; I bewail, Christ, for my father although he was -- a horrible thing to say -- a priest at the accursed Serapeum.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

The Windows

 Lord, how can man preach thy eternall word?
He is a brittle crazie glasse:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.
But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy storie, Making thy life to shine within The holy Preachers ; then the light and glorie More rev'rend grows, & more doth win: Which else shows watrish, bleak, & thin.
Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one When they combine and mingle, bring A strong regard and aw : but speech alone Doth vanish like a flaring thing, And in the eare, not conscience ring.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Hidden

 If you place a fern
under a stone
the next day it will be
nearly invisible
as if the stone has 
swallowed it.
If you tuck the name of a loved one under your tongue too long without speaking it it becomes blood sigh the little sucked-in breath of air hiding everywhere beneath your words.
No one sees the fuel that feeds you.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Trojans

 Our efforts are those of the unfortunate;
our efforts are like those of the Trojans.
Somewhat we succeed; somewhat we regain confidence; and we start to have courage and high hopes.
But something always happens and stops us.
Achilles in the trench before us emerges and with loud cries terrifies us.
-- Our efforts are like those of the Trojans.
We believe that with resolution and daring we will alter the blows of destiny, and we stand outside to do battle.
But when the great crisis comes, our daring and our resolution vanish; our soul is agitated, paralyzed; and we run around the walls seeking to save ourselves in flight.
Nevertheless, our fall is certain.
Above, on the walls, the mourning has already begun.
The memories and the sentiments of our days weep.
Bitterly Priam and Hecuba weep for us.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Voices

 Ideal and beloved voices
of those who are dead, or of those
who are lost to us like the dead.
Sometimes they speak to us in our dreams; sometimes in thought the mind hears them.
And with their sound for a moment return other sounds from the first poetry of our life -- like distant music that dies off in the night.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Poseidonians

 The Poseidonians forgot the Greek language
after so many centuries of mingling
with Tyrrhenians, Latins, and other foreigners.
The only thing surviving from their ancestors was a Greek festival, with beautiful rites, with lyres and flutes, contests and wreaths.
And it was their habit toward the festival's end to tell each other about their ancient customs and once again to speak Greek names that only few of them still recognized.
And so their festival always had a melancholy ending because they remebered that they too were Greeks, they too once upon a time were citizens of Magna Graecia; and how low they'd fallen now, what they'd become, living and speaking like barbarians, cut off so disastrously from the Greek way of life.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Morning Sea

 Let me stop here.
Let me, too, look at nature awhile.
The brilliant blue of the morning sea, of the cloudless sky, the yellow shore; all lovely, all bathed in light.
Let me stand here.
And let me pretend I see all this (I really did see it for a minute when I first stopped) and not my usual day-dreams here too, my memories, those images of sensual pleasure.
trans.
by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Return

 Return often and take me,
beloved sensation, return and take me --
when the memory of the body awakens,
and an old desire runs again through the blood;
when the lips and the skin remember,
and the hands feel as if they touch again.
Return often and take me at night, when the lips and the skin remember.
.
.
.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Addition

 I do not question whether I am happy or unhappy.
Yet there is one thing that I keep gladly in mind -- that in the great addition (their addition that I abhor) that has so many numbers, I am not one of the many units there.
In the final sum I have not been calculated.
And this joy suffices me.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Manuel Komninos

 One dreary September day
Emperor Manuel Komninos
felt his death was near.
The court astrologers -bribed, of course- went on babbling about how many years he still had to live.
But while they were having their say, he remebered an old religious custom and ordered ecclesiastical vestments to be brought from a monastery, and he put them on, glad to assume the modest image of a priest or monk.
Happy all those who believe, and like Emperor Manuel end their lives dressed modestly in their faith.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Neros Term

 Nero was not worried when he heard
the prophecy of the Delphic Oracle.
"Let him fear the seventy three years.
" He still had ample time to enjoy himself.
He is thirty.
More than sufficient is the term the god allots him to prepare for future perils.
Now he will return to Rome slightly tired, but delightfully tired from this journey, full of days of enjoyment -- at the theaters, the gardens, the gymnasia.
.
.
evenings at cities of Achaia.
.
.
Ah the delight of nude bodies, above all.
.
.
Thus fared Nero.
And in Spain Galba secretly assembles and drills his army, the old man of seventy three.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

On An Italian Shore

 Kimos, son of Menedoros, a young Greek-Italian,
devotes his life to amusing himself,
like most young men in Greater Greece
brought up in the lap of luxury.
But today, in spite of his nature, he is preoccupied, dejected.
Near the shore he watched, deeply distressed, as they unload ships with booty taken from the Peloponnese.
G r e e k l o o t: b o o t y f r o m C o r i n t h.
Today certainly it is not right, it is not possible for the young Greek-Italian to want to amuse himself in any way.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Dangerous Things

 Said Myrtias (a Syrian student
in Alexandria; in the reign of
Augustus Constans and Augustus Constantius;
in part a pagan, and in part a christian);
"Fortified by theory and study,
I shall not fear my passions like a coward.
I shall give my body to sensual delights, to enjoyments dreamt-of, to the most daring amorous desires, to the lustful impulses of my blood, without any fear, for whenever I want -- and I shall have the will, fortified as I shall be by theory and study -- at moments of crisis I shall find again my spirit, as before, ascetic.
"


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Desires

 Like beautiful bodies of the dead who had not grown old
and they shut them, with tears, in a magnificent mausoleum,
with roses at the head and jasmine at the feet --
this is what desires resemble that have passed
without fulfillment; with none of them having achieved
a night of sensual delight, or a bright morning.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Anna Comnena

 In the prologue to her Alexiad,
Anna Comnena laments her widowhood.
Her soul is dizzy.
"And with rivers of tears," she tells us "I wet my eyes.
.
.
Alas for the waves" in her life, "alas for the revolts.
" Pain burns her "to the the bones and the marrow and the cleaving of the soul.
" But it seems the truth is, that this ambitious woman knew only one great sorrow; she only had one deep longing (though she does not admit it) this haughty Greek woman, that she was never able, despite all her dexterity, to acquire the Kingship; but it was taken almost out of her hands by the insolent John.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

I Went

 I did not restrain myself.
I let go entirely and went.
To the pleasures that were half real and half wheeling in my brain, I went into the lit night.
And I drank of potent wines, such as the valiant of voluptuousness drink.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Since Nine OClock

 Half past twelve.
Time has gone by quickly since nine o'clock when I lit the lamp and sat down here.
I've been sitting without reading, without speaking.
Completely alone in the house, whom could I talk to? Since nine o'clock when I lit the lamp the shade of my young body has come to haunt me, to remind me of shut scented rooms, of past sensual pleasure - what daring pleasure.
And it's also brought back to me streets now unrecognizable, bustling night clubs now closed, theatres and cafes no longer here.
The shade of my young body also brought back the things that make us sad: family grief, separations, the feelings of my own people, feelings of the dead so little acknowledged.
Half past twelve.
How the time has gone by.
Half past twelve.
How the years have gone by.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Of The Shop

 He wrapped them carefully, neatly
in costly green silk.
Roses of ruby, lilies of pearl, violets of amethyst.
As he himself judged, as he wanted them, they look beautiful to him; not as he saw or studied them in nature.
He will leave them in the safe, a sample of his daring and skillful craft.
When a buyer enters the shop he takes from the cases other wares and sells -- superb jewels -- bracelets, chains, necklaces, and rings.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Finalities

 Amid fear and suspicions,
with agitated mind and frightened eyes,
we melt and plan how to act
to avoid the certain
danger that so horribly threatens us.
And yet we err, this was not in our paths; the messages were false (or we did not hear, or fully understand them).
Another catastrophe, one we never imagined, sudden, precipitous, falls upon us, and unprepared -- there is no more time -- carries us off.


by Constantine P Cavafy | |

Walls

 Without consideration, without pity, without shame
they have built great and high walls around me.
And now I sit here and despair.
I think of nothing else: this fate gnaws at my mind; for I had many things to do outside.
Ah why did I not pay attention when they were building the walls.
But I never heard any noise or sound of builders.
Imperceptibly they shut me from the outside world.