C.P. Cavafy on April 29th, his 150th Anniversary

C.P. Cavafy was born 150 years ago in Egypt by Greek parents on April 29th, 1863. He is among the most important of Greek poets, having kept alive and made modern the epic heritage, strength and beauty of a poetic tradition showered in the mythology of the ancients. His death anniversary is also April 29th, (1933), making this date a double anniversary. An online Cavafy Archive exists to disseminate “the totality of the manuscripts, publications, documents, photographs etc., which C.P. Cavafy collected and preserved in his lifetime and bequeathed to his heir, Aleko Singhopoulo in 1933.”

On this 150th anniversary of Cavafy, there will be seminars, readings and papers written in the poets honor. The University of Michigan will be hosting the event  A DATE WITH CAVAFY open to the public, at the Hatcher Library on April 29th Cavafy’s double anniversary.  The C.P. CAVAFY FORUM has posted many contemporary papers on the art and life of the poet.

A DATE WITH CAVAFY; pdf file and poster

“Cavafy had a knack for discovering in old annuals, tombstones and other less heralded detritus, the material out of which poetry grew.” –Avi Sharon (from the introduction to his translation of Cavafy’s Selected Poems.)

Cavafy also gave voice to the erotic, especially the suppressed longings of homoerotic desire…  His greatest and still underappreciated contribution, however, is in helping us grasp the place of art in life. .. Cavafy’s aesthetic outlook heartened him to disrupt the apparent consistency of life with the inconsistency of literature. Rather than serving as an escape hatch, poetry allowed him to understand the world as a tension between the fictional and the actual. And in this tension he saw the possibility both of social critique and empathic connection with others.”  — Cavafy’s Century by Gregory Jusdanis

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

[Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard]

“In this cunning, amusing poem, with its punch line that never wears out, the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy penetrates deep into the nature of political life. The atmosphere of civic pride and civic hypocrisy, the mingled air of awe and contempt toward governmental institutions, rings not the bell of cliché but many eerie tintinnabulations: the gongs and chimes of public life, the distinct sounds of what we say, what we know we mean and what we don’t know we mean.” –-Robert Pinsky


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