constantine p cavafy

GRYFFINDOR: “Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion? … Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come. And some of our men who have just returned from the border say there are no barbarians any longer. Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians? Those people were ak ind of solution.” -Constantine P Cavafy (Waiting for the Barbarians)

—Why did our two consuls and the praetors
come out today in their crimson embroidered togas;
why did they don bracelets with so many amethysts
and rings resplendent with glittering emeralds;
why do they hold precious staffs today,
beautifully wrought in silver and gold?

-

Because the barbarians are arriving today,
and such things dazzle barbarians.

—  From Waiting for the Barbarians by Constantine P. Cavafy
Ithaca

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Do not fear the Lestrygonians
and the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon.
You will never meet such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your body and your spirit.
You will never meet the Lestrygonians,
the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you. 

Then pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many,
that you will enter ports seen for the first time
with such pleasure, with such joy!
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony,
and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds,
buy as many pleasurable perfumes as you can;
visit hosts of Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from those who have knowledge. 

Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for long years;
and even to anchor at the isle when you are old,
rich with all that you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches. 

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage. 
Without her you would never have taken the road.
But she has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.
With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience,
you must surely have understood by then what Ithacas mean.

– constantine p. cavafy (trans. rae dalven)

In the Evening

It wouldn’t have lasted long anyway—
the experience of years makes that clear.
Even so, Fate did put an end to it a bit abruptly.
It was soon over, that wonderful life.
Yet how strong the scents were,
what a magnificent bed we lay in,
what pleasure we gave our bodies.
 
An echo from my days given to sensuality,
an echo from those days came back to me,
something of the fire of the young life we shared:
I picked up a letter again,
and I read it over and over till the light faded away.
 
Then, sad, I went out on to the balcony,
went out to change my thoughts at least by seeing
something of this city I love,
a little movement in the street and the shops.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1916)

tr.  Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Ithaka by Constantine P. Cavafy

When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy -
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn’t deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you’ll have understood what these Ithakas mean.

Ιθάκη


Σα βγεις στον πηγαιμό για την Ιθάκη,
να εύχεσαι νάναι μακρύς ο δρόμος,
γεμάτος περιπέτειες, γεμάτος γνώσεις.
Τους Λαιστρυγόνας και τους Κύκλωπας,
τον θυμωμένο Ποσειδώνα μη φοβάσαι,
τέτοια στον δρόμο σου ποτέ σου δεν θα βρεις,
αν μέν’ η σκέψις σου υψηλή, αν εκλεκτή
συγκίνησις το πνεύμα και το σώμα σου αγγίζει.
Τους Λαιστρυγόνας και τους Κύκλωπας,
τον άγριο Ποσειδώνα δεν θα συναντήσεις,
αν δεν τους κουβανείς μες στην ψυχή σου,
αν η ψυχή σου δεν τους στήνει εμπρός σου.

Να εύχεσαι νάναι μακρύς ο δρόμος.
Πολλά τα καλοκαιρινά πρωιά να είναι
που με τι ευχαρίστησι, με τι χαρά
θα μπαίνεις σε λιμένας πρωτοειδωμένους·
να σταματήσεις σ’ εμπορεία Φοινικικά,
και τες καλές πραγμάτειες ν’ αποκτήσεις,
σεντέφια και κοράλλια, κεχριμπάρια κ’ έβενους,
και ηδονικά μυρωδικά κάθε λογής,
όσο μπορείς πιο άφθονα ηδονικά μυρωδικά·
σε πόλεις Aιγυπτιακές πολλές να πας,
να μάθεις και να μάθεις απ’ τους σπουδασμένους.

Πάντα στον νου σου νάχεις την Ιθάκη.
Το φθάσιμον εκεί είν’ ο προορισμός σου.
Aλλά μη βιάζεις το ταξείδι διόλου.
Καλλίτερα χρόνια πολλά να διαρκέσει·
και γέρος πια ν’ αράξεις στο νησί,
πλούσιος με όσα κέρδισες στον δρόμο,
μη προσδοκώντας πλούτη να σε δώσει η Ιθάκη.

Η Ιθάκη σ’ έδωσε τ’ ωραίο ταξείδι.
Χωρίς αυτήν δεν θάβγαινες στον δρόμο.
Άλλα δεν έχει να σε δώσει πια.

Κι αν πτωχική την βρεις, η Ιθάκη δεν σε γέλασε.
Έτσι σοφός που έγινες, με τόση πείρα,
ήδη θα το κατάλαβες η Ιθάκες τι σημαίνουν. 

Ithaka

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. 

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Sentences You Don't Hear Very Often #90: Say goodbye to Alexandra lost

John Cale, one of those who contributed to making Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah much more famous than Cohen ever did, chose this extraordinary song as one of his Desert Island Discs. It’s called Alexandra Leaving and was co-written by Leonard Cohen and the woman singing with him here, Sharon Robinson. She has often sung it on her own in Cohen’s live shows, where it is a lot duller than this original studio version from the 2001 album Ten New Songs. (It’s a Cohen album, but Robinson co-wrote all the songs, sang lead on some, and is pictured with him on the front cover.) 

The lyrics are somewhat based on a poem by Constantine P Cavafy (or Kavafis,) The God Abandons Antony. The Antony of that poem is Mark Antony and it’s about the Egyptian city of Alexandria - where Cavafy was born. He lived in many places, including Liverpool, but was of Greek descent and is thought of as a great Greek poet. Like Shakespeare, he died on his birthday. (29 April 1933, aged 70.)

An Old Man

At the noisy end of the café, head bent
over the table, an old man sits alone,
a newspaper in front of him.

And in the miserable banality of old age
he thinks how little he enjoyed the years
when he had strength, and wit, and looks.

He knows he’s very old now: sees it, feels it.
Yet it seems he was young just yesterday.
The time’s gone by so quickly, gone by so quickly.

And he thinks how Discretion fooled him,
how he always believed, so stupidly
that cheat who said: “Tomorrow. You have plenty of time.”

He remembers impulses bridled, the joy
he sacrificed. Every chance he lost
now mocks his brainless prudence.

But so much thinking, so much remembering
makes the old man dizzy. He falls asleep,
his head resting on the café table.

Constantine P Cavafy

Ithaca

This is the poem I read when I want to quit:

When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy -
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn’t deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you’ll have understood what these Ithakas mean.

~Constantine P Cavafy

When the Watchman Saw the Light

Winter, summer, the watchman sat there looking out
from the roof of Atreus’ palace. Now he has
good news to report. In the distance he saw the fire light up.
And he’s happy; besides, the drudgery’s over now.
It’s hard to sit there night and day
in heat and cold, looking out for a fire to appear
on the peak of Arachnaion. Now the longed-for signal
has appeared. Yet when happiness
comes, it brings less joy
than one expected. But at least
this much has been gained: we’ve rid ourselves
of hope and expectation. Many things will happen
to the house of Atreus. No need to be wise
to guess this now the watchman
has seen the light. So let’s not exaggerate.
The light is good; and those coming are good,
their words and actions also good.
And let’s hope all goes well. But
Argos can do without the house
of Atreus. Ancient houses are not eternal.
Of course many people will have much to say.
We should listen. But we won’t be deceived
by words such as Indispensable, Unique, and Great.
Someone else indispensable and unique and great
can always be found at a moment’s notice.

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C.P Cavafy “The City”

You said: “I will go hence to another land,
I will betake me to another sea.
A better place than this may well be found.
All my endeavours are foredoomed to fail,
and as though dead my heart is sepulchred.
How long shall this corrosion sap my brain?
On every side — whichever way I look —
dark ruins of my life confront me here
where I have spent and wrecked so many years.”

You shall not find new places; other seas
you shall not find. The place shall follow you.
And you shall walk the same familiar streets,
and you shall age in the same neighbourhood,
and whiten in these same houses. Ever this place
shall you arrive at. There is neither ship,
nor road, for you, to bring you otherwhere.
As here, in this small nook, you wrecked your life,
even so you spoilt it over all the earth.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
— 

Constantine P. Cavafy

This was in our HUM2x  welcome mail from HarvardX for the Ancient Greek Hero course. This.. is beautiful. Because I’ve never been able to put it into words. I want my journeys to be long. Inexplicable long. Never-ending. I want to meet the  Laistrygonians and Cyclops. I want to set out on a ship and you’ll know that if I’ve ever texted you at two in the morning. And it says, I want to go on an adventure. @edxstories @loquaciouslyliterate