The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Poetry Friday – The Return

Posted on: April 13, 2007

I was pleased to finally meet some poems I finally liked in the Spring 2005 Paris Review issue, disappointed to learn that the poet was dead dead dead. I’ve come across Constantine Cavafy’s poetry before in another journal (I’ve forgotten which one) but the two that follow, translated by Daniel Mendelsohn, have solidified his presence.

“Morning Sea” is particularly apt as I patiently wait for spring, having walked through flurries.

Morning Sea

Here let me stop. Let me too look at Nature for a while.
The morning sea and cloudless sky
a brilliant blue, the yellow shore: all
illuminated, beautiful and grand.

Here let me stop. Let me pretend that these are what I see
(I really saw them for a moment when I first stopped)
instead of seeing, even here, my fantasies,
my recollections, the icons of pleasure.

They act like photographs for me, snapshots of images, capturing a particular feeling or person.

In the Same Space

House, coffeehouses, neighbourhood: setting
that I see and where I walk; year after year.

I crafted you in joy and in sorrows:
out of so much that happened, out of so many things.

And you’ve been wholly made into feeling; for me.

But this one is probably my favourite of the ones I’ve read so far, found on the internet. It has a poignancy that does not invite or welcome pity, a tragic nobility and courage found in the best tales.

The poem refers to Plutarch’s story that, when Antony was besieged in Alexandria by Octavian, he heard the sounds of instruments and voices, which made its way through the city, and then passed out; the god Bacchus (Dionysus), Antony’s protector, was deserting him.George Barbanis’ Cavafy web page

The god forsakes Antony

When suddenly, at the midnight hour,
an invisible troupe is heard passing
with exquisite music, with shouts —
your fortune that fails you now, your works
that have failed, the plans of your life
that have all turned out to be illusions, do not mourn in vain.
As if long prepared, as if courageous,
bid her farewell, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all do not be fooled, do not tell yourself
it was a dream, that your ears deceived you;
do not stoop to such vain hopes.
As if long prepared, as if courageous,
as it becomes you who have been worthy of such a city,
approach the window with firm step,
and with emotion, but not
with the entreaties and complaints of the coward,
as a last enjoyment listen to the sounds,
the exquisite instruments of the mystical troupe,
and bid her farewell, the Alexandria you are losing.

Translated by Rae Dalven. (Thanks Dark Orpheus.)

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4 Responses to "Poetry Friday – The Return"

You would love Julia de Burgos’ poetry… especially “Song of the Simple Truth.”

Thanks for the recommendation, JCR. It’s too bad I can’t find much of her work on the net. My campus library doesn’t have a thing from her, it’s weird.

I love Cavafy’s poems. He has this ability of making the epic so personal, our yearnings heroic.

“The god forsakes Antony” – I compared it to my Harvest edition of Cavafy, and I think Rae Dalven might be the translator.

That’s a perfect description of DO. Thanks for giving me the translator info, I’ll edit my post.

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