Constantinos KAVAFIS: 25 POEMS
THE WALLS (Teikhe, 1896)
With no regard no pity no shame
they raised against me these thick and high walls.
& now I sit here & i’m desperate.
I think of nothing else: this fate gnaws at my mind,
For i had so many things to accomplish out there!
As they raised walls i didn’t pay attention.
Yet never a sound a bricklayer’s voice.
Without noticing walled out of the world.
EMPOWERMENT (Dynamosis, 1903)
(with debts to the translation by Vassilis Lambropoulos)
He who wants to empower his inner self
must go beyond reverence & subjection.
Some of the laws he will cling to,
but most often he’ll go beyond
laws as well as usage, beyond the standard
& unsatisfying polite behaviour.
The sensual pleasures will teach him much.
The catastrophic actions he won’t fear:
half of the house must come crashing down.
Thus he’ll grow thru virtue into knowledge.
SOUNDS (Fones, 1904)
Imagined voices, beloved ones,
of the dead, or of those lost
to us as if they were dead.
At times in dreams they talk to us,
at times they resound inside my skull.
And with their echo, for a moment, echoes also
the poetry of our life’s morning —
as a music, in the night, far away, dying off.
THE DESIRES (Epithymies, 1904)
Like splendid bodies of the defunct that do not age,
Buried, amid tears, in a mausoleum,
With head amid roses, with feet amid jessamines —
Thus are the desires that went by
Without realization; without ever finding
Their night of pleasure, their morning of joy.
HIDDEN THINGS (Krymmena, 1908)
From what i did & what i said
do not attempt to understand who i was.
An obstacle channelled & shaped
my actions & the path of my life.
An obstacle that channelled & blocked me
very often when i got to speak.
My least evident actions
& my most veiled writings —
only these shall reveal me.
But perhaps such efforts & attempts
to know me are not worth the while.
In the future – in a more perfect society –
another apparelled like me
surely will appear and act freely.
THE SATRAPY (He Satrapeia, 1910)
What a misfortune, you were born
to achieve graceful & great works
but your unjust fate is forever
refusing you praise & success;
in your way stand abject customs,
pettiness & indifference.
And what a horrible day when you give in
(the day you let yourself go & give in)
& put your feet upon the way to Susa,
& go to King Artaxerxes
who benevolent welcomes you to his court,
& offers you satrapies & such stuff.
And with despair in soul you accept them,
these things you do not wish for.
For other matters asks your soul, for other weeps:
praises of The People and The Sages,
the difficult & priceless plaudits
of the Agorà, the Theatre, & the Laurels.
These you cannot get from Artaxerxes,
these you cannot find in the satrapy:
yet what is your life without them.
ANTHONY IS ABANDONED BY THE GOD (Apoleipein ho theos Antonion, 1911)
Suddenly, at the hour of midnight, when the sound
Of a merry company of revellers, unseen,
Is heard, with exulting music, with voices —
On Fortune that is leaving you, on your enterprises
That failed, on your life’s projects
Which turned illusory, do not expend regrets!
As one prepared in time, bold of heart,
Salute her, your Alexandria that is leaving.
Do not indulge in illusions, above all do not say
This was a dream, your ears misled you,
Do not lower yourself to such vain hopes.
As one prepared in time, bold of heart,
One worthy of having had such a city,
Walk with steady steps to the window,
And deeply touched, but not giving in
Cowardly to laments or supplications,
Allow yourself this final pleasure, listen
To the exulting harmony of the mystical company,
And salute her, the Alexandria you are losing.
IONIC (Ionikon, 1911)
Tho we’ve smashed their statues,
tho we’ve kicked them out of their temples,
it doesn’t follow the gods have died.
O land of Ionia, it’s you they still love,
it’s you their souls still remember.
When you’re overspread by the August morning,
your atmosphere shimmers with their potent life,
and sometimes, an ethereal ephebic figure,
indistinct, runs off
rapidly over your high hills.
THE ENDING (Teleiomena, 1911)
Amid fears amid suspicions,
With febrile mind & frightened eyes,
We lose ourselves in projects & pigeonholes
In order to escape the danger
Which seems to loom & threaten us.
Yet we’re wrong, it’s not down that road
Doom awaits; the signs were wrong
(We misunderstood, we didn’t interpret well).
A different catastrophe, never dreamed of,
Sudden & violent is already upon us —
No time left — & carries us, disarmed, off.
COME BACK (Epestrefe, 1912)
Come back often and take me
beloved feeling come back and take me —
as there wakes the body’s memory
and the old shiver courses the blood,
as the lips and the skin are a-tremble
and the hands still feel the other’s touch.
Come back and take me, in the night,
as the lips and the skin are a-tremble.
AS MUCH AS YOU CAN MANAGE (Hoso boreis, 1913)
So if you don’t manage a life that you desired,
try at least this,
as much as you can manage: don’t ruin it
by too much traffic with the world
by too much posturing and orating.
Don’t ruin it by dragging it around
subject to everyday senselessness
a plaything of fortuitous encounters,
the daily solicitations,
so that it grows a boring stranger.
LYSIAS THE PHILOLOGIST HIS TOMB (Lysiou grammatikou tafos, 1914)
Here, just to the right as you enter, in the library
of Beirut we buried wise Lysías,
the philologist. The place was chosen well.
Nearby are those things of his that he maybe remembers
even there — comments, texts, grammars,
variants, annotated, full of hellenistic idioms.
Also we shall see and we shall honour
his tomb each time we go to be among the books.
FAR OFF (Makrua, 1914)
I’d like to put this remembrance into words somehow…
But it’s so faded by now… almost nothing remains —
for it’s far off, in my early adolescence.
A skin almost of jessamine…
August it was — was it in August? — that eve…
I can barely recollect the eyes: they were, i think, blue…
Oh yes, blue: a sapphire blue.
THE SAGES WHAT IS COMING NEAR (Sofoi de prosionton, 1915)
Humans may know what is happening.
The future is known by the gods,
sole & only owners of all light.
Of the future, the sages understand
what is coming near. Their hearing
is sometimes, in hours of deep studies,
struck. The secret clamour
of what is coming nearer reaches them
& they listen devotedly. On the street,
outside, the people hear nothing.
MANUEL COMNENE (Manouel Komnenos, 1915)
The Emperor Lord Manuel Comnene
one melancholy day of September
got the feeling his death was near. The astrologers
(paid) of his court were chattering on
about the many years of life awaiting him.
While they talked, the Emperor
thought of the old pious customs,
& ordered that from the monks’ cells
religious raiment be brought,
& put them on, rejoicing
in the humble semblance of priest or monk.
Happy are they who believe,
& like the Emperor Lord Manuel end up
humbly arrayed in their faith.
THE SEA IN THE MORNING (Thalassa tou proiou, 1915)
To stop here. So that i too see a bit of nature.
The sea in the morning & the cloudless sky,
its luminous blues & lemon-yellow shores: all
beautiful & in full sunlight.
To stop here. & have the illusion of seeing them
(& in truth i saw for a moment as i stopped)
& not seeing here too my fantasies,
my remembrances, the simulacra of pleasure.
IN THE MONTH OF ATHYR (En to meni Athyr, 1917)
With difficulty i read on the weathered stone
L[OR]D JESUS CHRIST. I can make out SO[U]L.
IN THE M[ONTH OF] ATHYR LEUKIO[S] L[EF]T US.
Detailing his age AT THE AGE OF […]
the Kays and Zeds say he left us young.
Then come three lines very mutilated,
i can barely manage to read — OUR T[EA]RS, PAIN
and again TEARS, and HIS GRIEVING [FR]IENDS.
It seems this Leukios was much beloved.
In the month of Athyr Leukios left us.
IN THE EVENING (En hespera, 1917)
Anyway, it couldn’t have lasted long. My experience
of many years teaches me. But almost too soon
Fate put in its oar, it ended.
Brief the while of that gracious life.
But how strong the perfumes,
how special the bed in which we lay,
& the pleasure to which our bodies were given.
An echo of those days of pleasure,
an echo of those days reached me,
something of the fire of our twin youth:
again i took into my hand a letter,
& read it several times until light failed.
Then i went melancholy onto the balcony —
i went out to change my thoughts, seeing at least
a bit of the city i loved
a bit of the movement in the streets and the shops.
O BODY, REMEMBER… (Themesou, soma…, 1918)
O body, remember not only how much you were loved
not only the beds in which you lay,
but also those desires which for you
shone in the lustrous eyes — & some
fated obstacle stopped them short.
Now that all is already past,
it almost seems that to those desires
you gave in — how they shone,
remember, in the eyes that looked at you;
how they trembled in the voice, for you, remember, O body.
SINCE NINE O’CLOCK (Ap’ tes ennia, 1918)
Half past midnight. The time has passed quickly
since nine o’clock when i lit the lamp,
and sat me down. I sat without reading,
without talking. Who should i talk to
all alone in this house.
As of nine o’clock when i lit the lamp
the image of my young body
came to me, came to remind me
of closed perfumed chambers
and passed passions — what mad passions!
And before my eyes unrolled
streets no longer recognizable
teeming centers now gone
theatres and coffee-houses as they were once.
And the image of my young body
came and brought sad memories too,
family sorrows, separations,
feelings of those dear to me, feelings
of those dead, who count for so little.
Half past midnight. How the time has passed.
Half past midnight. How the times have passed.
ABOARD (Tou ploiou, 1919)
It resembles him, certainly,
this little pencil sketch.
Thrown off on the ship’s bridge;
one enchanting afternoon.
The Ionian surrounding us.
It resembles him. Yet i remember him perhaps shapelier.
Of such an exasperated sensitivity,
his whole face lighting up.
More shapely he seems to me
now that my soul draws him up, from that Moment.
From that Moment. These things are all too old —
the sketch, & the ship, & the afternoon.
THE AFTERNOON SUN (Ho helios tou apogeumatos, 1919)
This room, how well I know it.
Now it is rented, with the room near it,
as business office. The whole house is taken over
by mediators, commercialists & companies.
Ah that room, how well I know it.
Near this door there was a divan,
& in front of it a Turkish kilim;
on the side shelves with two yellow vases.
On the right – no, in front, a wardrobe with mirror.
In the middle, the desk at which he wrote —
& the three large straw-plaited seats.
By the window was the bed
where we made love so many times.
Poor things, they must be still around somewhere.
By the window was the bed:
the afternoon sun shone on half of it.
…Afternoon, four o’clock, we had parted
only for one week… Yet
that one week became forever.
THAT THEY MAY RETURN (Gia na ‘rthoun, 1920)
One candle is enough. Its faint light
will fit better, have closer kinship
should the Loves return should the Ghosts return.
One candle is enough. In the room tonight
don’t give me too much light. Lost in the dream
& the suggestion, not too clear light —
thus in the dream i could imagine
the Loves may return the Ghosts may return.
BEFORE TIME CHANGE THEM (Prin tous allaxei ho khronos, 1924)
They suffered a lot for the separation.
They wouldn’t have wished it circumstances forced it.
Life’s necessities led one to depart
Far, far away — New York or Canada.
Of course their love wasn’t the same as before.
Its attraction had slowly diminished
its attraction had much diminished.
Still, a separation they wouldn’t have wished.
Circumstances forced it.– Or maybe Destiny
behaved with much art separating them then
before this feeling cease before Time change them:
each will remain for the other always
this graceful youth of twenty-four.
ANNA DALASSENÈ (1927)
In the Golden Bull by His Majesty Alexius Comnene
released to honour his illustrious mother
the most wise Lady Anna Dalassenè —
of highest achievements and character —
one can find all kinds of laudations:
but it is proper to report
one phrase above all, a noble one
“Mine thine, this cold verbiage, we never used”.