Constantinos KAVAFIS into English

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.


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.





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”.


Translated 2005-07