Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Poetry Daily's Poet's Pick April 30

CP Cavafy is a particular favorite but not just because I lived in Aex or read Durrel, surely contributing factors though. Durrel and others refer to him as the "poet of the city" (Alexandria, Egypt). His urban sensibility evokes other cities, past and present - fallen, falling or not just yet.  Poetry Daily picked Waiting for the Barbarians. A very hard choice, but (today at least) I would pick "The City" (also the poem closing my dissertation on literary representations of cityspace). I won't get into runners up - the list would be too long.

A few Cavafy links (among many) for you to pick your own favorites(s):
contains all of Cavafy’s major works in the translation of Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard (edited by G.P. Savidis), plus select alternative translations; unpublished material from the poet’s Archive, plus a Cavafy Companion section and up-to-date information on Cavafy’s continuing presence as seen through the web.
bio and audio presentation on Modern Poetry site  (Huck Gutman, Prof. English, U Vermont). A page well worth exploring further. I will and just might share.

"Waiting for the Barbarians"
by Constantine Cavafy (1864-1933)
translated by Edmund Keeley

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.

From Cavafy: Collected Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
© 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.
Reproduced with the permission of Princeton University Press

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