C. P. Cavafy (1863 – 1933)

Ow as in now, where does the time go?  I wake from another literary coma and it’s g.d. October.  Experts say I’m supposed to write every day to ‘drive traffic’ to my blog.  No is driving.  Not even George Sand could drive like that.  And there’s too much traffic, generally.  As Sterne said, ‘I’ll g.d. write my blog (novel) anyway I please’.  Of course he was talking about Tristram Shandy.  We know that.  I love Tristram.  A good guy and hilarious and still around, by the way, after all these months.  He’s racked up quite a few.

So I’ve been thinking about C.P.Cavafy since our last post and, to tell you the truth, much longer than that.  Who in their right mind hasn’t heard of C.P.?  Don’t answer that.  Lived most of his life in Alexandria, Egypt, which should be enough to make him interesting to anyone. Nice little town, Alexandria.  Like to drop by there sometime.

C.P. wrote a lot of excellent poetry.  For a novelist I can tell you one thing.  I seem far too interested in poetry on this blog.  But I like iconoclasts, one-offs, people that haven’t been contaminated or tamed by any school or movement, who don’t play hockey and have never even heard of it.

C.P. was steeped in history and his work shows it.  He could also make stuff up with the best of them.  He is never tiresome or obscure.  He’s witty and knows what irony is all about, the type of irony that rules lives with an iron fist.

This sampler was first published in 1910.  It was translated into English in 1975 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard and published by The Hogarth Press the same year in the ‘Collected Poems’ and in paperback in 1978 by Chatto & Windus.  I’m writing from the second impression of the revised paperback edition published in 1990.  I don’t think old Chatto and Windus’ll mind.  They’re pretty laid-back dudes.  I think Chatto scored fifty goals in fifty games one year.

Ambition, frustrated ambition, not quite what you were looking for, beaming baubles not quite measuring up.  Who doesn’t know the feeling?  A good question.

THE SATRAPY  by C.P.Cavafy

Too bad that, cut out as you are
for grand and noble acts,
this unfair fate of yours
never helps you out, always prevents your success;
that cheap habits get in your way,
pettiness, or indifference.
And how terrible the day you give in
(the day you let go and give in)
and take the road to Susa
to find King Artxerxes,
who, propitiously, gives you a place at his court
and offers you satrapies and things like that–
things you don’t want at all,
though, in despair, you accept them just the same.
You’re longing for something else, aching for other things:
praise from the Demos and the Sophists,
that hard-won, that priceless acclaim–
the Agora, the Theatre, the Crowns of Laurel.
You can’t get any of these from Artaxerxes,
you’ll never find any of these in the satrapy,
and without them, what kind of life will you live?

Author: Steven Brown


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