What Cavafy Means to Me.

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What Cavafy Means to Me.

Βy Jack Little [[email protected]]

O Jack Little είναι αγγλόφωνος ποιητής, που ζει στο Μεξικό. Συνεργάτης του ηλεκτρονικού περιοδικού 24grammata.com

I came across the poetry Cavafy while in high school where I read translations of his most famous work, Ithaca, and it sent shivers up my spine. His poem brings the magic of the world to life, the importance of learning, the need to travel with an open heart and a light soul. Sometimes the destination isn’t as important as the journey itself, a piece that I have carried with me to Africa, Europe and Latin America.

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

My spirit of adventure is inspired, in part, by Cavafy and on travelling to Mexico from my birth place in the north of England, I brought Cavafy’s work with me to bring solace on the lonely nights. In his poem, “An old man”, the reader feels the sights and sounds of an Alexandrian café; laughs and weeps at the bitterness of the old man himself, a reminder to us all to live for each moment and enjoy each and every pleasure.

An old man
At the back of the noisy café
bent over a table sits an old man;
a newspaper in front of him, without company.

And in the scorn of his miserable old age
he ponders how little he enjoyed the years
when he had strength, and the power of the word, and good looks.

He knows he has aged much; he feels it, he sees it.
And yet the time he was young seems
like yesterday. How short a time, how short a time.

And he ponders how Prudence deceived him;
and how he always trusted her — what a folly! —
that liar who said: “Tomorrow. There is ample time.”

He remembers the impulses he curbed; and how much
joy he sacrificed. Every lost chance
now mocks his senseless wisdom.

…But from so much thinking and remembering
the old man gets dizzy. And falls asleep
bent over the café table.
The sensuality of Cavafy’s poetry is also astonishing. His passionate works fill one’s heart to the brim. What is more, Cavafy wrote homoerotic poetry at a time when people would never accept homosexuality. He was a brave man, sensitive and sensual. To love, to desire and be desired, that is where beauty can be found.

Remember, body…
Body, remember not only how much you were loved,
not only the beds on which you lay,
but also those desires which for you
plainly glowed in the eyes,
and trembled in the voice — and some
chance obstacle made them futile.
Now that all belongs to the past,
it is almost as if you had yielded
to those desires too — remember,
how they glowed, in the eyes looking at you;
how they trembled in the voice, for you, remember, body.
Cavafy was a wonderful poet, a man who could capture seemingly boring everyday moments, and bring them to life with humour and sadness and often, with a timeless lesson. His poetry transcends his life as a journalist and civil servant and perhaps one day I shall learn Greek in order to be able to read his work in its original and no doubt, most sublime form. Were Cavafy’s poems the words of God himself? Just perhaps.