C. P. Cavafy
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200 Greek C. P. Cavafy (1863–1933) Longings Like the beautiful bodies of the dead who never aged, shut away inside a splendid tomb by tearful mourners with roses at their head and jasmine at their feet— that’s what longings look like when they’ve passed away without being fulfilled, before they could be made complete by just one of pleasure’s nights, or one of its shimmering mornings. Manuel Comnenus The emperor Lord Manuel Comnenus one melancholy morning in September sensed that death was near. The court astrologers (those who were paid) were nattering on that he had many years left yet to live. But while they went on talking, the king recalls neglected habits of piety, and from the monastery cells he orders ecclesiastical vestments to be brought, and he puts them on, and is delighted to present the decorous mien of a priest or friar. Happy are all who believe, and who, like the emperor Lord Manuel, expire outfitted most decorously in their faith. He Asked about the Quality— From within the office where he’d been taken on to fill an insignificant, ill-paid position (eight pounds a month at best: bonuses included) he emerged, when he’d finished the solitary task C. P. Cavafy 201  at which he’d been stooped the entire afternoon. He left at seven, and then strolled slowly along, and dawdled in the street.—Handsome; interesting, too: in a way that showed he’d realized a maximal yield from his senses. He’d just turned twenty-nine, the month before. He dawdled in the street, and in the shabby alleyways that led to where he lived. As he passed before a little store where the goods that were for sale were shoddy, low-priced things for laborers, he saw a face within, he saw a shape; they urged him on and he went in, as if keen on seeing colored handkerchiefs. He asked about the quality of the handkerchiefs, and what they cost; in a voice that was choked, almost stifled by his yearning. So, too, the answers that came back: distracted, in a voice kept very low, secretly concealing consent. Now and then they’d talk about the merchandise—but their sole aim: for their hands to touch atop the handkerchiefs; for their faces to draw near, and their lips, as if by chance. Some momentary contact of their limbs. Quickly and secretly, so the proprietor wouldn’t notice, sitting there in back. Since Nine— Half past twelve. The time has quickly passed since nine o’clock when I first turned up the lamp 202 Greek and sat down here. I’ve been sitting without reading, without speaking. With whom should I speak, so utterly alone within this house? The apparition of my youthful body, since nine o’clock when I first turned up the lamp, has come and found me and reminded me of shuttered perfumed rooms and of pleasure spent—what wanton pleasure! And it also brought before my eyes streets made unrecognizable by time, bustling city centres that are no more and theatres and cafés that existed long ago. The apparition of my youthful body came and also brought me cause for pain: deaths in the family; separations; the feelings of my loved ones, the feelings of those long dead which I so little valued. Half past twelve. How the time has passed. Half past twelve. How the years have passed. Prayer The sea took into her depths a sailor’s life.— Unaware, his mother goes and lights a taper before the image of Our Lady that the weather might be fair, and his return speedy— while at the wind she always strains her ears. But as she prays the ikon hears, solemn and full of mourning, knowing that the son she awaits won’t be returning. C. P. Cavafy 203  Days of 1908 That year he found himself without a job; and so he made a living from cards, from backgammon, and what he borrowed. A job, at three pounds a month, at a little stationer’s, had been offered to him. But he turned it down without the slightest hesitation. It wouldn’t do. It wasn’t a wage for him, a young man with some education, twenty-five years of age. Two or three shillings a day was what he’d get, sometimes not. What could the boy possibly earn from cards and backgammon in the coffeehouses of his class, the common...


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