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Early Cavafy and the European "Esoteric" Movement Diana Haas The modest aim of this paper1 is to examine certain themes in Cavafy 's work which reflect his receptivity to the nineteenth century European "esoteric" movement, without forgetting, of course, that the poet also had access to the ancient texts which that movement sought to revive.2 As most of his poems and prose writings which may be directly connected with modern "esoterism" belong to the years 1891-1903, when Cavafy was looking in several directions at once for answers to his aesthetic and spiritual needs, our main focus will necessarily be on this period. We will, however, also consider the continuation of these themes into the work of his maturity. In 1891 Cavafy wrote his 'Αλληλουχία κατά τόν ΒωδελαΕϕον, an unpublished poem into which he incorporated a translation of Baudelaire's "Correspondances." Renata Lavagnini, to whom I am indebted here and elsewhere in this paper, has pointed out the poem 's two essential "esoteric" themes (Cavafy, Etc το φως 44, 45, 50, 51): that of the correspondances between the material and the spiritual 1ThIs paper, which was given at the 1983 Symposium of the MGSA (New York), constitutes a preliminary survey of a subject which I examine at greater length in my doctoral dissertation, "Chrétiens et païens dans l'oeuvre de Cavafy," to be submitted to the Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne. I have profited greatly from a number of suggestions and comments made to me by Professor George P. Savidis, especially with regard to the poems Πλησίον παϕαθϕϕου ανοικτοϕ and Κατά Ï„Î-Ï‚ συνταγÎ-Ï‚ αϕχαίων Έλληνοσϕϕων μάγων. It is a pleasure to express my thanks to him here. 2On the significance and development of nineteenth-century "esoterism" and on its principal representatives, see Viatte, Mercier, and Michaud. Cavafy's familiarity with a number of writers and artists directly or indirectly connected with this movement is attested by references in his writings and by his personal library. The list includes, in addition to the names which will be mentioned later in this paper: Hugo, the "Sâr" Joséphin Péladan, Mallarmé, Huysmans, Rodenbach, Rémy de Gourmont, Maeterlinck, Bulwer Lytton, Swinburne, Pater, Arthur Symons, D'Annunzio, Ibsen, Wagner, Gustave Moreau, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites. 209 210 Diana Haas worlds and between the different senses (synaisthesia), which goes back, of course, beyond Baudelaire to Swedenborg; and that of the privileged role of the poet as "seer," as the interpreter of symbols for the rest of mankind who are unable to perceive their hidden meaning . Cavafy declares in the opening verses, T' αϕώματα μ' εμπνÎ-ουν ÏŽÏ‚ ή μουσική, ώςόϕυθμός,ώςοίωϕαίοιλόγοι, καίτÎ-ϕπομαιοπότανÎ-νάϕμονικοΕς στίχοιςόΒωδελαΕϕοςεϕμηνεϕει όσα αποϕοϕσα ή ψυχή καί ασαφώς αίσθάνετ'Î-νάγόνοιςσυγκινήσεσιν. He goes on, in the last four stanzas, to emphasize the opposition between the poet and the "others": ΜήμόνονόσαβλÎ-πετεπιστεϕετε. ΤωνποιητώντόβλÎ-μμαείν'όξϕτεϕον. ΟΙκεΕοςκήποςεϊν'ήφϕσιςδι'αυτοϕς. Έν παϕαδείσω σκοτεινώ οί άνθϕωποι οί άλλοι ψηλαφώσι δϕόμον χαλεπόν. Both of these interrelated themes are evident in several other texts of Cavafy's early period, as Lavagnini has also shown ("Poesia" 93 and Cavafy, ΕΙς Ï„ÏŒ φώς 49): in two "rejected" poems written during the year following 'Αλληλουχία, entitled ΤΩϕαι με- λαγχολίας and Τιμόλαος ÏŒ Συϕακοϕσιος,3 and in certain of his annotations to Ruskin, written between 1893 and 1896. One of these annotations is particularly revealing: to Ruskin's contention that AU violent feelings have the same effect. They produce in us a falseness in all our impressions of external things, which I would generally characterize as the "pathetic fallacy." [. . .] I believe, if we look well into the matter, that we shall find the greatest poets do not often admit this kind of falseness,—that it is only the second order of poets who much delight in it 3*Ωϕαι μελαγχολίας: 'Ακοϕω στεναγμοϕς Î-ν τοις ζεφϕϕοις. / ΒλÎ-πω παϕάπονον Î-πί των ϊων. / Αίσθάνομαι του ϕόδου άλγεινόν τόν βίον / μυστηϕιώδους λϕπης τους λειμώνας πλήϕεις· / κ' εντός του δάσους του πυκνοϕλυγμόςήχεΕ.ΤιμόλαοςόΣυϕακοϕσιος:ΚαίοτεÎ-νχεϕσίτήνμαγαδίν του/λαμβάνει,αϊχοϕδαίαυτήςτήνποίησιν/εκπÎ-μπουντήςθεϕμής 'Ασίας—μϕησιν/ήδυπαθείαςκαίγλυκείαςϕÎ-μβης,/τώνΈκβατάνωνκαί τήςΕίνουάϕωμα. Early Cavafy 211 and that there is a class of men "who feel nothing, and therefore see truly," Cavafy objects: Διαφιλονεικώ[...]τόΟτι"ήπαθητικήάπατη",τόνάαποδίδεται ζωήκαίψυχήείςτάνεκϕάκαίτάάψυχα(ουχίευτελήςλειτου- ϕγείατήςΤÎ-χνης),δÎ-νευϕίσκεταιείςτουςπϕώτηςτάξεως ποιητάς."ΟσονδÎ-διάτους"ανθϕώπουςοΕτινεςδÎ-ναισθάνονται τίποτεκαίώςÎ-κτοϕτουβλÎ-πουνοϕθώς",ήδϕασίςτωνπεϕιοϕίζε- ταιείςκϕκλοντόσωστενόνδπουείτεβλÎ-πουνοϕθώςÎ-κειείτεδχι καταντάάδιάφοϕον.ΒλÎ-πουνδÎ-άϕαγεοϕθάήβλÎ-πουνμόνον Î-να πλάγι τών πϕαγμάτων;4 Another dimension is added to the theme of the poet's privileged position in the "rejected" poem 'Αοιδός, published in 1892, a dialogue between the poet's advocate and the "others." The world of poetry is seen here as a magical, immaterial one, invulnerable to the fate of ordinary men: Μακϕάντουκόσμου,τόνμεθάποιητικήμαγεία· όκόσμοςδλοςδι'αυτόνεϊν'οίωϕαίοιστίχοι. Διά τόν άοιδόν αυτής Î-κτισ' ή φαντασία άϋλονοίκονστεϕεόνδνδÎ-νκλονίζ'ήτϕχη. And to the accusation that this withdrawal from the hardships of everyday life is "senseless," the speaker replies, Μήκϕίνετ'Î-ντήλογική,τυφλήσαςάσθενεία. Εϊν'Î-κσμαϕάγδουμαγικοϕτοϋοίκουτουοίτοίχοι— καίψιθυϕίζουνÎ-ναϕτοΕςφωναί-"Φίλε,ήσϕχει· σκÎ-πτουκαίψάλλε.ΜυστικÎ-απόστολε,εϕψϕχει!" In this rejection of the everyday, material world in favor of the world of the imagination, and of logic in favor of magic and mystery, we may, I believe, discern a first indication of an anti-positivist attitude on Cavafy's part...


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