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Reviews 365 C. P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Revised Edition. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, edited by George Savidis. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1992. Pp. xvi + 284. Cloth $39.50, paperback $12.95. C. P. Cavafy, The Greek Poems of C. P. Cavafy as Translated by Memas Kolaitis. Volume 1, The Canon. Volume 2, The Unissued and "Repudiated"Poems. New Rochelle, New York: Caratzas. 1989. Volume 1, pp. xv + 187. $35.00. Volume 2, pp. vii + 130. $25.00. $55.00 for the two-volume set. In die frequently occurring revisionism in literary fortunes, botii of individuals and of periods, modernist poetry is at the center of a subdued and ongoing controversy. Depending on which side of the Atlantic one leans toward, one might tiiink of the crown of "modernism in poetry" as belonging to Whitman/ Pound/Eliot, or, on die other side, to Baudelaire/Rimbaud/Mallarmé. But, nowadays, in the revisionist mood of the West, another contender is coming into focus. In a haunting time-warp, from about a century ago, a hazy desert storm rises from the ruins of Magna Gracia, die exquisite voice of the Alexandrian Greek poet C. P. Cavafy. So much has this poet's work invaded the psyche of contemporary poetry that upon die recent untimely death of James Merrill, considered by many to be "die finest American poet of his generation," we were treated to a spate of his Cavafyesque final poems; several of these appeared during February and March 1995 in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books, paying homage to die Alexandrian, down to the evocative tide "Days of . . ." heading more than one of Merrill's poems. Little wonder, then, that Philip Sherrard, who sadly died last May of cancer, and Edmund Keeley have generously given of dieir poetic talents in polishing and honing down their early 1970s translation of the Cavafy canon, including a good portion, perhaps the best part, of what has trickled down from the archive since the poet's death in 1933. Together with George Savidis, the masterful Cavafy editor (who also sadly died last spring), diis award-winning translation team show here a humble awareness of the irreplaceable contribution they have made to world poetry by preparing a revised edition. Their revisions are often minuscule, such as dropping two or diree contractions in an already successful rendition; at other times a segment of a poem may be unobtrusively recast; yet always texture and rhythm are affected, and always for die better. The poetic diction of die 1960s has been smoothed out, demonstrating how much die translators "have their ear to the ground" in absorbing and using die shifting rhythms of current poetry. Observe how the variance of two lines from "Waiting for die Barbarians" functions, first in an earlier poetic diction as these lines appear in die Keeley/Sherrard first edition: He's even got a scroll to give him loaded with tides, with imposing names. and the same two lines from their new edition: He has even prepared a scroll to give him replete with tides, with imposing names. 366 Reviews This is only one example of how the translators have abandoned to a large extent an earlier, more colloquial style that was probably dictated by the poetic diction of the times. It is no doubt also a fine example, one imagines, of their philosophy of translation: that important poetry should be retranslated with the voice of each new generation. Would James Merrill repeat his characteristic understatement, his assessment of the translations in the first edition—"the best we are likely to see for some time"? I think he would, widi perhaps a laconic "still the best we are likely to see for some time." Not that all the poems achieve equal success in English—indeed some are impossible to translate into first-rate English poems. Still, die translation solutions here are ingenious and the voice of Cavafy comes through with elegance and beauty. It is of course inevitable mat new translators will emerge who will try their hand at rendering Cavafy into English. But one would hardly expect the now 94year -old Memas Kolaitis to be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 365-368
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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