- "Definitive Voices of the Loved Dead":Cavafy in English
In the last ten years, seven new translations of the Cavafy canon/complete works and one substantial selection of his poetry have appeared in English: Theoharis C. Theoharis (the Canon, 2001), Stratis Haviaras (the Canon, 2004), Aliki Barnstone (the Canon and 20 Unpublished poems, 2006), Evangelos Sachperoglou (the Canon, 2007), Alan Boegehold (the Canon and 11 Unpublished poems and one Unfinished poem, 2008), Avi Sharon (the Canon, 2008), Daniel Mendelsohn (the Canon and the Unpublished, Repudiated, and Unfinished poems, 2009), and David Connolly (67 of the Canon, Unpublished, Repudiated, and Unfinished poems, 2010). The two earliest selections from Cavafy's poetry in English, 63 translations by John Cavafy and 46 by George Valassopoulo, have also recently been published in full for the first time. Four "complete" Cavafys, one for each decade, and a separate selection from the Unpublished poems, had already, of course, appeared between 1950 and 1990: John Mavrogordato (the Canon, 1951), Rae Dalven (the Canon and Unpublished poems, 1961), Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard (the Canon, 1975), Memas Kolaitis (the Canon, Unpublished, and Repudiated poems, 1989), and Edmund Keeley and George Savidis (21 Unpublished poems, 1972). Thus, the English-speaking reader can now choose from eleven different translations of the canon alone, and can also read and compare samples of many of these online (at www.cavafy.com).
Several of the above-mentioned translators are not native speakers of English, although some could be described as functionally bilingual (to differing degrees); similarly, Cavafy's first French translators, Théodore Griva (1947) and [End Page 129] George Papoutsakis (1958), were not native speakers of French. This situation appears to be unparalleled in published translations of modern European poetry, and has clear implications for the quality of the translations.
In 1957, Lawrence Durrell wrote (in Justine), "By now, the Cavafy canon has been established by the fine thoughtful translations of Mavrogordato, and in a sense the poet has been freed for other poets to experiment with" (1963 :220). Almost four decades later, David Ricks commented, "Now that we have a number of translations whose main aim and claim has been fidelity, there might be room for a freer, more ambitious response to Cavafy's poetry" (Ricks 1993:109). Since Durrell's time, there has, of course, been a huge and varied, not to say very mixed, "artistic" response to Cavafy in many different languages and media, but hardly any free translations in the sense in which Ricks seems to mean: Derek Mahon's "adaptations" of "Voices" (from which the title of this article is borrowed) and a small number of other poems probably come closest. Desmond O'Grady's dismal "versions" of thirty-three poems by Cavafy are almost certainly not what Ricks (or Durrell) had in mind.
The focus of the present review article will be the three most recent translations of Cavafy, the last of which is also the most complete so far as it includes the Unfinished poems as well as the Canon, Repudiated, and Unpublished poems. Only one of these volumes (Boegehold) was received for review. I shall also comment briefly on the latest selection (Connolly).
It is worth pausing to consider the early history of translations of Cavafy into English. Cavafy's first translator was his brother John (1861-1923), who worked on his translations from about 1896 (and possibly much earlier) until at least 1920. For much of this period, Cavafy appears to have taken a keen interest in the project, making copious written corrections...