Konstantin Kavafis / Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης: “I went into the brilliant night and drank strong wine, the way the Champions of Pleasure drink.”Posted: July 1, 2012
Konstantin Kavafis (Constantine Cavafy)
With no consideration, no pity, no shame,
they’ve built walls around me, thick and high.
And now I sit here feeling hopeless.
I can’t think of anything else: this fate gnaws my mind
– because I had so much to do outside.
When they were building the walls, how could I not have noticed!
But I never heard the builders, not a sound.
Imperceptibly they’ve closed me off from the outside world.
In these dark rooms where I live out empty days,
I wander round and round
trying to find the windows.
It will be a great relief when a window opens.
But the windows aren’t there to be found
– or at least I can’t find them. And perhaps
it’s better if I don’t find them.
Perhaps the light will prove another tyranny.
Who knows what new things it will expose?
I didn’t restrain myself. I gave in completely and went,
went to those pleasures that were half real,
half wrought by my own mind,
went into the brilliant night
and drank strong wine,
the way the champions of pleasure drink.
Comes to rest
It must have been one o’clock at night
or half past one.
A corner in a tavern,
behind the wooden partition:
except for the two of us the place completely empty.
A lamp barely lit gave it light.
The waiter was sleeping by the door.
No one could see us.
But anyway, we were already so worked up
we’d become incapable of caution.
Our clothes half opened – we weren’t wearing much:
it was a beautiful hot July.
Delight of flesh between
quick baring of flesh – a vision
that has crossed twenty-six years
and now comes to rest in this poetry.
The afternoon sun
This room, how well I know it.
Now they’re renting it, and the one next to it,
as offices. The whole house has become
an office building for agents, businessmen, companies.
This room, how familiar it is.
The couch was here, near the door,
a Turkish carpet in front of it.
Close by, the shelf with two yellow vases.
On the right – no, opposite – a wardrobe with a mirror.
In the middle the table where he wrote,
and three big wicker chairs.
Beside the window the bed
where we made love so many times.
They must be still around somewhere, those old things.
Beside the window the bed;
the afternoon sun used to touch half of it.
…One afternoon at four o’clock we separated
for a week only…And then
– that week became forever.
Before Time altered them
They were full of sadness at their parting.
They hadn’t wanted it: circumstances made it necessary.
The need to earn a living forced one of them
to go far away – New York or Canada.
The love they felt wasn’t, of course, what it had once been;
the attraction between them had gradually diminished,
the attraction had diminished a great deal.
But to be separated, that wasn’t what they wanted.
It was circumstances. Or maybe Fate
appeared as an artist and decided to part them now,
before their feeling died out completely, before Time altered them:
the one seeming to remain for the other always what he was,
the good-looking young man of twenty-four.
Translations from Greek into English © 1975 Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
Constantine Cavafy (Konstantin Kavafis), 1863-1933,
lived and died in the port city of Alexandria, Egypt.
His father had worked in Manchester, England, founding
an import-export firm for Egyptian cotton to the
textile industry. Between the ages of 9 and 16 Constantine
was educated in England – Victorian-era England – and
these years became important in the shaping of his poetic
sensibility (which would only emerge around the age of 40.)
Though he was fluent in English, when he began to write poetry
in earnest it was to be in his native Greek.
Cavafy never published any poems in his lifetime, rather he
had them printed privately then distributed them
– pamphlet-style – to friends and acquaintances.
His social circle was small and by all accounts he was not ashamed
of his homosexuality – but he did feel much guilt over
“auto-eroticism” – what we now call masturbation.
Cavafy’s early poems “Walls” and “The Windows” might
be read as the mental anxieties of a “closeted” homosexual –
yet there was no such thing in the 19th century as someone
who was “Out” anyway.
The poem “I went”, from 1905, seems to be a break-through of sorts,
Cavafy indicating – at least in the Truth that was his much-cherished
Art – Poetry – that he’s ready to write openly of his love for men.
The poems he wrote when he was in his 50s, such as “Comes to rest”,
“The afternoon sun” and “Before Time altered them”, show a mature
poet describing the universal beauty and sadness of Love – and he
does it describing sex, passion and loss between two men.
“Growing in Spirit”
He who hopes to grow in spirit
will have to transcend obedience and respect.
He will hold to some laws
but he will mostly violate
both law and custom, and go beyond
the established, inadequate norm.
Sensual pleasures will have much to teach him.
He will not be afraid of the destructive act:
half the house will have to come down.
This way he will grow virtuously into wisdom.
Όποιος το πνεύμα του ποθεί να δυναμώσει
να βγει απ’ το σέβας κι από την υποταγή.
Aπό τους νόμους μερικούς θα τους φυλάξει,
αλλά το περισσότερο θα παραβαίνει
και νόμους κ’ έθιμα κι απ’ την παραδεγμένη
και την ανεπαρκούσα ευθύτητα θα βγει.
Aπό τες ηδονές πολλά θα διδαχθεί.
Την καταστρεπτική δεν θα φοβάται πράξι·
το σπίτι το μισό πρέπει να γκρεμισθεί.
Έτσι θ’ αναπτυχθεί ενάρετα στην γνώσι.
“Creciendo en Espíritu”
El que espera crecer en espíritu
tendrá que transcender la obediencia y el respeto.
Cumplirá ciertas leyes
pero más que todo violará
la ley y la costumbre ambas, e irá más allá
de la norma establecida insuficiente.
Los placeres sensuales tendrán mucho que enseñarle.
No tendrá miedo del acto destructor:
tendrá que echar abajo la mitad de la casa.
De esta manera madurará virtuosamente en sabiduría.
From all I did and all I said
let no one try to find out who I was.
An obstacle was there that changed the pattern
of my actions and the manner of my life.
An obstacle was often there
to stop me when I’d begin to speak.
From my most unnoticed actions,
my most veiled writing—
from these alone will I be understood.
But maybe it isn’t worth so much concern,
so much effort to discover who I really am.
Later, in a more perfect society,
someone else made just like me
is certain to appear and act freely.
Aπ’ όσα έκαμα κι απ’ όσα είπα
να μη ζητήσουνε να βρουν ποιος ήμουν.
Εμπόδιο στέκονταν και μεταμόρφωνε
τες πράξεις και τον τρόπο της ζωής μου.
Εμπόδιο στέκονταν και σταματούσε με
πολλές φορές που πήγαινα να πω.
Οι πιο απαρατήρητές μου πράξεις
και τα γραψίματά μου τα πιο σκεπασμένα —
από εκεί μονάχα θα με νιώσουν.
Aλλά ίσως δεν αξίζει να καταβληθεί
τόση φροντίς και τόσος κόπος να με μάθουν.
Κατόπι — στην τελειοτέρα κοινωνία —
κανένας άλλος καμωμένος σαν εμένα
βέβαια θα φανεί κ’ ελεύθερα θα κάμει.
Translated from Greek into English by Edmund Keeley / Philip Sherrard
De todo lo que hice y dije,
que nadie intente descubrir quien yo era.
Había un obstáculo allá que cambió el diseño
de mis actos y la manera de mi vida.
Allá había un obstáculo, a menudo,
para pararme cuando yo comenzaba a hablar.
De los actos más desapercibidos,
de la obra escrita más velada –
de aquellos solamente yo seré comprendido.
Pero quizás no vale la pena tanta inquietud,
tanto esfuerzo para descubrir quien soy yo en verdad.
Después, en una sociedad más perfecta,
algún otro – hecho justamente como yo –
con seguridad aparecerá y se comportará con libertad.
Traducciones al español por Alexander Best
Constantine Cavafy (Konstantin Kavafis), 1863-1933,
was born and died in Alexandria, Egypt,
though his parents were from Greece. He
wrote most of his poems after the age of 40,
all the while holding a dull job as a civil servant.
He is one of the great poets in modern Greek, and
though the Greek originals are in rhyme, still
Keeley and Sherrard (the standard setters for 20th-century
Greek poetry translation, along with George Savidis), in their free-verse
English renderings remain true to Kavafis’ signature “pondering-aloud” style
as well as preserving the poet’s subtlety of feeling and tone.