Konstantin Kavafis / Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης: “I went into the brilliant night and drank strong wine, the way the Champions of Pleasure drink.”


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.


The Windows



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 went



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

half-opened clothes;

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.

Reinaldo Arenas: “There’s just one place to live – the impossible.” / “Sólo hay un lugar para vivir – el imposible.”


Reinaldo Arenas (Gay Cuban novelist and poet, 1943-1990)




A bad poet in love with the moon,

he counted terror as his only fortune :

and it was enough because, being no saint,

he knew that life is risk or abstinence,

that every great ambition is great insanity

and the most sordid horror has its charm.

He lived for life’s sake, which means seeing death

as a daily occurrence on which we wager

a splendid body or our entire lot.

He knew the best things are those we abandon

— precisely because we are leaving.

The everyday becomes hateful,

there s just one place to live – the impossible.

He knew imprisonment offenses

typical of human baseness ;

but was always escorted by a certain stoicism

that helped him walk the tightrope

or enjoy the morning’s glory,

and when he tottered, a window would appear

for him to jump toward infinity.

He wanted no ceremony, speech, mourning or cry,

no sandy mound where his skeleton be laid to rest

(not even after death did he wish to live in peace).

He ordered that his ashes be scattered at sea

where they would be in constant flow.

He hasn’t lost the habit of dreaming :

he hopes some adolescent will plunge into his waters.


(New York, 1989)




Reinaldo Arenas (Escritor y poeta gay cubano, 1943-1990)




Mal poeta enamorado de la luna,

no tuvo más fortuna que el espanto;

y fue suficiente pues como no era un santo

sabía que la vida es riesgo o abstinencia,

que toda gran ambición es gran demencia

y que el más sórdido horror tiene su encanto.

Vivió para vivir que es ver la muerte

como algo cotidiano a la que apostamos

un cuerpo espléndido o toda nuestra suerte.

Supo que lo mejor es aquello que dejamos

– precisamente porque nos marchamos – .

Todo lo cotidiano resulta aborrecible,

sólo hay un lugar para vivir, el imposible.

Conoció la prisión, el ostracismo,

el exilio, las múltiples ofensas

típicas de la vileza humana;

pero siempre lo escoltó cierto estoicismo

que le ayudó a caminar por cuerdas tensas

o a disfrutar del esplendor de la mañana.

Y cuando ya se bamboleaba surgía una ventana

por la cual se lanzaba al infinito.

No quiso ceremonia, discurso, duelo o grito,

ni un tumulo de arena donde reposase el esqueleto

(ni después de muerto quiso vivir quieto).

Ordenó que sus cenizas fueran lanzadas al mar

donde habrán de fluir constantemente.

No ha perdido la costumbre de soñar:

espera que en sus aguas se zambulla algún adolescente.


(Nueva York, 1989)



Reinaldo Arenas came into conflict with Fidel Castro’s government because of his openly-Gay lifestyle and because he managed to get several novels published abroad without official consent. He was jailed in 1973 for “ideological deviation”;  he escaped and tried to flee Cuba on an inner-tube floating in the Caribbean Sea.  The attempt failed and he was jailed again, this time at El Morro – the roughest prison in Cuba.  He wrote letters for the loved ones of murderers and thereby gained some respect.  Upon his release in 1976 the government forced him to renounce his work.  In 1980 he came to the USA – one of many Cubans in the Mariel Boatlift.  He settled in New York City where he mentored other exiled writers – but he was never happy, and he was Cuban till the end.  Diagnosed with AIDS in 1987 he committed suicide in 1990, penning these words in a last letter (written for publication):

“Due to my delicate state of health and to the terrible depression it causes me not to be able to continue writing and struggling for the freedom of Cuba, I am ending my life. . . I want to encourage Cuban people out of the country as well as on the Island to continue fighting for freedom. . . Cuba will be free – I already am.”

António Botto: “O mais importante na vida é ser-se criador – criar beleza.” / “The most important thing in life is to create – to create beauty.”

António Botto (Lisbon, Portugal, 1897-1959)

Selected poems from “Canções” (“Songs”)

In love –

Now don’t question me! –

There were always

Two kinds of men.


This is quite true

And greater than life’s self is.

No one down here can deny it

Or dismiss.


One kind of man

Looks on, without love or sin:

The other kind

Feels, grows passionate, comes in.


No amor,

Não duvides amor meu –

Dois tipos de homem

Houve sempre.


E esta verdade

Que é maior que a própria vida,

Só por Ele – vê lá bem!,

Poderá ser desmentida.


– Um,

A contemplar se contenta;

E outro,

Apaixona-se, intervém…


You’re wrong, I tell you again.


In love

The only lie we find out in the future

Is that which seems

The best truth now,

The truth that seems to fall in with our fates.


Love never really lies:

It simply exaggerates.


Enganas-te, digo ainda.


No amor,

– Apenas, é mentira no futuro


Que nos parece uma verdade presente.


O amor não mente, nunca!

Exagera simplesmente.


I’ve left off drinking, my friend.

Yes, I have set wine aside.


But if

You really want

To see me drunk –

This is between us, you see –,

Take slowly up to your mouth

The glass meant for me,

Then pass it over to me.


Deixei de beber, amigo.


Sim, já desprezei o vinho.



Se tu afirmas que tens

O prazer de me ver ébrio,

– Que isto fique entre nós dois:

Aproxima da tua boca

A taça que me destinas,

E dá-ma depois.


The most important thing in life

Is to create – to create beauty.


To do that

We must foresee it

Where our eyes cannot really see it.


I think that dreaming the impossible

Is like hearing the faint voice

Of something that wants to live

And calls to us from afar.


Yes, the most important thing in life

Is to create.


And we must move

Towards the impossible

With shut eyes, like faith or love.


O mais importante na vida

É ser-se criador – criar beleza.


Para isso,

É necessário pressenti-la

Aonde os nossos olhos não a virem.


Eu creio que sonhar o impossível

É como que ouvir a voz de alguma coisa

Que pede existência e que nos chama de longe.


Sim, o mais importante na vida

É ser-se criador.

E para o impossível

Só devemos caminhar de olhos fechados

Como a fé e como o amor.



Translations from the Portuguese:  Fernando Pessoa


António Botto published Canções (Songs) in

Lisbon in 1920.  He was 23.  And he began to rub shoulders

with the city’s intellectual élite during what was to be a short

period of bohemianism leading up to the military coup

of 1926 and the establishment of the Estado Novo (New State),

an authoritarian dictatorship.

A second edition of  Canções was

printed in 1922 – and this time it created a critical furor

as “Literature of Sodom”.   Botto made no secret of his

homosexuality – he flirted in public, and that took guts –

and many of his first-person-voice love poems are

frankly addressed to men.  Though Fernando Pessoa – one

of Portugal’s heavyweights in the Modernist movement (and also

the translator into English of Botto’s poems) – defended Botto in

print,  it was a defence of the aesthetic ideal of male beauty

– a Classical Greek (Hellenic) value that had influenced all

Mediterranean cultures – not a public endorsement of the fact that

Botto was writing about loving men.   Botto was just too ahead of his time;

he was “pushing the boundaries”,  as we call it now.

A conservative university-student league called verses such as

“Listen, my angel:  what if I should kiss your skin,

what if I should kiss your mouth, which is all honey within?”

“disgraceful language” and Botto a “shameless”

author, pressuring the government to take action, which it did,

seizing and burning books by Botto as well as “Decadência” by Judith

Teixeira, a lesbian poet.


We thank University of Toronto professor Josiah Blackmore

for re-issuing the Songs of Botto;  he is a poet too little known

in the English language.