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The Blue Moon Review
 

 
Two Poems
by Constantine Cavafy
translated by Aliki Barnstone

The Afternoon Sun
This room, how well I know it.
Now they rent it and the one next door
as commercial offices. The whole house became
offices for agents and merchants and companies.

Ah, this room, how familiar.

The couch was near the door, here;
in front, a Turkish rug;
near the couch, two yellow vases on a shelf.
On the right, no, across from it, was an armoire with a mirror.
In the middle, the table where he wrote
and three wicker chairs.
Next to the window was the bed 
where we made love so many times.

These sad things must still be somewhere.

Next to the window was the bed;
the afternoon sun spread across halfway.

...One afternoon at four o'clock, we separated,
just for a week....Alas,
that week became forever.


[1919]

* * *

If Truly Dead
"Where has he withdrawn? Where did the sage disappear?
After his countless miracles,
the fame of his teaching
broadcast in so many nations,
he suddenly hid and no one found out
with certainty what happened
(nor did anyone see his grave).
Some spread a rumor he died in Efesos.
But Damis did not write it; Damis wrote nothing
about the death of Apollonios.
Others said he vanished in Lindos.
Or is that story
true that he ascended in Crete,
in the ancient temple of Diktinnis.—
But still we have his miraculous,
his supernatural apparition
before a young student in Tyana.—
Perhaps the time has not come for him to return,
to show himself to the world again;
but perhaps transfigured 
he circulates among us unrecognized.—But he will appear again
as he was, teaching the right; and of course then
he will revive the worship of our gods,
and our refined Greek rituals."
 
So he dreamed in his shabby house—
after reading Filostratos's
"On Apollonios of Tyana"—
he, one of the few pagans,
one of the very few remaining. In any case—an insignificant
and timid man—to keep appearances,
he played the Christian and he too went to church.
It was the era when in utmost piety 
the old Justin was king,
and Alexandria, god-fearing city,
abhorred miserable idol-worshippers.


Constantine P. Cavafy was an Alexandrian Greek. Though he is considered the greatest modern poet in the Greek language (a language which has given the world Nobel laureates, George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis), he never formally published a book in his lifetime. He made pamphlets and broadsides for selected readers. Yet he was known as poet through his friendship with E.M. Forster, who published his poem "Ithaka" in Criterion. Cavafy's work influenced T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, who found in Cavafy a model for their poetic explorations of history and myth. Cavafy continues have a profound impact on contemporary literature, from Mark Doty's book My Alexandria to J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for Barbarians. 

Aliki Barnstone's most recent books of poems are Wild With It (Sheep Meadow, 2002) and Madly in Love (Carnegie-Mellon, 1997. Her translations of Cavafy appear or will appear in TriQuarterly, New Letters, The Partisan Review, The Drunken Boat, and elsewhere. She is Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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