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May 16, 2004 11:55 AM   Subscribe

C. P. Cavafy. With English translations and Greek originals of his published poems. An introduction to a collection of his poetry by Auden, and a museum exhibit about his life.
posted by kenko (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I love Cavafy; he got brought up at the very end of this classic MeFi poetry thread, and he definitely deserves one of his own. C'mon, everybody—y2karl, clavdivs, madamjujujive, miguel, doozer, hippugeek, sgt.serenity, azuzello, all the commenters who made that thread what it was—dive in!

Here's my discussion/translation of a Cavafy poem (self-link).
posted by languagehat at 12:40 PM on May 16, 2004

Cavafy is marvelous--I particularly like this one (a wonderfully astute poem...).
posted by thomas j wise at 1:09 PM on May 16, 2004

ah, Kavafis -- my favorite Groucho-Marx-lookalike (well, minus the moustache) stockbroker poet. I'm always a bit surprised by the consideration he enjoys in the English-speaking world -- probably the fact that he learnt English before he even knew his own language, or maybe it's that very British sense of detachment, who knows. Old Possum's decision (talk about discovering your inner banker, where's rodii when you need him the most...) to publish him in Criterion did help, too, I suppose.

I mean, I admire ?a?a?e???sa as much as the next guy (and L-Hat, your translation is as always very, very elegant, chapeau). but still I am left a bit cold by Kavafis.
even in my own country, thanks to Ungaretti's and Montale's and (in more recent times) Ceronetti's help, Kavafis' work has found a larger -- even popular -- audience. but still, I think that Yourcenar's criticism of Kavafis makes a lot of sense -- he really is, to me, a massively non-Oriental Oriental poet (his Eastern side all but invisible), but elegance (and, I concede, a certain amount of wit) can not really replace powerful language -- powerful as in Pascoli-like powerful -- or a heart.

frankly, with all due respect, I wouldn't trade a single line by Leopardi with all of Kavafis one hundred and fiftysomething (hope I'm not mistaken) opera omnia.

in my eyes, Szymborska demonstrates what a more witty -- and ballsy -- Kavafis could have achieved.

but I'm rambling. and didn't mean to ruin the Kavafis Festival. this is just my 0.02 euros, so please disregard
posted by matteo at 4:57 PM on May 16, 2004

"I admire ?a?a?e???sa"

heh. MetaFilter doesn't like Greek, doesn't it? it is, of course:

"I admire katharevousa" etc.
posted by matteo at 4:59 PM on May 16, 2004

matteo: It's difficult for me to assess Kavafis' poetry minus his language - however his language was unique and rather unsettling at the time, as he borrowed elements from both the vernacular and katharevousa (at the time when there was a linguistic war in Greece) creating a mixture that makes him instantly recognizable... As for his lack of passion, I think this perception has something to do with the fact that (IMHO) his sensual poems are significantly less easily translated than the rest of his work: Reading "Long Ago", one is underwhelmed by the emotional effect of the translation - although Keeley has done an excellent job with the more "didactic" of Kavafis' poems.

I feel compelled to point out that, showcased in the Greek section of the PIW, is the archetypal untranslatable poet (who happens to be my favourite): Miltos Sachtouris, a most disturbing voice: surrealism applied to the horror of the everyday in an ominously lyrical environment. A small sample: The Garden.
posted by talos at 5:51 PM on May 16, 2004

I agree with talos: Kavafis in English sounds different, rather peculiar... for what it's worth, I've always been a fan of Ithaca.
posted by costas at 9:34 PM on May 16, 2004

> matteo: It's difficult for me to assess Kavafis' poetry minus his language

Auden, in his introduction, points out that the ideas in Cavafy's poetry retain an extraordinary amount of power even when divorced from the original language, which makes him a poet whose work translates remarkably well.
posted by jfuller at 5:06 AM on May 17, 2004

jfuller, Auden is, I assume, referring to (what I call) his didactic poems. His more personal poems don't translate as easily - and I can't stress enough the effect of the uniqueness of his poetic language (in Greek), which remains of course untranslatable.

Anyway no matter how well a poet translates, for a native speaker the language is always an integral part of the poetry which will be missing in any translation...
posted by talos at 6:52 AM on May 17, 2004

Absolutely. And as someone who got a pitcher of booze sent to my table in an Athens restaurant for bellowing "The City" in Greek ("Ipes, 'Tha pago s'alli yi, tha pago s'alli thalasa...'")—what can I say, it was my birthday and I was drunk—I'm not about to resign from the Church of Cavafy. Seriously, you can't fully appreciate him in translation, any more than you can Brodsky (another poet with a huge English-language fan club); I'm just glad enough comes through for people to appreciate him anyway.
posted by languagehat at 10:10 AM on May 17, 2004

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