The organist has closed his instrumentAfter recessional, and closed his book;Counterpoint that his fingers undertookInto the world of light has made ascent.Airy agilities for perfection spentHave quieted at last, but not the lookFrom the musician's eyes that will not brookA blundering word upon a great event.Far from New England's leafiness I writeIn that land of the old latinityAnd golden air to which at length he came,My master and friend, as to his own birthright.What farther land he found I hope to seeWhen by my change our evenings are the same.
Thursday, February 24, 2022
Thursday, February 17, 2022
Within this black hive to-nightThere swarm a million bees;Bees passing in and out the moon,Bees escaping the moon,Bees returning through the moon,Silver bees intently buzzing,Silver honey dripping from the swarm of beesEarth is a waxen cell of the world comb,And I, a drone,Lying on my back,Lipping honey,Getting drunk with silver honey,Wish that I might fly out past the moonAnd curl forever in some far-off farmyard flower.
Thursday, February 10, 2022
My heart has made its mind upAnd I'm afraid it's you.Whatever you've got lined upMy heart has made its mind upAnd if you can't be signed upThis year, next year will do.My heart has made its mind upAnd I'm afraid it's you.
Thursday, February 3, 2022
When suddenly, at the midnight houran invisible company is heard going past,with exquisite music, with voices--your fate that's giving in now, your deedsthat failed, your life's plans that proved to beall illusions, do not needlessly lament.As one long since prepared, as one courageous,bid farewell to the Alexandria that's leaving.Above all, don't be misled, don't say it wasa dream, that your ears deceived you;don't deign to foster such vain hopes.As one long since prepared, as one courageous,as befits you who were deemed worthy of such a city,move with steady steps toward the windowand listen with deepest feeling, yet notwith a coward's entreaties and complaints,listen as an ultimate delight to the sounds,to the exquisite instruments of the mystical company,and bid farewell to the Alexandria you are losing.
-Constantin P. Cavafy (tr. Evangelos Sachperoglu)
One of the most famous of Cavafy's poems. I should have picked something less well-known, but in the end, I didn't. 😉 The final version of the poem is from 1911. Cavafy is, of course, a native of Alexandria.
It alludes to Plutarch's Life of Antony (ch. 75, here from the 'Dryden' translation). Dionysus, Antony's patron god, leaves him to his fate. Antony is bottled up by Octavian's forces in Alexandria:
'That night, it is related, about the middle of it, when the whole city was was in a deep silence and general sadness, expecting the event of the next day, on a sudden was heard the sound of all sorts of instruments, and voices singing in tune, and the cry of a crowd of people shouting and dancing, like a troop of bacchanals on its way. This tumultuous procession seemed to take its course right through the middle of the city to the gate nearest the enemy; here it became the loudest, and suddenly passed out. People who reflected considered this to signify that Bacchus, the god whom Antony had always made it his study to copy and imitate, had now forsaken him."
Antony commits suicide the next day rather than be taken by Octavian, shortly to be followed by Cleopatra.
I was spouting off about Cavafy translations recently, and have been wanting to look them up. I generally prefer the Sachperoglu versions (in Oxford World Classics) except I prefer the alternative title 'The God Abandons Antony', more commonly used. The first few lines from the Keeley and Sherrard version:
At midnight, when suddenly you hearan invisible procession going bywith exquisite music, voices,don't mourn your luck that's failing now,work gone wrong, your plansall proving deceptive--don't mourn them uselessly:as one long prepared, and full of courage,say goodbye to her, to Alexandria who is leaving.
When suddenly at midnight, there comes the soundof an invisible procession passing bywith exquisite music playing, with voices raised--your good fortune, which now gives way; all your efforts'ill-starred outcome; the plans you made for life,which turned out wrong: don't mourn them uselesslyLike one who's long prepared, like someone brave,bid farewell to her, to Alexandria, who is leaving.