Constantine P. Cavafy

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We won't be deceived
by words such as Indispensable, Unique, and Great.
Someone else indispensable and unique and great
can always be found at a moment's notice.

Constantine P. Cavafy, also known as Konstantin or Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis, or Kavaphes (Greek Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης) (April 29, 1863April 29, 1933) was a Greek poet who is often included in the most important literary figures of the 20th century.


  • We won't be deceived
    by words such as Indispensable, Unique, and Great.
    Someone else indispensable and unique and great
    can always be found at a moment's notice.
    • When the Watchman Saw the Light
  • He who hopes to grow in spirit
    will have to transcend obedience and respect.
    He'll hold to some laws
    but he'll mostly violate
    both law and custom, and go beyond
    the established, inadequate norm.
    Sensual pleasures will have much to teach him.
    He won't be afraid of the destructive act:
    half the house will have to come down.
    This way he'll grow virtuously into wisdom.
  • You won't find a new country, won't find another shore.
    This city will always pursue you.
    You'll walk the same streets, grow old
    in the same neighbourhoods, turn grey in these same houses.
    You'll always end up in this city. Don't hope for things elsewhere:
    there's no ship for you, there's no road.
    Now that you've wasted your life here, in this small corner,
    you've destroyed it everywhere in the world.
  • Don't mourn your luck that's failing now,
    work gone wrong, your plans
    all 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 setting out upon your way to Ithaca,
    wish always that your course be long,
    full of adventure, full of lore.
  • Body, remember not only how much you were loved,
    not only the beds you lay on,
    but also those desires glowing openly
    in eyes that looked at you,
    trembling for you in voices.
  • I created you while I was happy, while I was sad,
    with so many incidents, so many details.

    And, for me, the whole of you has been transformed into feeling.

  • And from this marvellous pan-Hellenic expedition,
    triumphant, brilliant in every way,
    celebrated on all sides, glorified
    incomparable, we emerged:
    the great new Hellenic world.

Waiting for the Barbarians (1904)

  • What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

    The barbarians are due here today.

    • l. 1
  • Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
    wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
    Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
    rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
    Why are they carrying elegant canes
    beautifully worked in silver and gold?

    Because the barbarians are coming today
    and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

    • l. 16
  • Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
    (How serious people's faces have become.)
    Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
    everyone going home lost in thought?

    Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
    And some of our men who have just returned from the border say
    there are no barbarians any longer.

    Now what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
    Those people were a kind of solution.

    • l. 26

To Have Taken The Trouble (1930)

  • Whatever job they give me,
    I'll try to be useful to the country. That's what I intend.
    • l. 18
  • One of the three will want me anyway.
    And my conscience is quiet
    about my not caring which one I choose:
    the three of them are equally bad for Syria.
    • l. 28
  • The almighty gods ought to have taken the trouble
    to create a fourth, a decent man.
    I would gladly have gone along with him.
    • l. 28

About Constantine P. Cavafy

  • He has the strength (and of course the limitations) of the recluse, who, though not afraid of the world, always stands at a slight angle to it.
    • E. M. Forster, "The Poetry of C.P. Cavafy," from Pharos and Pharillon (1923)
  • He was a man who starts at a certain age with all signs showing that he's unable to produce anything of importance. And then, by refusing and refusing things which are offered him, in the end he finds, he sees, as they say; he becomes certain that he's found his own expression. It's a splendid example of a man who, through his refusals, finds his way.
  • The erotic world he depicts is one of casual pickups and short-lived affairs. Love, there, is rarely more than physical passion, and when tenderer emotions exist, they are almost always one-sided. At the same time, he refuses to pretend that his memories of sensual pleasure are unhappy or spoiled by feelings of guilt.
    • W. H. Auden, "C.P. Cavafy," from Forewords and Afterwords (1973)
  • Cavafy's attitude toward the poetic vocation is an aristocratic one. His poets do not think of themselves as persons of great public importance and entitled to universal homage, but, rather, as citizens of a small republic in which one is judged by one's peers and the standard of judgment is strict.
    • W. H. Auden, "C.P. Cavafy," from Forewords and Afterwords (1973)

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