Thursday, June 27, 2013



Constantine P. Cavafy 

Translated by Rae Dalven

When suddenly, at the midnight hour,
an invisible troupe is heard passing
with exquisite music, with shouts --
your fortune that fails you now, your works
that have failed, the plans of your life
that have all turned out to be illusions, do not mourn in vain.
As if long prepared, as if courageous,
bid her farewell, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all do not be fooled, do not tell yourself
it was a dream, that your ears deceived you;
do not stoop to such vain hopes.
As if long prepared, as if courageous,
as it becomes you who have been worthy of such a city,
approach the window with firm step,
and with emotion, but not
with the entreaties and complaints of the coward,
as a last enjoyment listen to the sounds,
the exquisite instruments of the mystical troupe,
and bid her farewell, the Alexandria you are losing.


From : The complete poems of Cavafy by Rae Dalven

It is a magnificent poem by the towering Greek Poet CP Cavafy. I love his sense of balance, his organically perfect unity, his control on emotions in narrating dramatic moments. The poem refers to Plutarch's story that, when Antony was besieged in Alexandria by Octavian, he heard the sounds of instruments and voices, which made its way through the city, and then passed out; the god Bacchus (Dionysus), Antony's protector, was deserting him.

Thoughit thus depicts a moment  when the pagan gods is deserting him. it could also be a difficult moment in our life when we have to leave a city or place under difficult circumstances. The poet speaks to Antony and admonishes him .The poet speaks to Antony and admonishes him to deserve the gift he has had, the gift of living in a city as blessed as Alexandria has been. The poem opens at midnight just as the invisible procession of the gods is leaving and urges us along with his protagonist, Mark Anthony, to embrace the losses in our life along with everything else. For they, too, are a part of who we are; they, too, play their part in the process of soul-making.

---do not mourn in vain.
As if long prepared, as if courageous,
bid her farewell, the Alexandria that is leaving."

The Greek Poet CP Cavafy, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt for most of his life, is considered by many to be one of the great international poets. During his lifetime he wrote one hundred fifty four poems that explore the persistent existential problems we all face. His impact is wide ranging having influenced Nobel prize winning poets such as George Seferis, Czeslaw Milosz, Joseph Brodsky, and Eugenio Montale. The themes that pervade his work include Hellenism, alienation, the double identity of the person, and the psychology of the crowd. His poems are short, full of irony and meaning, They speak with his unique voice and are immediately recognizable as his, and his alone.

Painting:Man at the Window by Samuel van Hoogstraten (1653)