This April marks the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month. While I don’t read a great deal of poetry, there are some poets that I turn to from time to time. C. P. Cavafy was a Greek poet who lived in Alexandria, Egypt. He wrote (in Greek) only 154 poems some of which were published in local newspapers and magazines. In celebration of National Poetry Month, here are two of his poems that I have always liked.
An Old Man
At the noisy end of the café, head bent
over the table, an old man sits alone,
a newspaper in front of him.
And in the miserable banality of old age
he thinks how little he enjoyed the years
when he had strength, eloquence, and looks.
He knows he’s aged a lot: he sees it, feels it.
Yet it seems he was young just yesterday.
So brief an interval, so very brief.
And he thinks of Prudence, how it fooled him,
how he always believed—what madness—
that cheat who said: “Tomorrow. You have plenty of time.”
He remembers impulses bridled, the joy
he sacrificed. Every chance he lost
now mocks his senseless caution.
But so much thinking, so much remembering
makes the old man dizzy. He falls asleep,
his head resting on the café table.
Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard
Here let me stop. Let me too look at Nature for a while.
The morning sea and cloudless sky
a brilliant blue, the yellow shore; all
beautiful and grand in the light.
Here let me stop. Let me fool myself: that these are what I see
(I really saw them for a moment when I first stopped)
instead of seeing, even here, my fantasies,
my recollections, the ikons of pleasure.
Translated by Daniel Mendelsohn