C. P. Cavafy

They change their sky, not their soul, who rush across the sea. Horace

When I was younger, I used to yearn for a warmer place to live. But I’m too old now to move anywhere and my lifelong spouse has no interest in taking leave of the city where we have lived for the past 50 years.

Still, when the days are dark and the rain is pouring down, I begin to yearn for that elusive place once again. However, in his poem The City C. P. Cavafy reminds me that no matter where I might find a warmer place to live, I will never be able to escape myself.

The City

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

Cavafy was born in Alexandria in 1863 to a Greek family of some wealth and at various times in his life he lived in England and Istanbul. He returned in Alexandria after the collapse of the family business where he died in 1933 at the age of 70.

In a comment about Cavafy’s poem The City, Orhan Pamuk wrote: I have read [it] again and again in Turkish and in English translation. There is no other city to go to: The city that makes us is the one within us. Reading Cavafy’s The City has changed the way I look at my own Istanbul.

Every now and then I read one of Cavafy’s poems that have been translated and published on the Web or in one of the volumes of his poems. He wrote only 154 that can be found here

From the Archives this is one I especially like for reasons that are not at all obscure:

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.