Constantine Cavafy

C. P. Cavafy: I LOVE HIM I LOVE HIM. I have such a crush on Cavafy right now. I want to collect every translation of his poems that has ever been done, and compare them. I want to learn modern Greek, an impulse I have never had before, just so I can read Cavafy in the original. Wikipedia says translations don’t capture Cavafy. In fact it says “the poems also exhibit a skilled and versatile craftsmanship, which is almost completely lost in translation.” Dammit. But even so, check it:

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 window
and listen with deepest feeling, yet not
with 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.

Constantine Cavafy, can I come pick you up in the kidnapped TARDIS so that we may have teh sexy times together?

…The internet says not. Apparently he was gay. Uncool, Cavafy! Now even if I conquer time travel, you and I cannot get married. And a damn shame too, because I would not have minded changing my name to Jenny Cavafy. That would be pretty. (It’s cuh-VAH-fy. Jenny Cavafy. It flows well, does it not?)

I have quickly recovered from this crushing blow to my romantic hopes, returned to my initial time-travel scheme of marrying Gregory Peck (y’all should see Spellbound, Gregory Peck is hella sexy in Spellbound and Salvador Dali did some of the design) (obv would not change my name to Peck, he’d have to take my last name), and developed an alternate scheme for interfering in Cavafy’s love life by which I will take the TARDIS to Egypt, collect Cavafy, and transport him to Paris to hang out with poor, broken Oscar Wilde in the years following his prison sentence.

This…is an awesome idea. Cavafy and late-life Oscar Wilde both seem to have been, well, rather melancholy, and I believe they would have been good for each other. It doesn’t even require a TARDIS, the dudes were contemporaries. It could genuinely have happened: Cavafy could have traveled to Paris in 1897 (didn’t! but could have!). While he was there, of course he would have wanted to meet Oscar Wilde, one of his most important literary influences. They would have bonded over their mutually transgressive sexuality and their love of classical literature. Gradually Cavafy would have admitted that he, too, wrote poetry, and he would have perhaps shared a poem or two with Oscar Wilde, who would have loved them and encouraged Cavafy enthusiastically. Next thing you know Oscar Wilde would be writing poems again his own self, his post-jail literary output no longer limited to just “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”. His enthusiasm for writing restored, Wilde would have published a new volume of poems, anonymously, and basked in the resulting critical acclaim. Cavafy would shortly follow suit with a book of poems in English that a girl from, say, 2011 wouldn’t need to learn Greek to appreciate.

Steady literary output and a like-minded friend to hang out with would have distracted Oscar Wilde from his self-destructive tendencies (#coughBosiecough). After a few months of pleasant dinners al fresco, stuffed-bear-winning carnival trips, and an exchange of half-heart necklaces with his new BFF Cavafy, Oscar Wilde would have completely lost track of certain of his friends (#coughBosiecough). Good-natured letter exchanges with Constance (which would have included witty and endearing jokes about Constance’s name and its similarity to Cavafy’s) would have led her to agree to let the boys come to Paris regularly to visit their father, a practice that would be regularized by the time of her death in mid-1898.

Their long, close association and obvious mutual admiration would have led their biographers to speculate that they were in a relationship, though as ever with Oscar Wilde it would have been difficult to differentiate his regular-brand affection from sexy-type love. At the onset of the Great War (Oscar Wilde’s increased happiness would have dramatically improved his health, of course, and he would have lived until 1915), Wilde and Cavafy would have left an embattled Paris for Britain and Egypt respectively, but remained regular and affectionate correspondents. Oscar Wilde would have died before the end of the war, eliciting from Cavafy a famous cycle of tribute poems to his friend and literary mentor (and partner? History wouldn’t know! But I would draw my own conclusions). (Cyril Wilde, incidentally, would receive permission to come home for his father’s funeral, and would not have been killed by German sniper fire.) The lively and touching Cavafy-Wilde correspondence would have been collected and published by Rupert Hart-Davis and Robert Liddell in the 1970s, then reissued in a revised edition as My Dear Good Friend (ed. Merlin Wilde) in 1997, for the centennial of Cavafy’s and Wilde’s first meeting in Paris.


This post now constitutes by far the best imaginary scenario I have ever constructed, and may also be the most sustained display of the most complete dorkiness ever to issue forth from my keyboard. And I am the girl who dedicated a whole paragraph to how exciting it was to get back the memory of stychomythia, and drunk-on-wordplay-posted about Tom Stoppard’s clever use of Victorian sex slang. Actually, my last three posts have all been super dorky. I’m embarrassed for myself. I promise I will post something less dorky next time.

33 thoughts on “Constantine Cavafy

    • Yes, yes, I really thought it through with great thoroughness. An embarrassing level of thoroughness. Just because the more I thought about it, the more wonderful it sounded. :p

  1. Keep the dorky!! Ovation! standing!! Loud clapping!! HUZZAH!
    (Had to go look up ‘ovation’ to make sure it was appropriate and then searched for ‘ovate’ being certain that such a word would also be good, but alas, no. Huh? Right?!)

  2. I love it that you post whole alternate histories here on your blog, and that you are so passionate about them too. Is it ok that I think that you are a super fun and adorable nerdy girl? Because I wouldn’t want to offend, and I know nerd can be an insult to some people, but I really dig your style and cleverness!

  3. Okay, you actually sent me to Wikipedia for this guy before I had my morning tea. Never happens!

    Your scenarios are sheer awesomeness. If I had to vote for most-deserving tardis-recipient, I would vote for you.

    • The Cyril part is how you can tell that I have a stake in Oscar Wilde’s happiness more than poor Cavafy’s. I don’t know hardly anything about Cavafy, but I think a bunch of his brothers died over the years, and you’ll notice I haven’t attempted to save them. (Only because I don’t know how they died. Cyril was easy to save.)

  4. Your post on Nox was not dorky! This? Is dorky but fab-you-LUSS.

    I would not trade the Browning letters, though. That’s going too far. Maybe the Elizabeth Bishop/Robert Lowell correspondence…

    • I would obviously trade the Elizabeth Bishop/Robert Lowell correspondence because I have never read it. :p And I would probably trade the Browning letters, but I’d have to read the Cavafy-Wilde letters first. To make sure.

  5. TRADE THE BROWNING LETTERS? What madness has possessed your brain, faithless child? The Browning letters are my crack – do you have enough cash to pay for literary detox????

    (That said (screamed?), your imaginary scenario is divine.

    • Well this would be an alternate world! If I traded the Browning letters for the Cavafy-Wilde letters, you’d never have known the Browning ones existed! So no literary detox at all. Don’t worry.

  6. You know, I don’t think Gregory Peck was entirely convinced by the ladies either. But hey, in fantasy he is whatever you want him to be. What is it about Greek poets? I felt similar about Seferis, I do recall. Cavafy does sound yummy.

    • What? Yes, he was! What crazy nonsense is this? He was devoted to his wife. If he’d met me he’d have been devoted to ME instead.

      I don’t think I’ve read Seferis — I’ll have to investigate.

  7. Jenny: How wonderful to find a fellow Cavafy enthusiast! I stumbled across his poetry from reading Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet (Cavafy was a literary idol for one of the characters. Ignorant me–I had to go to Wiki to discover Cavafy was an actual poet!) I’m not as familiar with Cavafy’s poetry as I’d like to be (there’s only so much time) but I’ve loved it from the time I read my first poem (probably “Ithaka,” which remains my favorite). I’ve been meaning to track down a recommended translation—any suggestions? My “Collected Poems” is translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard; comparing it with your quote (from “The God Abandons Anthony”, right?) would indicate you’re using a different translation.

    P.S. I also enjoyed your post on Catullus. Like you, I had a marvelous Latin teacher who taught an appreciation of the poetry as much as the grammar/language.

    • I don’t know any Greek, so I don’t know which translation is best. I wish I did! But I have heard good things about the Keeley and Sherrard translations, and I love “Ithaka”. Cavafy writes beautifully about cities.

      Thanks for stopping by! Nice to hear from another Catullus/Cavafy lover.

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