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.

My new crush

Brand new mad crush on June Jordan.  How can it be that June Jordan is this great, and yet at the same time I have never heard of her before, and I might never have heard of her at all if I hadn’t been reading random poems on the Poetry Foundation website?  June Jordan!  She was this amazing poet and activist, and I am in love with her!  I don’t really know how to review books of poetry, and I am not through with her memoir, Soldier, to review that either, and I have not yet gotten to the one book of her essays that was not checked out at the library; so I guess I will just go on gushing about her for now.

From Soldier:

What was ugly?  It seemed to mean the wrong family and no friends and other ducks refusing to play with you and making fun of however you didn’t look exactly like them.

And I had never heard about ugly before.  And ugly frightened me.  I was afraid and then I became positive that I might be ugly.

Why did the Ugly Duckling lose its mother?
How could a duck turn into a swan?
Why would that be a happy ending for a duck?
The Ugly Duckling was depicted as a black baby duck.
The swan was white.
How did the black baby duck turn white?
Why was that a happy ending?

I thought I understood that story,
and I didn’t believe it,
and I kept reading it to myself,
over and over.

Here are some poems by June Jordan that I like a lot at the Poetry Foundation website.  And I read loads more in my two books of her poetry, and I really want to read more of her poems but they are checked out.  And I want to read all her essays.  I love her.  I totally love her.  She was all about confronting social injustice.  I love her.  Here are some bits of poems I copied into my commonplace book last night.

From “Lebanon Lebanon”:

As usual
I have to ask
where’s Jesus
when you need him

The miracle of water into wine’s
just fine
but what about
a miracle of blood
delivering a river
we can drink

From “Message to Belfast”:

I am afraid to fall
but I am proud
to stand before the morning
awake with no one near
and with my conscience clear
for once
I am completely where
I ought to be

In the city
of Belfast
I have lost and found myself
at home

I am excited to finish her memoir and read her essays and y’all, seriously, she writes beautifully.  I cannot recommend her work highly enough or in glowing enough terms.  I have reviews to catch up on – Peter and Max, Clara Callen, The Icarus Girl – but instead of writing those, I have been falling in love with June Jordan.