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Constantine P. Cavafy (1863 – 1933)

Greek poet who is often ranked among most important literary figures of the 20th century.
Constantine P. Cavafy
The frivolous can call me frivolous.
I’ve always been most punctilious about
important things. And I insist
that no one knows better than I do
the Holy Fathers, or the Scriptures, or the Canons of the Councils.
Cavafy quotes
From all I did and all I said
let no one try to find out who I was.
Cavafy is intrigued by the comic possibilities created by the indirect relation of poets to the world. While the man of action requires the presence of others here and now, for without the public he cannot act, the poet fabricates his poem in solitude.

Cavafy Constantine P. quotes
He was a quiet, gentle man,
a man who loved peace
(his country had suffered much
from the wars of his predecessor),
he behaved graciously toward everyone,
humble and great alike.
Never high-handed, he always sought advice
in the kingdom’s affairs
from serious, experienced people.
Cavafy Constantine P.
As the shores of Ithaca gradually
Faded away behind him
And he sailed swiftly westward
Toward Iberia and the Pillars of Hercules,
Far from every Achaean sea,
He felt he was alive once more,
Freed from the oppressive bonds
Of familiar, domestic things.
And his adventurous heart rejoiced
Coldly, devoid of love.
Constantine P. Cavafy quotes
Guard, O my soul, against pomp and glory.
And if you cannot curb your ambitions,
at least pursue them hesitantly, cautiously.
And the higher you go,
the more searching and careful you need to be.
Constantine P. Cavafy
We for the best will strive. And always more
defective, more perplexing than before,
shall all things fare; until, as in a mist,
we stray bewildered. Then we shall desist.
For in that helpless hour the gods attend.
They always come, the gods. They will descend
from their machines, and straightway liberate
some and as suddenly exterminate
others; and having reformed us, they will go. —
And afterward, one will act so; and so
another; and in time the rest will do
as they needs must. And we shall start anew.
Cavafy Constantine P. quotes
From his biographers we know how cautious and reserved Cavafy was, how reluctant to talk about himself. Although he frequented cafes and saw many people, his loneliness remained unalleviated. This poem is a rather unusual confession for the poet, especially since it comes so early in his life: Now that you've wasted your life here, in this small corner, you've destroyed it everywhere in the world. The "City" is a summing up of the poet's life, starting with the desire for escape, for a journey, the last hope for a new beginning and ending with the realization that the journey is impossible because once a life has been ruined in one city it will be the same in any other. What separates him from society will not change from city to city.
Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?
Cavafy Constantine P.
I look before me at my lighted candles,
I don’t want to turn around and see with horror
How quickly the dark line is lengthening,
How quickly the candles multiply that have been put out.
Constantine P. Cavafy
He who hopes to grow in spirit
will have to transcend obedience and respect.
He'll hold to some laws
but he'll mostly violate
both law and custom, and go beyond
the established, inadequate norm.
Sensual pleasures will have much to teach him.
He won't be afraid of the destructive act:
half the house will have to come down.
This way he'll grow virtuously into wisdom.

Constantine P. Cavafy quotes
And in Spain Galba
secretly musters and drills his army —
Galba, the old man in his seventy-third year.
Constantine P. Cavafy
The Spartans weren't to be led
and ordered around
like precious servants. Besides,
they wouldn't have thought a pan-Hellenic expedition
without a Spartan king in command
was to be taken very seriously.
Of course, then, "except the Lacedaimonians."
Cavafy quotes
Cavafy has three principal concerns: love, art, and politics in the original Greek sense. ... As a witness, Cavafy is exceptionally honest. He neither bowdlerizes nor glamorizes nor giggles. The erotic world he depicts is one of casual pickups and short-lived affairs. Love, there, is rarely more than physical passion, and when tenderer emotions exist, they are almost always one-sided. At the same time, he refuses to pretend that his memories of sensual pleasure are unhappy or spoiled by feelings of guilt.
Cavafy Constantine P.
Speak not of guilt, speak not of responsibility. When the Regiment of the Senses parades by, with music, and with banners; when the senses shiver and shudder, it is only a fool and and an irreverent person that will keep his distance, who will not embrace the good cause, marching towards the conquest of pleasures and passions.
All of morality’s laws – poorly understood and applied – are nil and cannot stand even for a moment, when the Regiment of the Senses parades by, with music, and with banners.
Cavafy Constantine P. quotes
I'm practically broke and homeless.
This fatal city, Antioch,
has devoured all my money:
this fatal city with its extravagant life.
Constantine P. Cavafy
He was a man who starts at a certain age with all signs showing that he's unable to produce anything of importance. And then, by refusing and refusing things which are offered him, in the end he finds, he sees, as they say; he becomes certain that he's found his own expression. It's a splendid example of a man who, through his refusals, finds his way.
Constantine P. Cavafy quotes
In his poems about the relations between Christians and Pagans in the age of Constantine, Cavafy takes no sides. Roman Paganism was worldly in the sense that the aim of its ritual practices was to secure prosperity and peace for the state and its citizens. ... after Constantine, it was the Christian who had a better chance than the Pagan of getting on in the world, and the Pagan, even if not persecuted, who became the object of social ridicule.
Constantine P. Cavafy
And if you can’t shape your life the way you want,
at least try as much as you can
not to degrade it
by too much contact with the world,
by too much activity and talk.
Cavafy Constantine P.
One candle is enough. Its gentle light
will be more suitable, will be more gracious
when the Shades arrive, the Shades of Love.

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