Constantine P. Cavafy, also known as Konstantin or Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis, or Kavaphes (Greek Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης) (29 April 1863 – 29 April 1933) was a Greek poet who is often ranked among most important literary figures of the 20th century.
Born: April 29th, 1863
Died: April 29th, 1933
Quotes: 65 sourced quotes total (includes 8 about)
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What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?The barbarians are due here today.
The days of the future stand in front of us Like a line of candles all alight — Golden and warm and lively little candles.
Don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now, work gone wrong, your plans all proving deceptive — don’t mourn them uselessly. As one long prepared, and graced with courage, say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving. Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say it was a dream, your ears deceived you: don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
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.
That we’ve broken their statues, that we’ve driven them out of their temples, doesn’t mean at all that the gods are dead. O land of Ionia, they’re still in love with you, their souls still keep your memory.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas? Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts, rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds? Why are they carrying elegant canes beautifully worked in silver and gold?Because the barbarians are coming today and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
The empire is delivered at last. The vile, the appalling Julian reigns no longer.
He remembers impulses bridled, the joy he sacrificed. Every chance he lost now mocks his senseless caution.
From my most unnoticed actions, my most veiled writing — from these alone will I be understood.
Things impolitic and dangerous: praise for Greek ideals, supernatural magic, visits to pagan temples. Enthusiasm for the ancient gods
And from this marvellous pan-Hellenic expedition, triumphant, brilliant in every way, celebrated on all sides, glorified incomparable, we emerged: the great new Hellenic world.
Body, remember not only how much you were loved, not only the beds you lay on, but also those desires glowing openly in eyes that looked at you, trembling for you in voices.
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.
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.
When they saw Patroklos dead — so brave and strong, so young — the horses of Achilles began to weep; their immortal nature was upset deeply by this work of death they had to look at.
His friends weren’t Christians; that much was certain. But even so they couldn’t play as he could (brought up a Christian) with a new religious system, ludicrous in both theory and application. They were, after all, Greeks. Nothing in excess, Augustus.
The matter, says Mardonios, has gone too far, the talk it has aroused must be stopped at all cost. — So Julian goes to the church at Nicomedia, a lector again, and there with deep reverence he reads out loud passages from the Holy Scriptures, and everyone marvels at his Christian piety.
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.
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.”
Honor to those who in the life they lead define and guard a Thermopylae. Never betraying what is right, consistent and just in all they do but showing pity also, and compassion; generous when they are rich, and when they are poor, still generous in small ways, still helping as much as they can; always speaking the truth, yet without hating those who lie.
Immoral to a degree — and probably more than a degree — they certainly were. But they had the satisfaction that their life was the notorious life of Antioch, delectably sensual, in absolute good taste. To give up all this, indeed, for what? His hot air about the false gods, his boring self-advertisement, his childish fear of the theatre, his graceless prudery, his ridiculous beard.
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?Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come. And some of our men who have just returned from the border say there are no barbarians any longer.Now what's going to happen to us without barbarians? Those people were a kind of solution.
Just to be on the first step should make you happy and proud. To have come this far is no small achievement: what you have done is a glorious thing. Even this first step is a long way above the ordinary world. To stand on this step you must be in your own right a member of the city of ideas. And it is a hard, unusual thing to be enrolled as a citizen of that city. Its councils are full of Legislators no charlatan can fool.
If you are one of the truly elect, be careful how you attain your eminence.
And in Spain Galba secretly musters and drills his army — Galba, the old man in his seventy-third year.
When setting out upon your way to Ithaca, wish always that your course be long, full of adventure, full of lore.
I'm practically broke and homeless. This fatal city, Antioch, has devoured all my money: this fatal city with its extravagant life.
One candle is enough. Its gentle light will be more suitable, will be more gracious when the Shades arrive, the Shades of Love.
On hearing about powerful love, respond, be moved like an aesthete. Only, fortunate as you’ve been, remember how much your imagination created for you.
A month passes by and brings another month. Easy to guess what lies ahead: all of yesterday’s boredom. And tomorrow ends up no longer like tomorrow.
Try to keep them, poet, those erotic visions of yours, however few of them there are that can be stilled. Put them, half-hidden, in your lines.
The greatest gods of our glorious Greece appeared before you. And if they left, don’t think for a minute that they were frightened by a gesture.
He has the strength (and of course the limitations) of the recluse, who, though not afraid of the world, always stands at a slight angle to it.
He wasn’t completely wrong, poor old Gemistus (let Lord Andronicus and the patriarch suspect him if they like), in wanting us, telling us to become pagan once again.
I created you while I was happy, while I was sad, with so many incidents, so many details.And, for me, the whole of you has been transformed into feeling.
Now the longed-for signal has appeared. Yet when happiness comes it brings less joy than one expected. But at least we've gained this much: we've rid ourselves of hope and expectation.
Roses by the head, jasmine at the feet — so appear the longings that have passed without being satisfied, not one of them granted a night of sensual pleasure, or one of its radiant mornings.
The love they felt wasn’t, of course, what it once had been; the attraction between them had gradually diminished, the attraction had diminished a great deal. But to be separated, that wasn’t what they themselves wanted.
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.
The holy Cross goes forward; it brings joy and consolation to every quarter where Christians live; and these God-fearing people, elated, stand in their doorways and greet it reverently, the strength, the salvation of the universe, the Cross.
So let's not exaggerate. The light is good; and those coming are good, their words and actions also good. And let's hope all goes well. But Argos can do without the house of Atreus. Ancient houses are not eternal.
Of course many people will have much to say. We should listen. But we won't be deceived by words such as Indispensable, Unique, and Great. Someone else indispensable and unique and great can always be found at a moment's notice.
Of what’s to come the wise perceive things about to happen. Sometimes during moments of intense study their hearing’s troubled: the hidden sound of things approaching reaches them, and they listen reverently, while in the street outside the people hear nothing whatsoever.
How much we’ll tell down there, how much, and how very different we’ll appear. What we protect here like sleepless guards, wounds and secrets locked inside us, protect with such great anxiety day after day, we’ll disclose freely and clearly down there.
Nero wasn’t worried at all when he heard the utterance of the Delphic Oracle: “Beware the age of seventy-three.” Plenty of time to enjoy himself still. He’s thirty. The deadline the god has given him is quite enough to cope with future dangers.
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.
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." That's certainly one point of view. Quite understandable.
Whatever job they give me, I'll try to be useful to the country. That's what I intend. But if they frustrate me with their manoeuvres — we know them, those smart operators: no need to say more here — if they frustrate me, it's not my fault.
Cavafy's attitude toward the poetic vocation is an aristocratic one. His poets do not think of themselves as persons of great public importance and entitled to universal homage, but, rather, as citizens of a small republic in which one is judged by one's peers and the standard of judgment is strict.
It will be a great relief when a window opens. But the windows are not there to be found — or at least I cannot find them. And perhaps it is better that I don’t find them. Perhaps the light will prove another tyranny. Who knows what new things it will expose?
People of Kommagini, let the glory of Antiochos, the noble king, be celebrated as it deserves. He was a provident ruler of the country. He was just, wise, courageous. In addition he was that best of all things, Hellenic — mankind has no quality more precious: everything beyond that belongs to the gods.
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. Just why his nephew killed him was never precisely explained.
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.
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.
You won't find a new country, won't find another shore. This city will always pursue you. You'll walk the same streets, grow old in the same neighbourhoods, turn grey in these same houses. You'll always end up in this city. Don't hope for things elsewhere: there's no ship for you, there's no road. Now that you've wasted your life here, in this small corner, you've destroyed it everywhere in the world.
One of the three will want me anyway. And my conscience is quiet about my not caring which one I choose: the three of them are equally bad for Syria. But, a ruined man, it's not my fault. I'm only trying, poor devil, to make ends meet. The almighty gods ought to have taken the trouble to create a fourth, a decent man. I would gladly have gone along with him.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He wrote consistently but almost never published through traditional means. There is nothing more detrimental to art, he maintained, than succumbing to “how the public thinks and what it likes and what it will buy.” … Whether Cavafy is describing an ancient political intrigue or an erotic encounter that occurred last week, his topic is the passage of time. … Earlier translators have, to varying degrees, rightly emphasized the prosaic flatness of Cavafy’s language; the flatness is crucial to the emotional power of the poems, since it prevents their irony from seeming caustic, their longing from seeming nostalgic.
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.
From all I did and all I said let no one try to find out who I was.
Κατόπι — στὴν τελειοτέρα κοινωνία — κανένας ἄλλος καμωμένος σὰν ἐμένα βέβαια θὰ φανεῖ κ’ ἐλεύθερα θὰ κάμει.
The people going by would gaze at him, and one would ask the other if he knew him, if he was a Greek from Syria, or a stranger. But some who looked more carefully would understand and step aside; and as he disappeared under the arcades, among the shadows and the evening lights, going toward the quarter that lives only at night, with orgies and debauchery, with every kind of intoxication and desire, they would wonder which of Them it could be, and for what suspicious pleasure he had come down into the streets of Selefkia from the August Celestial Mansions.