And if you can’t shape your life the way you want, at least try as much as you cannot to degrade it by too much contact with the world, by too much activity and talk.Try not to degrade it by dragging it along,taking it around and exposing it so oftento the daily sillinessof social events and parties, until it comes to seem a boring hanger-on.
Come back often and take hold of me,sensation that I love come back and take hold of me—when the body’s memory awakensand an old longing again moves into the blood, when lips and skin rememberand hands feel as though they touch again.Come back often, take hold of me in the nightwhen lips and skin remember...
Days to come stand in front of uslike a row of lighted candles—golden, warm, and vivid candles.Days gone by fall behind us,a gloomy line of snuffed-out candles;the nearest are smoking still,cold, melted, and bent.I don’t want to look at them: their shape saddens me, and it saddens me to remember their original light. I look ahead at my lighted candles.I don’t want to turn for fear of seeing, terrified,how quickly that dark line gets longer,how quickly the snuffed-out candles proliferate.
Voices, loved and idealized,of those who have died, or of thoselost for us like the dead.Sometimes they speak to us in dreams;sometimes deep in thought the mind hears them.And with their sound for a moment returnsounds from our life’s first poetry—like music at night, distant, fading away.
With no consideration, no pity, no shame,they have built walls around me, thick and high.And now I sit here feeling hopeless.I can’t think of anything else: this fate gnaws my mind—because I had so much to do outside.When they were building the walls, how could I not have noticed!But I never heard the builders, not a sound.Imperceptibly they have closed me off from the outside world.
Some of the poems translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)
Like the beautiful bodies of those who died before they had aged,sadly shut away in a sumptuous mausoleum,roses by the head, jasmine at the feet—so appear the longings that have passedwithout being satisfied, not one of them granted a night of sensual pleasure, or one of its radiant mornings.
My life’s joy and incense: recollection of those hours when I found and captured sensual pleasure as I wanted it.My life’s joy and incense: that I refusedall indulgence in routine love affairs.
As you set out for Ithakahope the voyage is a long one,full of adventure, full of discovery.Laistrygonians and Cyclops,angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:you’ll never find things like that on your wayas long as you keep your thoughts raised high, as long as a rare excitementstirs your spirit and your body.Laistrygonians and Cyclops,wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter themunless you bring them along inside your soul,unless your soul sets them up in front of you.Hope the voyage is a long one.May there be many a summer morning when,with what pleasure, what joy,you come into harbors seen for the first time;may you stop at Phoenician trading stationsto buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,sensual perfume of every kind—as many sensual perfumes as you can;and may you visit many Egyptian citiesto gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.Keep Ithaka always in your mind.Arriving there is what you are destined for.But do not hurry the journey at all.Better if it lasts for years,so you are old by the time you reach the island,wealthy with all you have gained on the way,not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.Without her you would not have set out.She has nothing left to give you now.And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.