Translator's notes

Two poems: Grey Opal and Exiles

By Constantine Cavafy

Constantine Cavafy died in Alexandria – the city in which he had spent most of his life – on his birthday in 1933. Shortly before his death at the age of seventy he took Holy Communion at the Orthodox Church. His last act was to trace a circle on a piece of paper and then place a full stop in the centre. It was a suitably enigmatic end to a life in which he wrote poems almost in secret, sharing them with a select circle of friends. His reputation as one of the finest Greek poets of the twentieth century came only after his death with the publication in 1935 of his first collection. Cavafy wrote two very different kinds of poems: intense personal lyrics (of which ‘Grey Opal’ is a good example) and more expansive, narrative poems about the classical past (such as ‘Exiles’). The main challenge for the translator is to render these poems in such a way that the idiosyncrasies of Cavafy’s verse remain distinctive in both. W. H. Auden drew attention to Cavafy’s ‘unique tone of voice’, claiming that it ‘survives translation’. These versions will be included in If Possible: Fifty Cavafy Poems, due from Arc Publications.

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