In This Place – the poetry of Constantine Cavafy

Many thanks to Eric Banks of Conspirare for introducing me to Constantine Cavafy, a Greek poet who lived primarily in Alexandria and Instanbul in the early 20th Century. From poets.org:

Perhaps the most original and influential Greek poet of the 20th century, his uncompromising distaste for the kind of rhetoric common among his contemporaries and his refusal to enter into the marketplace may have prevented him from realizing all but a few rewards for his genius. He continued to live in Alexandria until his death on April 29, 1933, from cancer of the larynx. It is recorded that his last motion before dying was to draw a circle on a sheet of blank paper, and then to place a period in the middle of it.

Cavafy’s poem below is the inspiration for this tribute to our field, which is where I am “In this place”

In this place (1929)
This is my home, the heart of my neighborhood,
The houses and cafes of my quarter,
These are the buildings that stand all around me,
And the streets that I wander every day;
In this place, year after year.

I have recreated these surroundings
In my joy and in my sorrow:
Through a lifetime of experience,
And in abundant detail.
This place has been entirely transformed
Into pure emotion, for me.

While Cavafy often writes from an urban perspective, his love of nature shines through in The morning sea, reflecting his sauntering eye and heart, as these photos reflect mine.

The morning sea (1915)

Let me stand here.
Let me enjoy this view for a while.
The morning sea
And the cloudless sky;
The brilliant blue
Against the pale yellow shore;
these colors are utterly beautiful,
As they shimmer in the sunlight.

Let me stand here.
Let me pretend that I can take this all in.
(I will tell you honestly
That this is what I saw when I arrived.)
And I will not be distracted
By my daydreams,
By my memories,
And those images of my past delights.

The first verse of this next beautiful poem is one of the most sublime of any I have encountered.

Beside an open window (1896)

On this clear autumn night,
Beside an open window,
For hour after hour, I remain,
In the perfect, voluptuous quiet.

The rain drips lightly from the leaves,
A sigh from this delicate universe
Resounds within my own vulnerable nature;
It is a sweet sigh, and rises up like a blessing.

My window looks out upon an unfamiliar world.
A murmuring spring evokes memories
That are fragrant and indescribable to me.

Near my window, a pair of wings flutters by;
The dewy spirits of autumn
Approach and encircle me,
And in the purest of languages, they speak.

I begin to feel a vague and widespread hope;
And in the sacred silence of creation,
My ears encounter faint and distant melodies,
I hear a crystalline, mystical music,
From the chorus of the stars.

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