Two Poems

Constantine P. Cavafy

In the Dives

In the dives     and whorehouses

of Beirut I wallow now.     Didn't want to stay

in Alexandria,     Tamides left me;

took off with the son     of the Governor to come by

a Nile villa,     a big house in town.

Wouldn't be right for me     to stay in Alexandria.—

In the dives     and whorehouses

of Beirut I wallow now.     In the cheap, debased

low life I lead.     One thing saves me,

like singular beauty,     like a fragrance

that sticks to my skin,     and that's the two years

Tamides was all mine,     loveliest of young men,

all mine and not for a house     or a villa on the Nile.

Returning Home from Greece

Well, we're just about there, Hermippos.

Day after tomorrow, I expect. Like the captain said.

At least we're sailing in our own sea,

the waters of Cyprus, Syria, and Egypt,

beloved waters of our homelands.

Why so quiet? In your heart of hearts,

as we were moving away from Greece

weren't you happy, too? But let's not kid ourselves—

that just doesn't reflect the Greeks we are.

So it's high time we admitted the truth:

we're Greeks, too—what else are we?—

however with affections and emotions out of Asia,

however with affections and emotions

occasionally striking the Greeks of Greece as strange.

It's not fitting for us, Hermippos, for philosophers like us

to look like some of our petty despots

(remember how we laughed at them

when they'd drop by our academies)

behind whose appearance,

flashily Hellenized and (I should talk!) Macedonian,

a little bit of Arabia showed through now and then,

a little bit of Media could not be held in check,

and with what comical ploys the poor things

tried to keep it from being noticed.

Ah, no, such fakery does not befit us.

Such pettiness is not worthy of Greeks like us.

Of the Syrian and Egyptian blood

that runs through our veins, let's not be ashamed,

let's honor it and glory in it.

translated from the Greek by George Economou

Read the original in Greek

Constantine P. Cavafy (1863 - 1933) is considered one of the greatest Greek poets of all time. He described his life in these words: "I am from Constantinople by descent, but I was born in Alexandria—at a house on Seriph Street; I left very young, and spent much of my childhood in England. Subsequently I visited this country as an adult, but for a short period of time. I have also lived in France. During my adolescence I lived over two years in Constantinople. It has been many years since I last visited Greece. My last employment was as a clerk at a government office under the Ministry of Public Works of Egypt. I know English, French, and a little Italian."

George Economou is the author of twelve books of poetry and translations, the latest of which are Ananios of Kleitor (Shearsman, 2009), Half an Hour, translations of Cavafy (Stop Press of London, 2008), and Acts of Love, Ancient Greek Poetry from Aphrodite's Garden (Random House, 2006). Educated at Colgate (A.B. 1956) and Columbia (M.A. 1957, Ph.D. 1967) Universities, he has published many translations from ancient and Modern Greek and medieval European languages, including William Langland's Piers Plowman (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996).  A critic and scholar of medieval literature, he is the author of The Goddess Natura in Medieval Literature (Harvard University Press, 1972; reprinted, University of Notre Dame Press, 2002) and numerous other studies, including an edition of the late Paul Blackburn's troubadour translations, Proensa (University of California Press, 1978). A founding editor of The Chelsea Review and co-founder of Trobar and Trobar Books, he has published many critical reviews and essays. A Rockefeller Fellow at Bellagio, he has been named twice as an NEA Fellow in Poetry.