C. P. KAVAFY: Candles

(Translated from the Greek of C. P. Kavafy)

The days to come stand before us
like a line of lit candles,
glowing and warm.

Behind us, the candles of by-gone days
line up, a piteous burnt-out row,
the nearest ones still smoking,
the rest all cold and melted out of shape.

I don’t want to see them; their shape upsets me,
and it upsets me to recall how bright they were.
I look ahead to my lit candles.

I don’t want to turn and see, to my horror,
how quickly that dark row lengthens,
how quickly the burnt-out candles multiply.

C. P. KAVAFY: Days of 1909, ’10 and ’11

Portrait of Cavafy by Nikos Engonopoulos, 1948

(Translated from the Greek of C. P. Kavafy)

The son of a dirt-poor and put-upon sailor
from some island in the Aegean,
he worked for a blacksmith, his clothes in tatters,
his work-boots torn open,
his hands engrained with rust and oil.

In the evening, when the smithy closed,
if there was some little thing he longed for,
an expensive tie,
a tie for Sundays,
or if he saw and fancied
a lovely blue shirt in some shop window,
he’d rent his body out for a few drachmas.

I wonder whether ancient Alexandria
in all its glory ever saw a boy more exquisite,
more perfect – lost though it was.
I mean that we have no statue of him, no painting.
Stuck there in that ghastly blacksmith’s workshop,
overworked and abused, and given to cheap pleasures,
his beauty soon wasted away.