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Monday, 1 August 2011

Constantine P. Cavafy: The God Abandons Antony


When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
your work that failed, your life's plans
all proving deceptive -- don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who proved worthy of this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen -- your final delectation -- to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

C. P. Cavafy (1863-1933): The God Abandons Antony, 1911, trans. by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, 1992

Απολείπειν ο θεός Aντώνιον Αναγνωρισμένα

Σαν έξαφνα, ώρα μεσάνυχτ’, ακουσθεί
αόρατος θίασος να περνά
με μουσικές εξαίσιες, με φωνές—
την τύχη σου που ενδίδει πια, τα έργα σου
που απέτυχαν, τα σχέδια της ζωής σου
που βγήκαν όλα πλάνες, μη ανωφέλετα θρηνήσεις.
Σαν έτοιμος από καιρό, σα θαρραλέος,
αποχαιρέτα την, την Aλεξάνδρεια που φεύγει.
Προ πάντων να μη γελασθείς, μην πεις πως ήταν
ένα όνειρο, πως απατήθηκεν η ακοή σου·
μάταιες ελπίδες τέτοιες μην καταδεχθείς.
Σαν έτοιμος από καιρό, σα θαρραλέος,
σαν που ταιριάζει σε που αξιώθηκες μια τέτοια πόλι,
πλησίασε σταθερά προς το παράθυρο,
κι άκουσε με συγκίνησιν, αλλ’ όχι
με των δειλών τα παρακάλια και παράπονα,
ως τελευταία απόλαυσι τους ήχους,
τα εξαίσια όργανα του μυστικού θιάσου,
κι αποχαιρέτα την, την Aλεξάνδρεια που χάνεις.

(Από τα Ποιήματα 1897-1933, Ίκαρος 1984)

And now Antony once more sent Caesar a challenge to single combat. But Caesar answered that Antony had many ways of dying. Then Antony, conscious that there was no better death for him than that by battle, determined to attack by land and sea at once. And at supper, we are told, he bade the slaves pour out for him and feast him more generously; for it was uncertain, he said, whether they would be doing this on the morrow, or whether they would be serving other masters, while he himself would be lying dead, a mummy and a nothing. Then, seeing that his friends were weeping at these words, he declared that he would not lead them out to battle, since from it he sought an honourable death for himself rather than safety and victory.

During this night, it is said, about the middle of it, while the city was quiet and depressed through fear and expectation of what was coming, suddenly certain harmonious sounds from all sorts of instruments were heard, and the shouting of a throng, accompanied by cries of Bacchic revelry and satyric leapings, as if a troop of revellers, making a great tumult, were going forth from the city; and their course seemed to lie about through the middle of the city toward the outer gate which faced the enemy, at which point the tumult became loudest and then dashed out. Those who sought the meaning of the sign were of the opinion that the god to whom Antony always most likened and attached himself was now deserting him.

Plutarch (c. 46-120 AD): from The Life of Marcus Antonius in Parallel Lives, late 1st c, trans. by Bernadotte Perrin in the Loeb Classics Series, 1920

The Banquet of Cleopatra (details)
: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1746-7 (Palazzo Labia, Venice)




"As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her. . . ."

And as she once said to him --

"Eternity was in our lips and eyes,
Bliss in our brows bent, none our parts so poor
But was a race of heaven. They are so still,
Or thou, the greatest soldier of the world. . . .


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
top of ridge, blue jay on redwood fence
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

in this instance neither so
nor as, one variation

calls on us to think, place
name, thus that which

grey white of fog reflected in channel,
osprey with fish flapping toward ridge

L'Enfant de la Haute Mer said...

and the real one, with every possible hyphenation:

and the voice:

L'Enfant de la Haute Mer said...

Plutarch (c. 46-120 AD), from The Life of Marcus Antonius in Parallel Lives, late 1st c.

Ed Baker said...

beat your drum

I have the Dalven (trans) Harvest 1961 edition !

with the Auden introduction

this poem (in 1961 0r 62 REALLY 'grabbed' my me.

some fine poem you've pulled up.. I have only two checks in my copy..

one by this one which Rae Dalvin translates as"

& the other by
gawd where the hell is our American Alexandria !

(as Dalvin has this last lines"

"as a last enjoyment listen to the sounds,
the exquisite instruments of the mystical troupe,
and bid her farewell, the Alexandria you are losing."

also, check out his The City
I got tears in my eyes all three of them even though I can only inhale the English trans.

the one thing that Greece will NEVER lose .... their language.

am still reading Six Nights on the Acropolis.... 2-3 pages a day

Cavafy and Seferis well worth 100% attention.

next up revisit Three Secret Poems

Hell, coming back to this 'stuff' after a a 40-45 year absence to sy the least a "blast" thanx.

TC said...

Steve, Yes, and as she finishes her thought (referencing his history), ..."Art turned the greatest liar."

L'Enfant, Thanks for adding further richness to the texture of our experience of this great poem.

Ed, This one has attracted many, over the years, e.g.:

Leonard Cohen: Alexandra Leaving

TC said...

For those who love a good anticlimax, the paragraphs in Plutarch's Life of Antony that follow the bits I have quoted:


At daybreak, Antony in person posted his infantry on the hills in front of the city, and watched his ships as they put out and attacked those of the enemy; and as he expected to see something great accomplished by them, he remained quiet. But the crews of his ships, as soon as they were near, saluted Caesar's crews with their oars, and on their returning the salute changed sides, and so all the ships, now united into one fleet, sailed up towards the city prows on. No sooner had Antony seen this than he was deserted by his cavalry, which went over to the enemy, and after being defeated with his infantry he retired into the city, crying out that he had been betrayed by Cleopatra to those with whom he waged war for her sake. But she, fearing his anger and his madness, fled for refuge into her tomb and let fall the drop-doors, which were made strong with bolts and bars; then she sent messengers to tell Antony that she was dead. Antony believed that message, and saying to himself, "Why doest thou longer delay, Antony? Fortune has taken away thy sole remaining excuse for clinging to life," he went into his chamber. Here, as he unfastened his breastplate and laid it aside, he said: "O Cleopatra, I am not grieved to be bereft of thee, for I shall straightway join thee; but I am grieved that such an imperator as I am has been found to be inferior to a woman in courage."

Now, Antony had a trusty slave named Eros. Him Antony had long before engaged, in case of need, to kill him, and now demanded the fulfilment of his promise. So Eros drew his sword and held it up as though he would smite his master, but then turned his face away and slew himself. And as he fell at his master's feet Antony said: "Well done, Eros! though thou wast not able to do it thyself, thou teachest me what I must do"; and running himself through the belly he dropped upon the couch. But the wound did not bring a speedy death. Therefore, as the blood ceased flowing after he had lain down, he came to himself and besought the bystanders to give him the finishing stroke. But they fled from the chamber, and he lay writhing and crying out, until Diomedes the secretary came from Cleopatra with orders to bring him to her in the tomb.

Having learned, then, that Cleopatra was alive, Antony eagerly ordered his servants to raise him up, and he was carried in their arms to the doors of her tomb. Cleopatra, however, would not open the doors, but showed herself at a window, from which she let down ropes and cords. To these Antony was fastened, and she drew him up herself, with the aid of the two women whom alone she had admitted with her into the tomb. Never, as those who were present tell us, was there a more piteous sight. Smeared with blood and struggling with death he was drawn up, stretching out his hands to her even as he dangled in the air. For the task was not an easy one for the women, and scarcely could Cleopatra, with clinging hands and strained face, pull up the rope, while those below called out encouragement to her and shared her agony. And when she had thus got him in and laid him down, she rent her garments over him, beat and tore her breasts with her hands, wiped off some of his blood upon her face, and called him master, husband, and imperator; indeed, she almost forgot her own ills in her pity for his. But Antony stopped her lamentations and asked for a drink of wine, either because he was thirsty, or in the hope of a speedier release. When he had drunk, he advised her to consult her own safety, if she could do it without disgrace, and among all the companions of Caesar to put most confidence in Proculeius, and not to lament him for his last reverses, but to count him happy for the good things that had been his, since he had become most illustrious of men, had won greatest power, and now had been not ignobly conquered, a Roman by a Roman.

TC said...

And also for the record: Cavafy spent most of his life in Alexandria (he lived in seclusion with his mother and toiled miserably for thirty years in the Irrigation Service of the Ministry of Public Works), but in poetic terms, the image of the place figures not simply as autobiographical history but as origin and central sensual source, a metaphor essential to the work. Here he turns Dionysos into Alexandria.

In this post I have taken the liberty of imagining Tiepolo's Venice as not too remote from Cavafy's Alexandria.

For some images of that latter city as it emerges from the depths in the work of another great poet who was also its native son:

Ungaretti: Il Porto Sepolto/The Buried Harbour

Ed Baker said...

yeah Alexandria leaving is on the last album of his that I bought: TEN NEW SONGS

and dig this

when I was living in Lindos, on Rodoz LC (and his blond girl-friend) were living on the net island over , Patmos (?)

he frequently came over to Lindos where a gaggle
of poets & wanna-be poets (& lots of Turkish hash)
where ... hanging

his Suzzane Takes you down period..

(which he sang over at Willard and Maivis' place for us.)

I get chills via nearly EVER+Y piece that he sings...

his words, tones, tembre, timing, delivery well

as close the the Essence the a boddhi can get
without melting their wings and descending itnto The Fire !



Yes, I guess my head was in the fog -- I left that out, didn't want to spoil the view she was making (what a great next line). . . .


light coming into fog against invisible
top of ridge, towhee calling from field
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

presupposes spatial moments,
spread before thought

colors blue or white, other
form of element, here

grey white of fog against top of ridge,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit