C.P. CAVAFY: Collected Poems by C.P. Cavafy
Kirkus Star

C.P. CAVAFY: Collected Poems

Email this review


If the appearance of Keeley and Sherrard's definitive translations of the major 20th century Greek poet in a 97-page edition of Selected Poems in 1973 was something of an event, then the whole corpus of Cavafy's mature work earns our gratitude twice over. Or three times over -- this is a fat, handsome bi-lingual text, greatly expanded, with biographical data, extensive bibliography, notes on metrics and the historical references that American readers will need to sort out the subject matter. Cavafy's greatness is the Shakespearean common touch -- his poetry is at once conversational and sublime. He's a master of the free-verse dramatic poem and though his speakers and heroes may have lived ten or twenty centuries ago in Alexandria, Antioch or Jerusalem, they're remarkably alive and accessible. Cavafy (who died in 1933) was on intimate terms with the classical past; it's suggested he lived partly there, in a cynical fantasy world among the petty politicians of the pan-Hellenic empire during the rise of Christianity. His praise of decadent sensuality and the obviously homosexual passions of his poetry -- along with an undercurrent of shame -- are frank and unsettling, however erotically lyric. Hedonism, the cult of Hellenism, the refusal of ""routine love affairs"" are all shields from ""the Barbarians,"" in keeping with his rejection of the bourgeois. No literary lion, Cavafy spent thirty years in a government office in Alexandria, published privately and never offered his poetry for sale during his lifetime. Thanks to E.M. Forster and Eliot's publication of ""Ithaka"" in Criterion, he was more well-known in England than among his Greek peers. Cavafy's is a reputation still in the making but by now he is one of the dozen front runners of our century.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1975
Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press