Gore Vidal: Envying tears
Andrew Holleran: Your grief is their presence on earth

Cavafy: In the Evening

In the evening

By no means could those things have lasted long.
The experience of the years has shown it me.
Still, it was somewhat hurriedly that fate
stopped them. The enraptured time was quickly gone.
But how the perfumes did inebriate —
What a transcendent bed we lay upon,
what joy voluptuous our bodies knew!

A resonance of the voluptuous days,
a resonance thereof comes close to me,
some glow of the two of us in our young days:
a faded letter I take up anew
and read and read it till the daylight drops.

And I go out upon the balcony
to quit my thoughts — to change them while I gaze
at the dear old town, at the quick life along
the darkening street and by the lighted shops.

        --C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933), translated by John Cavafy in Poems by C. P. Cavafy (Ikaros, 2003)


Εν Εσπέρα    

Πάντως δεν θα διαρκούσανε πολύ. Η πείρα
των χρόνων με το δείχνει. Aλλ’ όμως κάπως βιαστικά
ήλθε και τα σταμάτησεν η Μοίρα.
Ήτανε σύντομος ο ωραίος βίος.
Aλλά τι δυνατά που ήσαν τα μύρα,
σε τι εξαίσια κλίνην επλαγιάσαμε,
σε τι ηδονή τα σώματά μας δώσαμε.

Μια απήχησις των ημερών της ηδονής,
μια απήχησις των ημερών κοντά μου ήλθε,
κάτι απ’ της νεότητός μας των δυονώ την πύρα·
στα χέρια μου ένα γράμμα ξαναπήρα,
και διάβαζα πάλι και πάλι ως που έλειψε το φως.

Και βγήκα στο μπαλκόνι μελαγχολικά —
βγήκα ν’ αλλάξω σκέψεις βλέποντας τουλάχιστον
ολίγη αγαπημένη πολιτεία,
ολίγη κίνησι του δρόμου και των μαγαζιών.

Another translation:

It wouldn’t have lasted long anyway—
the experience of years makes that clear.
Even so, Fate did put an end to it a bit abruptly.
It was soon over, that wonderful life.
Yet how strong the scents were,
what a magnificent bed we lay in,
what pleasure we gave our bodies.

An echo from my days given to sensuality,
an echo from those days came back to me,
something of the fire of the young life we shared:
I picked up a letter again,
and I read it over and over till the light faded away.

Then, sad, I went out on to the balcony,
went out to change my thoughts at least by seeing
something of this city I love,
a little movement in the street and the shops

        --translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard in C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems (ed. George Savidis; revised edition,  Princeton University Press, 1992)


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The second translation, the Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard one, is really great (especially compared to the first). Even though it still has all those clumsy words (magnificent, wonderful, love) it nevertheless has that controlled, distanced cavafy tone. maybe the poem itself works b/c of the poignant absence of such clumsy things (the things we live for). only a bit of twilight remains. makes me think of the great balcony scene in camus' the stranger...

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