Friday, July 12, 2013


Adventures of Constantine Cavafy, photograph by Duane Michaels, 2007

The quality of writing is reliably high in Parnassus : Poetry in Review, a journal roughly the size and shape of a brick that lands on my desk at the library once a year. The 2013 issue just arrived with a thunk, marking for me a small enjoyable personal annual landmark. Will read it next week and will gather many leads to books the library should buy.

Skipping ahead this afternoon I stopped at Frederic Raphael's article about Cavafy. That both writer and subject should have longstanding claims on my attention meant that I could not postpone reading that particular piece. Raphael quotes the following early evaluation of Cavafy's work, including an early prediction of posterity's verdict 

"I do not share the opinion of those who maintain that Cavafy's oeuvre, simply because it is unique and does not belong to any of the known schools of poetry, will ever remain a special poetic exception, so to speak, that finds no imitators.

Such imitators, although mostly superficial ones, I have discovered already, and not only from among the Greek poets. Rare but clear signs of Cavafy's influence have been found everywhere, to some extent. This is the natural consequence of all work that is worthy and progressive.

Cavafy, in my opinion, is an ultra-modern poet, a poet of the future generations. In addition to his historical, psychological, and philosophical value, the sobriety of his impeccable style which becomes at times laconic, his balanced enthusiasm which is inclined to be intellectually emotional, his perfect sentences which are the result of an aristocratic disposition, and his subtle irony are factors that will be appreciated even more by future generations who are propelled by the progress of discoveries and the subtleness of their intellectual capacities.

Rare poets like Cavafy will thus secure a primary position in a world that thinks far more than does the world of today. Given these facts, I maintain that his work will not remain simply buried inside libraries as an historic document of the development of Greek literature." 

Raphael in his article goes on to explain – "The author of this seemingly impersonal assessment was the poet himself, writing in 1930, when he was sixty-seven. Its unsmiling tone is not a consequence of translation; the English is Cavafy's own."