Thursday, March 25, 2010

No Escape, Part Three: C. P. Cavafy

No visit to the land of "wherever you go, there you are" would be complete without considering one of C. P. Cavafy's best-known poems:

                       The City

You said:  "I'll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I've spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally."

You won't find a new country, won't find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You'll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You'll always end up in this city.  Don't hope for things elsewhere:
there's no ship for you, there's no road.
Now that you've wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you've destroyed it everywhere in the world.

C. P. Cavafy, Collected Poems (translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard) (Princeton University Press, 1992).

You have to give Cavafy credit:  he doesn't mince words, does he? 

On the other hand, one could look at another of his poems - "Ithaka" - and find, if not a way of escape from "the black ruins of [your] life," at least a potential way of living that saves you from false hopes.  But I'll save "Ithaka" for another time.
                                     Cavafy's City: Alexandria

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