J. M. W. Turner, "Malmesbury Abbey" (1791)
That we've broken their statues,
that we've driven them out of their temples,
doesn't mean at all that the gods are dead.
O land of Ionia, they're still in love with you,
their souls still keep your memory.
When an August dawn wakes over you,
your atmosphere is potent with their life,
and sometimes a young ethereal figure
indistinct, in rapid flight,
wings across your hills.
C. P. Cavafy, Collected Poems (translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard) (Princeton University Press 1975).
Cavafy has a knack for artfully merging the modern and ancient worlds, both in individual poems and in his poetry as a whole. He does it in a very quiet fashion. After reading a series of poems by him, you begin to notice that you have one foot in the present and the other foot in the distant past. You find yourself in a land where you have never walked, but one which is somehow familiar and comforting. That land may be Ionia, or it may be Alexandria, real and imagined.
Some may think that writing poems about Hellenic gods in "modern" times is a species of "escapism." I think not. On the other hand, I believe that utopian political agendas and scientific "explanations" of human nature are perfect examples of escapism. We mustn't forget: unlike science and politics, Hellenic gods are humanly truthful.
J. M. W. Turner, "Malmesbury Abbey from the South-East" (1791)
Because we have broken their statues,
Because we have turned them out of their temples,
They have not died, the gods, for that, at all.
O land of Ionia, you, they love you still,
And you they still remember in their souls.
When an August morning dawns over you
Through your atmosphere passes an ardour from their life;
And sometimes an aerial youthful form,
Indefinite, with swift transition,
Passes upon your hills.
John Mavrogordato (translator), The Poems of C. P. Cavafy (The Hogarth Press 1951).
J. M. W. Turner, "Malmesbury Abbey from the North-West" (1791)
Song of Ionia
Because we smashed their statues all to pieces,
because we chased them from their temples --
this hardly means the gods have died.
O land of Ionia, they love you still,
it's you whom their souls remember still.
And as an August morning's light breaks over you
your atmosphere grows vivid with their living.
And occasionally an ethereal ephebe's form,
indeterminate, stepping swiftly,
makes its way along your crested hills.
C. P. Cavafy, Collected Poems (translated by Daniel Mendelsohn) (Alfred A. Knopf 2009).
J. M. W. Turner, "The Temple of Poseidon at Sunium" (c. 1834)