The following poem captures, for me at least, Cavafy's old-in-new world. I've posted it here previously (in three different translations), but I'm not averse to circling back when the mood strikes. As I have noted before, Cavafy has a marvelous knack for intermingling the ancient and the modern. If you surrender to him, you may find yourself wondering where you are. Here? Alexandria in the age of the Ptolemies? Or perhaps on a hillside on the golden coast of vanished Ionia, looking out over the Aegean Sea.
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 (translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard), in C. P. Cavafy, Collected Poems (Princeton University Press 1975).
Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013), "Richmond Park II" (1999)
Bernard Spencer is also very good at this intertwining of the ancient and the modern. Wherever Spencer lived or visited, he unerringly divined the essence of the place, including the echoing revenants of its history.
Delicate grasses blowing in the wind,
grass out of cracks among tiered seats of stone
where a Greek theatre swarmed with audience,
till Time's door shut upon
the stir, the eloquence.
A hawk waiting above the enormous plain,
lying upon the nothing of the air,
a hawk who turns at some sky-wave or lull
this way, and after there
as dial needles prowl.
Cool water jetting from a drinking fountain
in crag-lands, miles from any peopled spot,
year upon year with its indifferent flow;
sound that is and is not;
the wet stone trodden low.
There is no name for such strong liberation;
I drift their way; I need what their world lends;
then, chilled by one thought further still than those,
I swerve towards life and friends
before the trap-fangs close.
Bernard Spencer, With Luck Lasting (1963). When first published in Spencer's The Twist in the Plotting in 1960, the poem was titled "Feathery Grasses," and it began: "Feathery grasses blowing in the wind."
Spencer said this of the poem:
"After crossing the plain [of Anatolia] we drove over the mountains to look at the remains of some ancient Greek towns on the south coast of Turkey. These towns, although overgrown with grass and weeds, often have recognizable remains of temples and theatres standing, with their semi-circular tiers of stone seats. So much emptiness and all those ruins put me in a state of melancholy excitement. I was half-attracted by it and half afraid . . .What is the trap? What was I afraid of? Later, at his request, I read the poem out to John Betjeman, and he cried out 'Oh! Eternity!' That is as good an answer as any."
Bernard Spencer, Madrid University Lecture (March 1962), in Collected Poems (edited by Roger Bowen) (Oxford University Press 1981), page 137.
Thus, "Delicate Grasses" is likely set in one of the regions known to the ancient Greeks as Caria (birthplace of Herodotus), Lycia, or Pamphylia. Ionia, the setting of Cavafy's poem, is immediately to the north of Caria. Ionia and Caria lie along the Aegean Sea.
Jeffrey Smart, "The Steps"