C. P. Cavafy: The Unfinished Poems
|Author:||C P Cavafy|
A remarkable discovery, an extraordinary literary event: the never-before translated "Unfinished""Poems" of the great Alexandrian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, published for the first time in English alongside a revelatory new rendering of the "Collected Poems"--translated and annotated by the renowned critic, classicist, and award-winning author of "The Lost." When he died in 1933 at the age of seventy, C. P. Cavafy left the drafts of thirty poems among his papers--some of them masterly, nearly completed verses, others less finished texts, all accompanied by notes and variants that offer tantalizing glimpses of the poet's sometimes years-long method of rewriting and revision. These remarkable poems, each meticulously filed in its own dossier by the poet, remained in the Cavafy Archive in Athens for decades before being published in a definitive scholarly edition in Greek in 1994. Now, with the cooperation and support of the Archive, Daniel Mendelsohn brings this hitherto unknown creative outpouring to English readers for the first time. Beautiful works in their own right--from a six-line verse on the "birth of a poem" to a longer work that brilliantly paints the autumn of Byzantium in unexpectedly erotic colors--these unfinished poems""provide a thrilling window into Cavafy's writing process during the last decade of his life, the years of his greatest production. They brilliantly explore, often in new ways, the poet's well-established themes: identity and time, the agonies of desire and the ironies of history, cultural decline and reappropriation of the past. And, like the "Collected Poems, "t"he Unfinished Poems" offers a substantial introduction and notes that provide helpful historical, textual, and literary background for each poem. This splendid translation, together with the "Collected Poems, " is a cause for celebration--the definitive presentation of Cavafy in English.
"Cavafy's distinctive tone-wistfully elegiac but resolutely dry-eyed-has captivated English-language poets from W.H. Auden to James Merrill to Louise Gluck. Auden maintained that Cavafy's tone seemed always to 'survive translation, ' and Daniel Mendelsohn' s new translations render that tone more pointedly than ever before. Together with "The Unfinished Poems, "this "Collected Poems" not only brings us closer to one of the great poets of the 20th century; it also reinvigorates our relationship to the English language. . . . As Mendelsohn argues in his introduction to the poems, any division between the erotic and historical poems is facile. Whether Cavafy is describing an ancient political intrigue or an erotic encounter that occurred last week, his topic is the passage of time. . . . Mendelsohn has focused his attention on the exquisite care Cavafy took with diction, syntax, meter and rhyme. It is only through attention to these minute aspects of poetic language that tone is produced. And Mendelsohn is assiduously attentive. . . . Cavafy mingled high and low diction, [and] Mendelsohn' s translations shift similarly between the lofty and the mundane . . . This shift lets us hear something crucial about Cavafy's tone (a directness that is never not elegant), but it also lets Mendelsohn's translation exist fully as an English poem. Mendelsohn is a classicist, essayist and memoirist [and his] translations of Cavafy' s poems come trailing commentaries in which an immense amount of learning is gracefully and usefully borne. But Mendelsohn thinks like a poet, which is to say he inhabits the meaning of language through its movement. . . . His translation of the famous concluding lines of 'The God Abandons Antony' embodies the fortitude the poem recommends. As a result the poem does not pronounce but arrives at is wisdom, making it happen to us. It is an event on the page. It's easy to translate what a poem says; to concoct a verbal mechanism that captures a poem's movement
Daniel Mendelsohn's reviews and essays on literary and cultural subjects appear regularly in numerous publications, including "The New Yorker "and "The New York Review of Books. "His previous books include the memoir "The Elusive Embrace, " a "New York Times" Notable Book and a "Los Angeles Times" Best Book of the Year, and the international bestseller "The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, " which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Prix Medicis, and many other honors. Mr. Mendelsohn is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Book Critics Circle Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, and the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. He teaches at Bard College.