Cavafy: Poet of the City

CAVAFY was born in 1863 in Alexandria, Egypt, to a Greek family of Constantinopolitan origins. As a child he lived in England, and his earliest poetic efforts were in English. In 1885 he returned to Alexandria, living the remainder of his life there as a clerk of the Egyptian Ministry of Public Works. He wrote poems constantly, most of which he destroyed, though he had a small number of them privately printed for a select group of readers.

In his poetry he is inspired by parallels between modern age and that of the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman periods. Politics, history, eroticism, art and love of learning are the ostensible subjects of a very particular voice, which conveys a pagan sensitivity to physical pleasure and a painful sense of tragic futility. E.M. Forster, Arnold Toynbee, and T.S. Eliot were among the earliest promoters of Cavafy in the English-speaking world before the Second World War. His name reached a broader audience right after the war when he became the poet of Lawrence Durrell’s city in the four novels of the “Alexandria Quartet”.

His strong reputation in American poetry circles really began when W.H. Auden declared, in his 1961 introduction to the Rae Dalven translation of Cavafy, that for some 30 years this poet “has remained an influence on my own writing; that is to say, I can think of poems which, if Cavafy were unknown to me, I should have written quite differently, or not at all.”

Related links:

About Cavafy

Official website of the Cavafy Archive

Additional page with translated poems

Cavafy’s Ithaca by Sean Connery & Vangelis

Suggested Readings:

C.P. CAVAFY – COLLECTED POEMS, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, edited by George Savidis. Princeton University Press. Also available in a bilingual edition.

C.P. CAVAFY – A Biography, by Robert Liddell. Duckworth Publishers

PHAROS AND PHARILLON, by E. M. Forster. Alfred A. Knopf, NY

CAVAFY AND HIS TIMES, by Stratis Tsirkas. Kedros, Athens