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KAVAFIS, K.P.


An Old Man


At the back of the noisy café

bent over a table sits an old man;

a newspaper in front of him, without company.


And in the scorn of his miserable old age

he ponders how little he enjoyed the years

when he had strength, and the power of the word, and good looks.


He knows he has aged much; he feels it, he sees it.

And yet the time he was young seems

like yesterday. How short a time, how short a time.


And he ponders how Prudence deceived him;

and how he always trusted her -- what a folly! --

that liar who said: "Tomorrow. There is ample time."


He remembers the impulses he curbed; and how much

joy he sacrificed. Every lost chance

now mocks his senseless wisdom.


...But from so much thinking and remembering

the old man gets dizzy. And falls asleep

bent over the café table.


September 1903


At least let me now deceive myself with illusions

so as not to feel my empty life.

And yet I came so close so many times.

And yet how paralyzed I was, how cowardly;

why did I keep my lips sealed

while my empty life wept inside me,

my desires wore robes of mourning?

To have been so close so many times

to those sensual eyes, those lips,

to that body I dreamed of, loved.

To have been so close so many times.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard


Laat ik mezelf tenminste nu bedriegen met illusies,

opdat ik niet de leegte van mijn leven merk.

Zovele keren ben ik zo nabij geweest.

En hoe verlamd, hoe schuchter, was ik,

waarom hield ik mijn lippen op elkaar

terwijl mijn lege leven in mij weende

en mijn begeerte zwarte kleren droeg.

Zovele keren zo dicht bij te zijn geweest,

bij de ogen, bij de zinnelijke lippen,

bij het gedroomde, geliefde lichaam.

Zovele keren zo dicht bij te zijn geweest.

Vertaling: Hans WARREN en Mario MOLEGRAAF




December 1903


And if I cannot speak about my love—

if I do not talk about your hair, your lips, your eyes,

still your face that I keep within my heart,

the sound of your voice that I keep within my mind,

the days of September that rise in my dreams,

give shape and color to my words, my sentences,

whatever theme I touch, whatever thought I utter.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard


En als ik over mijn liefde niet kan spreken –

als ik niet praat over je haar, je lippen, je ogen,

geven toch jouw gezicht dat ik bewaar in mijn ziel,

de klank van je stem die ik bewaar in mijn geest,

de dagen van september die opdoemen in mijn dromen,

vorm en kleur aan mijn woorden en mijn zinnen,

op welk onderwerp ik ook inga, over welk denkbeeld ik ook spreek.

Vertaling: Hans WARREN en Mario MOLEGRAAF




Ithaka

When you set out for Ithaka

ask that your way be long,

full of adventure, full of instruction.

The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,

angry Poseidon - do not fear them:

such as these you will never find

as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare

emotion touch your spirit and your body.

The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,

angry Poseidon - you will not meet them

unless you carry them in your soul,

unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.

At many a Summer dawn to enter

with what gratitude, what joy -

ports seen for the first time;

to stop at Phoenician trading centres,

and to buy good merchandise,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

and sensuous perfumes of every kind,

sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;

to visit many Egyptian cities,

to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.

Your arrival there is what you are destined for.

But don't in the least hurry the journey.

Better it last for years,

so that when you reach the island you are old,

rich with all you have gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.

Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.

Without her you would not have set out.

She hasn't anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.

So wise you have become, of such experience,

that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean.


Waiting for the Barbarians


What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?


The barbarians are due here today.


Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?

Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?


Because the barbarians are coming today.

What’s the point of senators making laws now?

Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.


Why did our emperor get up so early,

and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,

in state, wearing the crown?


Because the barbarians are coming today

and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.

He’s even got a scroll to give him,

loaded with titles, with imposing names.


Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today

wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?

Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,

rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?

Why are they carrying elegant canes

beautifully worked in silver and gold?


Because the barbarians are coming today

and things like that dazzle the barbarians.


Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual

to make their speeches, say what they have to say?


Because the barbarians are coming today

and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.


Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?

(How serious people’s faces have become.)

Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,

everyone going home lost in thought?


Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.

And some of our men just in from the border say

there are no barbarians any longer.


Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?

Those people were a kind of solution.

Translated by Edmund Keeley