Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Waiting for the Barbarians" by C.P. Cavafy, tr. Aliki

C.P. Cavafy, 1900


—What are we waiting for, gathered in the agora?

            The Barbarians are arriving today.

—Why is nothing happening in the Senate?
    Why do the Senators sit making no laws?

            Because the Barbarians are arriving today.
            What laws can the Senators make now?
            When the Barbarians come, they will make laws.

—Why did our emperor wake up so early,
    and, in the city’s grandest gate, sit
    in state on his throne, wearing his crown?

            Because the Barbarians are arriving today,
            and the emperor is waiting to receive
            their leader. In fact, he prepared
            a parchment to give them, where
            he wrote down many titles and names.

—Why did our two consuls and the praetors
    come out today in their crimson, their embroidered togas;
    why did they don bracelets with so many amethysts
    and rings resplendent with glittering emeralds;
    why do they hold precious staffs today,
    beautifully wrought in silver and gold?

            Because the Barbarians are arriving today,
            and such things dazzle them.

—Why don’t the worthy orators come as usual
    to deliver their speeches and say their peace?

            Because the Barbarians are arriving today
            and they are bored by eloquence and harangues.

—Why should this anxiety and confusion
    suddenly start. (How serious faces have become.)
    Why have the streets and squares emptied to quickly,
    and why has everyone returned home so pensive?

            Because night’s fallen and the Barbarians 
                              have not arrived.
            And some people came from the borders
            and they say the Barbarians no longer exist.

    And now what will we do with no Barbarians?
    Those people were some kind of solution.

Tr. Aliki Barnstone, 

The Collected Poems of C. P. Cavafy:
A New Translation,
Translated by Aliki Barnstone,
Foreword by Gerald Stern
W.W. Norton, 2006

Constantine Cavafy with cane and hat in hand
 Photograph dated 1896, Alexandria, Egypt

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"A Little More Mindful," a Poem from Dwelling for Palm Sunday

Archaic Attic black-figure lekythos (perfume vessel).
Attributed to the Amasis Painter, 550-530 BC. Metropolitan Museum #31.11.10


—busy yourself with your daily duties, your loom, your distaff…
for war is man's matter…
—Iliad, Book VI
If I could be a little more mindful,
groom my dogs’ fur, remember
to shelve my books, shut the closet
and cabinet doors, hide away
my mess of clothes and dishes,
and graciously address every annoyance
(or worse than annoyance), perhaps
my sandals would glide up marble steps
and I’d find myself idle,
holding my peace, my desperate
thoughts left to themselves
at the bottom of the hill, while I turnover
in my palm some stones that hold
the spirits of those who do not cry out
praise for a king riding a donkey,
clothed in garments his mother wove,
her design covering his flesh from birth
until he hugged his shroud
on a road strewn with rags and palms
and wept over the city:
                        “If only you knew
on this day those things creating peace.”

Centuries before his word, their spirits dwell
in rubble, for countless wars
knock stone from stone.
They perished so long ago, their wanderings
and homes are the work
of archeology. Their pots are dust
the Athenian shopkeepers sweep away
each morning, along with the art
of their looms: the saffron
and hyacinth yarns spun for the owl,
chariot and wingéd horses
on Athena’s raiment, the story-cloths
on which the Fates dance and lament,
and teach child-bearers
            to weave defiance in a double purple web,
their textile and text incomprehensible to men.
Soldiers cannot divide the seamless robe
passed from mother to daughter,
mystery in a single thread.

Dwelling, by Aliki Barnstone

Dormition of the Mother of God
Church Filipovo Palm Sunday Icon