Collected Poems | by C.P. Cavafy | Knopf | 624 pages | $35
The Unfinished Poems | by C.P. Cavafy | Knopf | 144 pages | $30
Knopf's publication earlier this year of Daniel Mendelsohn's translation — with extensive commentary and linguistic notes — of C.P. Cavafy's complete body of poetry was one of the most significant literary events of 2009.
E.M. Forster introduced the Greek Cavafy's work to the English world when in 1922 Forester included the poem "The God Abandons Antony" in Alexandria: A History and a Guide. Eleven years later, Cavafy died of lung cancer. But in the interval, Cavafy's reputation as poet's poet began to grow outside of Alexandria, the Egyptian city he called home, and the Greek mainland where he was already recognized as a talent of spare technique and unique voice. When in 1961 the Hogarth Press brought out Cavafy's poems with an introduction by W.H. Auden, his audience grew. Edmund Keeley's 1972 translation solidified Cavafy's position with cotemporary audiences. And Cavafy even enjoyed a Warhol-esque flash of fame in 1994 when Jackie O's favorite poem, Cavafy's "Ithaca," was read at her memorial service.
Cavafy is the poet of memory and desire: the inspiration he draws from the Hellenized memories of a vanished Byzantium mix with his love and longing for young Levantine men. Cavafy's sensual nature combined with his supple historical imagination. This led him to write poems about a moment that will survive for a millennium, and work that evokes history's sweep by capturing the bat of an eyelash.
— Peter Kadzis
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