The god abandons Antony

by Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933)

The god forsakes Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
donít mourn your luck thatís failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptiveódonít mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, donít fool yourself, donít say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
donít degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listenóyour final delectationóto the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

- Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

(Also visit the Cavafy site )

Some facts about Constantine Cavafy

by Demetris Tsimperis, Greece

Constantine Cavafy (Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis, 29 April 1863 - 29 April 1933 - yes, he died on his 70th birthday), Greek poet, is a leading figure in twentieth-century Greek literature. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt, where he spent most of his life. A ruthless self-critic who was often troubled by his own unorthodoxy, Cavafy published little during his lifetime. He rejected the traditional values of Christianity, the heterosexual ethic, nationalism, and patriotism. Cavafy developed an individualistic style mixing stilted artificial literary language with the Greek vernacular. His verses often superimpose events from Hellenistic and Byzantine history on contemporary affairs, as in two of his best-known poems, "The god abandons Antony" and "Ithaca," both written in 1911. Cavafy's works became known to English readers through references in E. M. Forster's study of Alexandria, Pharos and Pharillon (1923), and in Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet (1957-1960). The Complete Poems of Cavafy (1961), translated by Rae Dalven, with an introduction by W. H. Auden, established Cavafy's reputation and ensured his place in Western literature.

Anthony, in Cavafy's poem is, of course, Marcus Antonius, Cleopatra's lover. The poem refers to Plutarch's story (Read it) that, when Anthony was besieged in Alexandria by Octavian, the night before the city fell into enemy hands, he heard an invisible troupe leaving the city. He heard the sounds of instruments and voices making their way through the city. Then, he passed out; the god Bacchus (Dionysus), Antony's protector, was deserting him. It is obviously a poem with many layers of meaning; but, I see it as a poem / lesson on how someone must face a great loss (Alexandria being a symbol for a beloved city, woman, past glory, but, above all else, life itself). It is a beautiful lesson on how to face death.

Now Mr.Cohen has changed Alexandria (a beloved city) to Alexandra (a beloved woman), thus giving a lesson on how to face a lost love. I thank him for that.

Thanks to Demetris Tsimperis for the links and information!