Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Cavafy's The City

By other seas, to some other land
To another City of fairer renown
You said you'd go rather than let stand
Your every ardor a sentence handed down
Your heart its own corpus delecti, your mind
A punitive treadmill & wherever your eye went
Your life's smouldering ruins rising up to remind
Your years here were rather squandered than spent.

You will find no new Strand, cross no new Sea
The City will shadow you relentlessly
You will wander the same labyrinth of lanes
Dessicate among the same tenement drains 
Always returning to this now and here
Give up Hope. No Ship will appear
To take you from yourself. The Earth is round
What you've ruined is ruined for every patch of ground.

Lawrence Durrell's translation of this poem, given below, was perhaps the first 'modern' poem I read which gave me goose-bumps. It's a pretty free translation. I suppose Greek readers would find things like 'no ship exists/ to take you from yourself' to be crude or otiose. But it isn't so in English. At least, what used to be English. Or, since Durrell was born in India, Indglish.

You tell yourself: I'll be gone
To some other land, some other sea,
To a city lovelier far than this
Could ever have been or hoped to be-
Where every step now tightens the noose:
A heart in a body buried and out of use:
How long, how long must I be here
Confined among these dreary purlieus
Of the common mind? Wherever now I look
Black ruins of my life rise into view.
So many years have I been here
Spending and squandering, and nothing gained.
There's no new land, my friend, no
New sea; for the city will follow you,
In the same streets you'll wander endlessly,
The same mental suburbs slip from youth to age,
In the same house go white at last-
The city is a cage.
No other places, always this
Your earthly landfall, and no ship exists
To take you from yourself. Ah! don't you see
Just as you've ruined your life in this
One plot of ground you've ruined its worth
Everywhere now-over the whole earth?

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