Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Say goodbye to her..." (part 2)

Here's the Cavafy poem I was quoting in the previous post title, in the Keely/Sherrard translation. Plutarch, I understand, tells a story about Marc Antony, how he heard in the night in Alexandria the sounds of a procession outside, music passing in the dark; it was his patron, Dionysus, leaving him behind. It was the end of his divine protection. For Cavafy, it's the city itself that is divine, and all holy cities will be lost.


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

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

I don't mean to say that Houston is a great capitol, quite -- I'm not sure anyone would want to say that they were "worthy of this kind of city" -- but any place you spend ten years become dense with memory.

Here's an article I wrote about this particular Gulf Coast Alexandria that appeared in SMITHSONIAN this fall. It was written, of course, before Hurricane Ike, so it's a little ironic to read this stuff about those big tropical rains now. And I should mention that a reader has informed me that the gangs of birds I describe in the piece are not boat-tailed grackles (which like the coast) but great-tailed grackles, a wonderfully noisy urban species who've migrated up from Mexico. Talk about strange musical processions!


Peter Kent said...

The poem is touchingly appropriate for the emotions that the pending leave-taking stir. I love the wild juxtaposition of events you described in the earlier post---they create almost a pocket portrait of the city you've been a part of over the past decade.

galincal said...

We must have a similar bird here in the Bay Area. I have only seen/heard them gathered in the spindly trees in the Safeway parking lot, making a raucous noise. I will look more closely next time. Loved your story about Houston, it almost makes me want to visit a city I always thought would be hell on earth.

Mark Doty said...

There's a certain kind of urban bird that just loves those grocery store parking lots. Could be starlings, but I don't really know Bay Area birds...
this gives me an excuse to say, though, that I recently learned that one of those huge flocks of starlings you see in the fall is called a "murmuration." Honest.

galincal said...
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galincal said...

That is truly awesome. I may spend the rest of my life trying to work into casual conversation.