Thursday, January 15, 2009

Uncharacteristic Poems

I'm working on an essay called "Cavafy's Rooms," a reading of a number of poems of the great Greek/Alexandrian poet's which define spaces of privacy and intimacy. In the process, I've been reading lots of Cavafy, and it's a pleasure to find poems I hadn't known yet. Daniel Mendelsohn's forthcoming translation is a trove of these, and here's one. This is a totally unexpected poem, coming from the dry, worldly, ironic master; were it posted here without a name, I don't think anyone would guess Cavafy. It makes me think of Robinson Jeffers and "The Housedog's Grave (Haig, an English Bulldog)" another poem where animal presence brings forth an unexpectedly sweet-tempered warmth.

HOUSE WITH GARDEN (1917)


I wanted to have a house in the country
with a very large garden -- not so much
for the flowers, the trees, and the greenery
(certainly there will be that, too; it's so lovely)
but for me to have animals. Ah to have animals!
Seven cats at least -- two completely black,
and for contrast, two white as snow.
A parrot, quite substantial, so I can listen to him
saying things with emphasis and conviction.
As for dogs, I do believe that three will be enough.
I should like two horses, too (ponies are nice).
And absolutely, three or four of those remarkable,
those genial animals, donkeys,
to sit around lazily, to rejoice in their well-being.

5 comments:

somewords said...

Other examples of Cavafy sweetness: In "Days of 1908" he wants to undress the memory. When he gets it naked, faultless, uncombed and sunburned, it feels as sweet as a Gerry Stern elegy.

shoppista said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shoppista said...

Thanks for this, Mark. I re-discovered the Jeffers poem when I was re-reading Dog Years these last couple of days. I'd just lost my cat of eleven years and knew your book would help, which of course it did, as did the Jeffers poem, although it also, of course, made me weep. I'm starting to emerge a little from grieving for the cat (her name was Morrigan, and she was really extraordinary, much more like a dog than a cat in personality and affections) just a little bit, and the Cavafy poem was a nice piece of sweetness for a world that's starting to seem a little lighter to me today, finally.

Eva

shoppista said...

Oh, well, my comments keep being error-ridden, but I can't just keep deleting them and there's no way to edit. Sorry they are inelegant today.

Philip Clark's Weblog said...

Mark, do you know Duane Michal's early photographic book, "Homage To Cavafy"? They are extraordinary "interpretations" of the poems -- and all of them are taken in rooms. Michal's work on Cavafy's poems should be reprinted. I believe this edition is OOP. But I think would greatly enjoy it considering your essay -- which I really look forward to.