Friday, 19 April 2013

Author Appreciation: Constantine P. Cavafy

This is the start of another new series! I'm not going to lie, it's essentially just a celebration of writers that I think are brilliant. Generally, I'm going to stick to talking about authors that I have actually read a fair amount of, just so I can give a really good explanation as to why they are so great. I will try to give you legitimate reasons as to why you should read them, rather than it just being me gushing about how wonderful they are! So, first up we have Constantine P. Cavafy.


Take a moment to admire that damn fine moustache!

A bit of context- I study English Literature and Classical Studies at university and one of my modules this year kind of combines the two by focusing on modern Greek literature. Our group is tiny (there is literally four of us including the lecturer!) which has been nice, we've really been able to talk a lot about the texts. It has essentially been a five week blipvert of modern Greek history and author study. My favourite writer we've looked at has been Cavafy. I'm actually currently in the middle of my independent study of him aka reading everything ever written about his work in an attempt to narrow down what I'm going to focus on. Anyway enough of a geek-out about my course and onto the actual content!


First off, POETRY. That's what we're talking about ;) But it's really interesting poetry. It kind of confounds your expectation of what poetry should be. He's very sparse with his use of adjectives which is pretty unusual. I guess sparse is also the perfect way to describe his poems as well. These aren't long descriptive poems like Wordsworth, instead they tend toward being short and use a lot of verbs. You can split his poetry into three catagories; erotic, historical and philosophical. My favourites are the historical ones and this is what I'll be talking about, but I absolutely recommend you read all his different types as they are so beautiful. Cavafy has this way of drawing on the historical figures that are usually pushed to the sidelines and rescuing them from the obscurity of official history. You get the sense that he found a figure in a foot-note and then the imagined a scene of their life from there. The last lines of his poems are always so powerful in their simplicity, it really blows me away. The first of his poems that I really connected with is The God Abandons Antony, and one of the reasons I like it so much is the ending. It just captures the absolute hopelessness of the situation (Antony knowing he is losing Alexandria) but it has a courageous nobility to it. Accept the situation, don't deceive yourself, but also don't lose your dignity, time always ticks on. I don't know if I'm really being clear here, but I think if you read his work you will understand. There is this essence of undescribability to his work (I don't care if this isn't a word, it is now!). No matter how hard you try it is so hard to pin down the exact way his work makes you feel, it just does. He is capable of making you feel emotion in a few sparse sentences that other writers take pages to build up. I just really find his work very affecting. He has a really interesting and unique approach to history, rescuing figures that have been condemned or hidden by official records. He somehow manages to make them timeless. His poetry has such an element of catharsis to it, as if we and the figure have emerged salvaged and redeemed from the experience. 

I am entirely capable of filling pages with my thoughts on this poet, but I'll stop here before this feels too much like an essay! I hope I have encouraged at least one person to explore Cavafy's work. If any of you are familiar with him please leave a comment, I would love to be able to chat to someone about his work! Let me know what some of your favourite poets are and I'll give them a try :)

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