Yet another fine article on Alexandrian poet Constantine Cavafy--spurred by the new translation by Daniel Mendelsohn, who has also translated a new collection of "Unfinished Poems"--in the National, by Robyn Creswell.
“Plenty of poets are poets only,” Cavafy once said, “but I am a historical poet” (or else “a poet-historian”: piïtís istorikós). Indeed, few poets were on such intimate terms with the past as Cavafy, who approached history with a combination of scholarly detachment and spooky intensity. The past he most identified with – the verb is not too strong – was the classical kind. Not that noontime of Pericles and the Acropolis, Caesar and the Senate, but the long and, for most of us, unfamiliar evening of Hellenism: the successor states of Alexander’s conquests, the thousand-year reign of Constantinople. This post-Classical era, with its sprawling, mongrelised empires and overripe atmospheres is an afterthought in most historical accounts. But for Cavafy, a Greek poet who had read the French decadents and lived all his adult life in a declining Egyptian entrepôt, it spoke to his deepest concerns.