ALFRED A. KNOPF, 2012
C. P. CAVAFY: COMPLETE POEMS
A PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
An extraordinary literary event: Daniel Mendelsohn’s acclaimed two-volume translation of the complete poems of C. P. Cavafy—including the first English translation of the poet’s final Unfinished Poems—now published in one handsome edition and featuring the fullest literary commentaries available in English, by the renowned critic, scholar, and international best-selling author of The Lost.
No modern poet so vividly brought to life the history and culture of Mediterranean antiquity; no writer dared break, with such taut energy, the early-twentieth-century taboos surrounding homoerotic desire; no poet before or since has so gracefully melded elegy and irony as the Alexandrian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (1863–1933). Whether advising Odysseus on his return to Ithaca or confronting the poet with the ghosts of his youth, these verses brilliantly make the historical personal—and vice versa. To his profound exploration of longing and loneliness, fate and loss, memory and identity, Cavafy brings the historian’s assessing eye along with the poet’s compassionate heart.
After more than a decade of work and study, Mendelsohn—a classicist who alone among Cavafy’s translators shares the poet’s deep intimacy with the ancient world—gives readers full access to the genius of Cavafy’s verse: the sensuous rhymes, rich assonances, and strong rhythms of the original Greek that have eluded previous translators. Complete with the Unfinished Poems that Cavafy left in drafts when he died—a remarkable, hitherto unknown discovery that remained in the Cavafy Archive in Athens for decades—and with an in-depth introduction and a helpful commentary that situates each work in a rich historical, literary, and biographical context, this revelatory translation is a cause for celebration: the definitive presentation of Cavafy in English.
PRAISE and REVIEWS
Cavafy’s distinctive tone—wistfully elegiac but resolutely dry-eyed – has captivated English – language poets from W.H. Auden to James Merrill to Louise Gluck. . . Daniel Mendelsohn’s new translations render that tone more pointedly than ever before. Together with The Unfinished Poems, this Collected Poems not only brings us closer to one of the great poets of the 20th century; it also reinvigorates our relationship to the English language. . . .Mendelsohn thinks like a poet, which is to say he inhabits the meaning of language through its movement. It’s easy to translate what a poem says; to concoct a verbal mechanism that captures a poem’s movement, its manner of saying, requires a combination of skills that very few possess. Like Richard Howard’s Baudelaire or Robert Pinsky’s Dante, Mendelsohn’s Cavafy is itself a work of art.
Superb . . . In Daniel Mendelsohn’s new translations, both of the Unfinished poems and of the entire corpus of Cavafy’s published work, the poet’s subtle manipulations of past and present are everywhere apparent. Mendelsohn’s translations, in both the Collected Poems and the Unfinished Poems, are not only skilful, but elegant; best of all, they catch the very tone and cadences, together with the terse music, of the originals. . . .The wonder is that he can stick so close to the original and still create English versions which read quite beautifully. Mendelsohn’s two volumes stand out; not only are the translations consistently fine, at once scrupulous and musical, but Mendelsohn is also a trained classicist—he knows his ancient and Byzantine sources. His annotations offer the fullest possible access to Cavafy’s work.
With his passionate reading of this poet-historian, his explanations of the formal elements of modern Greek verse, his versions of previously unknown poems, his notes, and mostly his meticulous translations, Mendelsohn has created not only an essential guide to Constantine Cavafy for English-speaking readers, but has likely shaped our understanding of the greatest writer of modern Greek for a couple of generations to come.
The finest, most readable version of the modern Greek poet Cavafy to come along in decades…As Mendelsohn observes in his deeply impassioned and informative introduction, many American readers overlook “those poems that are deliberately set in the obscurer margins, both geographical and temporal, of the Greek past… in favor of the works with more obvious contemporary appeal.” With this new, completely annotated, translation, Mendelsohn says he aims to “restore the balance,” to help readers reanimate Greek history with Cavafy, to see how relevant and pressing his whole oeuvre truly is. This larger volume contains all the poems by Cavafy we have known in English. . . all rendered with a lucid music. This is likely to be the definitive Cavafy for some time to come.
Daniel Mendelsohn has translated all of Cavafy’s poems, including the thirty Unfinished Poems never before rendered in English. The results are extraordinary, and a whole galaxy orbits them.