ALFRED A. KNOPF, 2009
ALFRED A. KNOPF, 2009
[AVIS AU LECTEUR FRANCOPHONE: UNE VERSION FRANÇAISE DE L’INTRODUCTION DE CE LIVRE SE TROUVE DANS SI BEAU, SI FRAGILE (“LES UNITÉS DE CONSTANTIN CAVAFY”]
C. P. CAVAFY: COLLECTED POEMS
C. P. CAVAFY: THE UNFINISHED POEMS
A PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY BEST BOOK OF 2008
The simultaneous publication of a brilliant and vivid new rendering of C. P. Cavafy’s Collected Poems and the first-ever English translation of the poet’s thirty Unfinished Poems, both featuring the fullest literary commentaries available in English.
No modern poet brought so vividly 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). Now, after more than a decade of work and study, and with the cooperation of the Cavafy Archive in Athens, Daniel Mendelsohn—a classics scholar who alone among Cavafy’s translators shares the poet’s deep intimacy with the ancient world—is uniquely positioned to give readers full access to Cavafy’s genius. And we hear for the first time the remarkable music of his poetry: the sensuous rhymes, rich assonances, and strong rhythms of the original Greek that have eluded previous translators.
The nearly 300 works collected in these volumes, comprising all of the Published, Repudiated, and Unpublished poems and including, for the first time ever in English translation, the 30 drafts of nearly-compelted poems now offered as the Unfinished Poems in a separate volume, cover the vast sweep of Hellenic civilization, from the Trojan War through Cavafy’s own lifetime. Powerfully moving, searching and wise, whether advising Odysseus as he returns home to Ithaca or portraying a doomed Marc Antony on the eve of his death, Cavafy’s poetry brilliantly makes the historical personal—and vice versa. He brings to his profound exploration of longing and loneliness, fate and loss, memory and identity the historian’s assessing eye as well as the poet’s compassionate heart.
With in-depth introductions and helpful commentaries that situates each poem in a rich historical, literary, and biographical context, these revelatory new translations are 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 (1863 to 1933) 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.