BEFORE TIME COULD CHANGE THEM: The Complete Poems of Constantine P. Cavafy

Constantine Cavafy, Author, Theoharis C. Theoharis, Translator, Gore Vidal, Foreword by BEFORE TIME COULD CHANGE THEM: The Complete Poems of Consta $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-15-100519-2

Though Cavafy never published a book during his lifetime, preferring to circulate his poems privately in broadsides and pamphlets, acclaim for his work has grown steadily, both in the U.S. and abroad, since his death in 1933. A Greek citizen who lived and worked in Alexandria, Cavafy is esteemed both for his elegant redactions of classical and ancient history and myth, and for his gorgeously muted and candidly homosexual poems of erotic longing and loss. As is clear in these conversational and freewheeling versions, those two contexts don't mark a major division in his oeuvre, as desire frequently enters the former, while the latter are typically informed by a classical sense of decorum: "Yesterday, walking in a remote quarter,/ I passed outside the house/ I used to enter when I was very young./ Eros, with his magnificent force,/ had seized my body there." Recurrent themes of the joys of youth and art, along with an emphasis on Hellenism in all eras, also lend the poems a remarkable consistency. Like the expanded edition of Rae Dalven's landmark translations, this book presents a number of earlier efforts that the mature Cavafy repudiated. Unlike Dalven's collection, however, this volume presents Cavafy's authorized work in the order the poet gave it before his death. Though translator Theoharis Theoharis's versions are commendably relaxed, the windily inconsequential preface by Gore Vidal is no substitute for Auden's insightful introduction in the Dalven volume or for the helpful biographical sketch that appears in Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard's collection. Containing nine poems never before published in English, this volume will no doubt be a necessity for completists readers, though those new to Cavafy's work will do well with any of the collections currently available. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/26/2001
Release date: 04/01/2001
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