The Unfinished Poems

C. P. Cavafy, Author, Daniel Mendelsohn, Translator , trans. from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn. Knopf $30 (121p) ISBN 978-0-307-26546-3

In the last months of his life, Cavafy told a few friends that he had 25 more poems he was working on. This last work, abandoned at various stages of drafting, was mostly lost until it was discovered in the Cavafy Archive, carefully filed and dated by the author, in the 1960s. An authoritative Greek-language edition of Cavafy's unfinished poems—30 in all, written between 1918 and the poet's death—did not appear until the 1990s. Mendelsohn, by special arrangement with the Cavafy Archive, is the first person to be allowed to translate these poems into English, to be published alongside Mendelsohn's Collected Poems of Cavafy (reviewed above). Mendelsohn, in his introduction, says these poems “represent the last and greatest phase of the poet's career” and that they “fully partake of Cavafy's special vision, in which desire and history, time and poetry are alchemized into a unified and deeply meaningful whole.” Most of these pieces seem as “finished” as anything in the Collected Poems , though perhaps in full command of a kind of erotic abandon that Cavafy only exposed in the latter part of his writing life: “Ah the ancient Greeks were men of taste,/ to represent the loveliness of youth/ absolutely nude.” (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 03/16/2009
Release date: 04/01/2009
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