Cavafy and his City

I don’t particularly like poetry; I don’t know much about it and I’m the last person who should even attempt translating any of it.

Nonetheless, inspired by the fun I had in translating Jorge Luis Borges, I thought I should make myself look foolish by translating one of the few poems that has affected me.

The poem is The City by Constantine Cavafy, or ‘Η Πόλις’ του Κονσταντίνου Καβάφη.

At Words Without Borders, there’s a whole article about how difficult it is to translate the works of Cavafy, using The City as an example. Included in the article are a number of different translations of the poem, in addition to some comparative analysis, so please head over there if you wish to read something done by people remotely qualified for the job.

But be that as it may, you will find below my own English translation and the original Greek.

The City (translated from the Greek)

Constantine Cavafy

You said, “I’ll leave for another land, I’ll leave for another sea,
Another city, a better city, will be found.
My every exertion a failure fated;
and my heart — like something dead — lies buried.
Until when will my mind in this miasma remain?
Wherever I should turn my head, wherever I should look,
only the blackened ruins of my life do I see here,
where I’ve spent so many years, destroying them, wasting them.”

You will not find other lands, you will not find other seas;
This city will pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, you will age in the same surrounds;
in these same houses you will turn grey.
Always to this city you will come.
For somewhere elsewhere — do not hope —
there is no boat for you, there is no road.
As you’ve ruined your life here,
in this tiny corner nowhere, so you’ve destroyed it everywhere.

Η Πόλις

Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης

Είπες· «Θα πάγω σ’ άλλη γη, θα πάγω σ’ άλλη θάλασσα.
Μια πόλις άλλη θα βρεθεί καλλίτερη απ’ αυτή.
Κάθε προσπάθεια μου μια καταδίκη είναι γραφτή·
κ’ είν’ η καρδιά μου -σαν νεκρός- θαμένη.
Ο νους μου ως πότε μες στον μαρασμόν αυτόν θα μένει.
Οπου το μάτι μου γυρίσω, όπου κι αν δω
ερείπια μαύρα της ζωής μου βλέπω εδώ,
που τόσα χρόνια πέρασα και ρήμαξα και χάλασα.»

Καινούργιους τόπους δεν θα βρεις, δεν θάβρεις άλλες θάλασσες.
Η πόλις θα σε ακολουθεί. Στους δρόμους θα γυρνάς
τους ίδιους. Και στες γειτονιές τες ίδιες θα γερνάς·
και μες στα ίδια σπίτια αυτά θ’ ασπρίζεις.
Πάντα στην πόλι αυτή θα φθάνεις. Για τα αλλού -μη ελπίζεις-
δεν έχει πλοίο για σε, δεν έχει οδό.
Ετσι που τη ζωή σου ρήμαξες εδώ
στην κώχη τούτη την μικρή, σ’ όλην την γη την χάλασες.

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