Cavafy’s Rhymed Verse

I’ve been reading Cavafy’s poems and have discovered that most of his rhymed lines are translated unrhymed into English. Rhyming is certainly easier in Greek, but the rhyme in some of the poems has too much force to be left completely unrhymed in an English translation.

Although I’m no expert in the art of poetry, nor even an engaged dilettante, I thought I would have a go translating An Old Man, or Ένας Γέρος, with at least part of the rhyme structure intact. This way, at least something of the original rhyming force is retained.

The Greek original goes AAB CCB DDE FFE etc. I’ve simplified the rhyme structure somewhat in the translation by going AAB CCD EEF GGH etc., and I’ve veered away from pure rhymes to make the structure still simpler to follow.

None of the Greek translations that I’ve read follow any rhyme structure whatever for this particular poem, so compare and contrast how Cavafy’s already been translated with what I’ve come up with below:

An Old Man
In a noisy coffeeshop deep inside
an old man hunched over a table is descried
with a newspaper in front of him, alone.

And in the scorn of old age’s misery
he ponders how little he enjoyed the years so free
when he had strength, reason, looks.

He knows he’s aged much; he feels, he sees.
And yet the time of his youth it seems
like yesterday. So short a time, so short.

And how Prudence played him he ponders sorely,
and how he always trusted her — such high folly! —
the liar who said: “Tomorrow. There’s ample time”.

He remembers the impulses, how he curbed them;
the joy he sacrificed. His senseless wisdom
now mocked by every lost chance.

…Yet from so much thinking and recalling
the old man gets dizzy. He falls sleeping
his head on the coffeeshop table.

Ένας Γέρος
Στου καφενείου του βοερού το μέσα μέρος
σκυμένος στο τραπέζι κάθετ’ ένας γέρος·
με μιαν εφημερίδα εμπρός του, χωρίς συντροφιά.

Και μες στων άθλιων γηρατειών την καταφρόνεια
σκέπτεται πόσο λίγο χάρηκε τα χρόνια
που είχε και δύναμι, και λόγο, κ’ εμορφιά.

Ξέρει που γέρασε πολύ· το νοιώθει, το κυττάζει.
Κ’ εν τούτοις ο καιρός που ήταν νέος μοιάζει
σαν χθες. Τι διάστημα μικρό, τι διάστημα μικρό.

Και συλλογιέται η Φρόνησις πώς τον εγέλα·
και πώς την εμπιστεύονταν πάντα — τι τρέλλα! —
την ψεύτρα που έλεγε· «Αύριο. Εχεις πολύν καιρό».

Θυμάται ορμές που βάσταγε· και πόση
χαρά θυσίαζε. Την άμυαλή του γνώσι
καθ’ ευκαιρία χαμένη τώρα την εμπαίζει.

….Μα απ’ το πολύ να σκέπτεται και να θυμάται
ο γέρος εζαλίσθηκε. Κι αποκοιμάται
στου καφενείου ακουμπισμένος το τραπέζι.

2 thoughts on “Cavafy’s Rhymed Verse

  1. I’ve never encountered Cavafy’s verse before, its seems like quite an apt sentiment for the time of year and all those resolutions already slipping… Thank you M. R.

  2. Cavafy is neither a joyous nor florid poet, which is what I like most about his work.

    Definitely have a look at more of his stuff — one called The City is a particular favourite of mine.

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