A Reader's Guide to Fifty Modern European Poets

By John Pilling | Go to book overview

Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933)

Born in Alexandria into a Greek merchant family with offices in England. After the death of his father in 1870 the family moved to Europe, residing in Liverpool from 1873 to 1877 Thereafter he lived in Alexandria except for three years ( 1882-5) in Constantinople, where he wrote many poems, some in English, and began definitively to identify himself as a homosexual. Worked for a time as a journalist and as a broker and finally took up a post as a civil servant in the Ministry of Public Works which he kept until retirement. Passed his leisure hours in reading, gambling and satisfying his sybaritic appetites. Considered his mature poetry to have been written after 1910 and resisted attempts to have his juvenilia reprinted. Printed all his poems privately in limited editions and took little interest in the fame he was beginning to acquire. Generally considered the greatest Greek poet of modern times. Not a writer who encourages or rewards attempts to scrutinize his personal life, of which little is known.

Few modern poets have equalled Cavafy's capacity, in E. M. Forster's famous phrase, for 'standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe'. Yet even this characterization seems too grandiose to describe the greatest Greek poet of modern times. ' I only speak,' Cavafy wrote in a personal note of 1902, 'but I don't think my words useless. Someone else will act. And my words -- coward that I am -- will assist his energy. They clear the ground.' Cavafy's words do indeed clear the ground, repeatedly dismantling the fragile and precarious edifices which the human heart builds as protection against

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A Reader's Guide to Fifty Modern European Poets
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) 13
  • Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98) 23
  • Paul Verlaine (1844-96) 32
  • Tristan Corbière (1845-75) 40
  • Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91) 47
  • Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933) 56
  • Stefan George (1868-1933) 64
  • Christian Morgenstern (1871-1914) 73
  • Paul Valéry (1871-1945) 80
  • Hugo Von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) 88
  • Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) 97
  • Antonio Machado (1875-1939) 108
  • Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) 118
  • Aleksandr Blok (1880-1921) 127
  • Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958) 136
  • Umberto Saba (1883-1957) 143
  • Dino Campana (1885-1932) 150
  • Gottfried Benn (1886-1956) 158
  • Georg Trakl (1887-1914) 166
  • Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) 173
  • Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970) 181
  • Pierre Reverdy (1889-1960) 190
  • Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) 197
  • Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) 206
  • Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938 215
  • César Vallejo (1892-1938) 225
  • Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) 234
  • Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) 243
  • Paul Éluard (1895-1952) 259
  • Eugenio Montale (1896-1981) 266
  • Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) 276
  • Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) 284
  • Jorge Luis Borges (born 1899) 292
  • George Seferis (1900-71 ) 301
  • Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-68) 308
  • Lucio Piccolo (1901-69) 316
  • Attila József (1902-37) 324
  • Pablo Neruda (1904-73) 333
  • René Char (born 1907) 344
  • Cesare Pavese (1908-50) 351
  • Yannis Ritsos (born 1909) 360
  • Octavio Paz (born 1914) 368
  • Johannes Bobrowski (1917-65) 376
  • Paul Celan (1920-70) 383
  • Vasko Popa (born 1922) 392
  • Yves Bonnefoy (born 1923) 400
  • Yehuda Amichai (born 1924) 408
  • Zbigniew Herbert (born 1924) 416
  • Joseph Brodsky (born 1940) 424
  • Bibliographies 432
  • Index 461
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