[ 1882 October, 30 ]Letters
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[Alexandria] 30th October 1882

My dear Constantine,
     I am unable to describe with what pleasure I take up my pen to write to you. I like to be perfectly quiet with your last letter at my left-hand-side, to write down “winged words” and bid them speed with what haste they may to reach you. When I get up on a Tuesday morning I say to myself, “this is my mail-day, I must write to the wise Constantinus”, and so, during the whole day, I look forward to the still hours of night with intense enjoyment.
     I have now your letter of the 19th before me, and your slip of the 23rd; the latter has surprised me much: for I write regularly once a week and trust you receive my letters. I am sorry to have been the unwilling cause of uneasiness to our poor, dear mother, and shall be more so if I find out that my letters are being intercepted by someone somewhere. As you know, I don’t keep a copy of what I write so that I cannot ascertain which letter is missing.
     It may however be an oversight of some Post Office Official, and the letter turn up when least expected.
     Thanks for your approval of “Sunset Voices” and your pretty simile. What do you think of “Phantasmagoria”? Have I succeeded in improving it?
     My head is now full with the plan of a new poem in blank verse; a wild scheme of some 4,000 lines with no definite subject but a certain harmony combining and breathing its influence throughout the whole. I have finished the “Proem”, although I must confess I have not yet committed it to paper, so I append it here thus benefiting mysellf and giving you a sample of the projected work: ¯
 
          “An arabesque of orient flowers and leaves,
          Such as were whilom wreathed by votaries
          Of Bacchus and the Muses: such as bound
          The brows of poets or the Pythoness: ¯
          Such garland, peradventure if I find,
          I wonder, who hath wreathed it? whence it came?
          Unable to divine the wreather’s thoughts
          Or meaning, who, distributing the flowers
          In style so very fanciful, grotesque,
          Some unity of purpose still retained.¯
 
          Bear with me, friend, in mine infirmities;
          Condemn not too austerely what may seem
          The fanciful arrangement of my song,
          But call it, as I have, an ‘Arabesque’.”¯
 
From this you will gather that I intend calling my new poem “An Arabesque”. I think it is a very pretty name.
     Your several extracts from the Spectator, Kentish Observer, and Ingoldsby are highly interesting.
     Now you ask about our bowab’s conduct. This worthy was on duty up to the 10th July (the eve of the bombardment) when Mr. Watson embarked on board the Mosquito and left him charge of the office, adjuring him to keep quiet and within doors and that he (Watson) would return ashore within three days. The bombardment ¯ as you know ¯ occurred a Tuesday and the fire on a Thursday (13th July). Watson was the first civilian to step ashore. He walked up to our office on the Friday in the company of a detachment of Marines, who shot down every Arab as they went along. Watson had a revolver and did something in that line of business too. On reaching the office it was found that the adjoining buildings were in flames, and that if something were not done at once to allay these, all Canelli’s houses would be destroyed. Thereupon Watson obtained two Marines to assist him and with their help forced the door of our Okella, ascended the stairs, and found our Office locked up. The key had been given to the bowab Abdoul. Our office-doors, you must know, are ribbed with iron and patent-locked. Here then was a difficulty: ¯ it was evident they could not force them, and it was of the utmost necessity for them to get at the water-taps in order to save the building by flooding it over. The ingenuous Watson quickly thought, and quickly decided. He lay to his revolver and fired at the lock ¯ A tremendous smash! and the whole thing was knocked to pieces ¯ (we have had great difficulties in getting the doors repaired since) ¯
     On entering the office, and on having despatched the business of the moment, W. found that all the almanacks shewed the date of the 11th July, thereby indicating that up to that day the bowabs had attended their duties, but then in the frenzy that must have seized everyone at the din of the bombardment, they fled ¯ and have not been heard of since.
     It is now said that Araby in those days gave explicit orders to the soldiery to shoot down all berberines, as partisans of and faithful to the Christians. The poor devils having got wind of this, of course took to their heels immediately and very few have been heard of, and still fewer have returned.
     We have as a rule ten berberines in our employ. Of these two only remained. One of them, hid himself in one of our lighters and the other took refuge in our Marina Office.
 
     Araby’s trial has not yet commenced. Two English lawyers have come out for the defence: Messr. Napier and Broadley.
     Alexander in his letter to Aristides this week does not hold out much hope of success with La Fontaine. Has this man been rude? Pray give me the details.
     I am sorry to see your late literary depression, but no matter what happens I am confident that you will one day succeed, and succeed brilliantly.
     Some phrases cannot be translated literally from one language into another. However I think that “he went to the encounter of” is not bad English, and word for word translation of “il alla à la rencontre de.” ¯ It is a hackneyed thing to beg pardon for bad writing, but I do believe an apology is requisite for mine this time ¯
     Somehow or other little bits of dirt clog my pen every now and then, and create something like an oasis of ink ¯
     However it is time I should end and trouble you no longer to decipher these irregular characters.
     I love you dearly and am always
          Your faithful
               Johannisberg

From John C. Cavafy
To Constantine Cavafy

Transcribed and edited by Katerina Ghika