[ 1882 November, 7 ]Letters
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Alexandria 7 November ’82

Dear Constantine,
                              I’m glad to see
          My letter of 12th ultimo,
          Hath reached you safe, albeit slow.
          Make no amends, ¯ I’ll none from thee.
         
          I’ll answer yours of twenty nine
          October, not in prose but “worse”.
          The Muse directs ecstatic verse,
          The thoughts are hers, ¯ the rhymes are mine.
         
          Fly, letter, fly! God speed thee home!
          Mind not the winds nor lashing seas;
          Knowing thine errand, strive with these
          And prove that love hath masterdom.
         
          I hope you will not call this gam-
          mon, for the metre’s fault ¯ if any ¯
          Is rapid rhymes. Have you read Tenny-
          son’s poem “In Memoriam”?
         
          This metre’s his. With hesitation
          Do I attempt it; ’tis so nice
          In move; ¯ meseems I walk on ice,
          And, like a skater, dread prostration.
          
          But if I find that I am bored,
          And cannot in this style proceed;
          Another rhythm, in case of need,
          I’ll choose, nor let my Muse be floored,
         
          Nor yet her glories be diminished.¯
          Enough, however, of such levity;
          To business now with haste and brevity:
          For the exordium is finished.
         
                              ¯¯¯¯¯
         
          “Poeta nunquam fit sed natus.”
          This is a strange diaporésis,
          But serves my purpose, as a thesis
          To introduce “KáâÜöç êñÜôïò,” ¯
         
          Which I’ll henceforth adopt with you.
          It is a very striking motto
          Sublime, aristocratic, ¯ not to
          Say rather arrogant, tho’ true.
         
          I cannot dress the Persian fable
          In any of the styles of poetry,
          So as to do it justice. Though I try
          Daily, I find I am unable.
         
          I read in yesterday’s Gazette: ¯
          “Ninet, to avoid forgetfulness,
          Writes in the European Press
          And wants to cut a figure yet.
         
          But since this man is grown injurious,
          And talks and brags and is so troublish,
          Tomorrow certain facts we’ll publish
          In his career, which will prove curious.
         
          Peace and complete obliteration
          From Egypt’s soil when cast away,
          Would best become thee, John Ninet
          Of base, inglorious reputation.
          
          And art thou impudent enough
          To talk of writing pamphlets?.. Ay,
          We’ll give thee such a wipe i’ the eye,
          As very soon shall stop thy stuff,
         
          And make it quite unsaleable.¯
          We’ve never seen before so base a cur!
          Note, on the morrow of the massacre
          In June, his bearing did so tell
         
          On the French Consul, that when he
          The praise of Araby began,
          The consul rose: ‘No more, my man!’
          And turned him out all-publicly.” ¯
         
          The letter that you sent for Stephen
          Schilizzi, some three weeks ago,
          By Aristides has been to
          His brother Alexander given.¯
         
          You say you must complain of paucity
          Of news: ¯ if such be th’ appellation
          Of your replete communication
          What may you call my vain verbosity?
         
          Between the two there’s no analogy.¯
          Your letters are past commendation;
          Now ’tis your wit, now some quotation
          That charms; or haply genealogy
         
          Reveals a “factum” interesting.¯
          In re. acquaintances, I know
          A Captain Marryat, Major Snow,
          The latter very fond of jesting.
         
          And now to books. ¯ I much regret
          I cannot give you information
          Of Abraham or generation.
          When I wrote last I did forget
         
          On my exactness that you reckoned,
          And thus omitted then to say,
          That of the work of Bossuet
          I now possess but vol. the second.
         
          In this the history you read
          And growth of empires, up to date
          Of Charlemagne, say Charles the Great,
          Beginning with Scyth and Mede.
         
          Sinadinos are as they were,
          And no one says they are more wealthy.
          Banque Générale, ’tis said, is healthy,
          And all the former clerks are there;
         
          That is, as far as I discern, ¯
          The truth ’tis difficult to know.
          Of Ralli and Sinadino,
          Nothing trustworthy can I learn:
         
          They ship some lots of Grain and Cotton
          But on a very minor scale. ¯
          To goad Stivala, I avail
          Of every hour; he’s not forgotten
         
          Your numbers August and July;
          My presence makes him needs remember.
          Next mail I’ll forward on, November:
          The others ¯ patience ¯ by and bye.
         
          The Zervudachis have some while
          Been here. I meet them pretty often:
          I bow ¯ and their grim faces soften
          In what is meant to be a smile. ¯
         
          But Vahrenhorst is still away;
          I cannot trace his whereabouts,
          Of these there are so many doubts. ¯
          His house, you know, ’s a heap of clay. ¯
         
          To latin origin ascribe
          Word “gallinaceous”, and translate
          Its meaning, as the learned state:
          “Relating to the chicken tribe”.
         
          “Gallina”, latin, stands for “hen”. ¯
          “You must allow large discount on
          Is a correct expression,
          Thou wisest and the best of men!
          
         
          With this I think I end the series,
          And trust I’ve satisfied your queries.
         
                              ¯¯¯¯¯
         
         
          I hope this letter, ¯
          Tho’ it could have been better, ¯
          May amuse you a little: More anon. ¯
          I am heavy at head, and my eyes are like lead,
          So I’ll bid thee “goodnight”, and retire to my bed,
               And remain
                    Your affectionate
                              John.


From John C. Cavafy
To Constantine Cavafy

Transcribed and edited by Katerina Ghika