|[ 1882 November, 20 ]||Letters
|[Alexandria] 20 November 1882
|My dear Constantinus,
I have just returned from a heavy day’s work, and though somewhat fatigued, willingly sit down to answer your nice letter of the 12th which I received yesterday. I am glad you like the proem of my “Arabesque”: it was written in a happy moment. I cannot, however, adopt your amendment of the last line, for I wish it to be clearly understood that the prologue is, virtually, an epilogue, and composed after the entire execution of the poem. Here is another extract.
“Another dream I dreamt: From the far East
On swift-aired pinions came a wondrous bird
With plumage partly golden, partly red;
A palm-bough in its beak, the sign of Time. ¯
Meseemed five hundred years had passed away
Since last I saw it, and I knew it came
From Araby to burn itself in myrrh,
And issuing from the temple of the Sun,
Resuscitated in a nobler form,
Would take again its journey to the East!
Oh, soul! Is this thine emblem? Is the earth
The end of thy migrations, whither fire
Consumes thy perishable frame, and whence
Thou soarest on thy journey to the East,
The aspiration of thy dreams, ¯ the Sun!”
This as you know is the myth of the Phoenix described by Herodotus in his book on Egypt.
I note you write from Aunt Plessos’ house, but a short letter from Paul today gives us to understand that you have moved to Yenikeuy. Tell me how you like it and whether poor mother is more comfortable there than at Kadikeuy.
Your extracts from our grandfather’s notebook have much amused and interested me. The style is indeed quaint and strongly smacks of Biblical diction.
¸ñùò áëãïöüñïò ¯ will do nicely ¯ Thanks to thee, omniscient brother. Your quotation from Victor Hugo, I am well acquainted with, and so are you if I mistake not. I remember seeing it in the Misérables, where it is given as an epitome of the frame of mind of Marius after a vain search in the Luxembourg for Cosette.
The great master! When will there appear such another genius? I cannot help quoting Browning:
“Ah, that brave
Bounty of poets, the one royal race
That ever was, or will be, in this world!
They give no gift that bounds itself and ends
I’ the giving and the taking: theirs so breeds
I’ the heart and soul o’ the taker, so transmutes
The man who only was a man before,
That he grows god-like in his turn, can give ¯
He also: share the poets’ privilege,
Bring forth new good, new beauty, from the old.”¯
Now to answer your queries: ¯
As I have already told you, there was some talk here that the Government would pay by the end of the year all claims not exceeding £ 400 ¯ This however was an idle rumour, and ¯ as a matter of fact ¯ nothing has yet been done to the settlement of, or enquiry into, ¯ claims. The Egyptian Gazette states that the Political question will first have to be laid at rest, and finally liquidated, before the Indemnity can be brought sur le tapis.
S. Georgala is now a broker on his own account, but I am told does nothing.
Mr. Moss leaves this on the 5th December viâ Naples.
Neroutsos Bey is here, but his “rotunda mulier” is still absent.
B. Georgala is also here and at the head of his old business viz. Georgala Chrysoveloni and Co.
Antoniadis’ family have not yet returned.
There has been no change in the staff of our Office ¯ Vella etc. occupy their former positions.
“I sought” is the perfect tense of the verb “I seek” ¯ The “i” in “blithe” is pronounced as in “mind” and the “th” as in “the”. This word is also spelt “blythe”. ¯ e.g. “Hail to thee, blythe spirit”, etc. etc.
Alexandria is becoming quite brisk again. The Politeama has started an Operette: and the Rossini theatre ¯ to my great disgust and infinite despair ¯ has become a Café chantant. From 8 till midnight the infernal orchestra plays its dislocated tunes, and the “rowdy” audience kicks up such a row as nearly drives me mad ¯ Night after night, from my solitary chamber, I heartily send the whole concern to the devil and wish it to some hot place. I can’t sleep, I can’t read, I can’t write, I can’t think, through this abominable nuisance, and I often wish for the thunderbolts of cloud-compelling Jove to burn the wooden barrack to the ground...
Pray excuse this strong language, but, look you, this very moment I had to stop writing owing to the vociferous “Bis! Bis!” and “Bravo! Bravo!” that rent the air and scattered the continuity of my thoughts to the four winds. You can easily imagine how these orgies irritate my sensibility, when immersed in my studies of the Bible or classics, a beautiful rhesis or eloquent chorus, ending with “Pheu! Pheu! Papai!”, is ridiculously interrupted by an Alexandria-lunged “Encore!” ¯ Albeit, “pax iiscum”. ¯ Agamemnon’s contempt for Thersites was no greater than mine is now for these. ¯
My fancy borrows the winged sandals of Hermes, ¯ skims the waves, and, lighting at thy side, bids thee be of good cheer for the sake
Of your loving
|From John C. Cavafy|
To Constantine Cavafy
Transcribed and edited by Katerina Ghika