[ 1884 December, 2 ]Letters
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[Alexandria] 2 December 1884

My dear Constantine,
     I have already acknowledged your letter 7th November and postscript 11th id. and now I am in possession of yours 20th November to hand this morning only. I am as you may believe extremely obliged for your kind and interesting communications and am pleased to see you do not take offence at my occasionally protracted silence: as I have often explained ’tis what I can do nothing to avoid. Even now you will hardly believe I write from the office time 1.30 pm after all have gone and with an hour to spare to write to my beloved brother. I cannot in terms sufficiently expressive express to you the heartfelt sympathy I bear for mother and you all at Constantinople. I need not read your letters to know that it were God’s gift indeed to bring about some remedy to our needy and deplorable circumstances? I need not really but then is prayer also a dream? Are prayers unavailing? It would seem so in the sorry life we lead without immediate prospect of relief anywhence.
     I would not trouble you with the unpleasant description of our existence here; a pretence, a blind as it has ever been with all of us. The continual stint and abnegation of the utmost necessaries: the necessity of putting on a smiling face and contented appearance when misery and doubt lurk gnawing at the heart. To me, I tell you truly, what to others is a pleasure, is sad distress: say now as is the fact I am invited to spend a few days with Moss in Ramleh, I go reluctantly and not to displease him; for is there not one’s shabby apparel to be ashamed of, the ragged shirts that are wellnigh threadbare at the sleeves and collars with constant manipulation of the scissors to cut the shirtings: the knee-bulging trousers, the stained and glittering coat, and alas! worst of all, the mock-pretence the shabby genteel demeanour that one must necessarily adopt. But there, I have said enough: you are three times worse placed than I, and God forbid that I should ever self-deplore when those who are nearest and dearest to me are so much to be pitied. “Do the duty that is nearest unto thee” says the Holy Book, and may we all be graced by Heaven with power to do that duty well and trust to Him for succour.
     And poor Paul has been ailing? Give the dear boy my sincere love and hearty congratulations at his convalescence. I can well imagine our mother’s distress at the illness of any of us, I can imagine the sore need for help in such a time, I say I can picture all this vividly to myself, and yet despair that I can do nothing to alleviate the misery. Pray tell Alexander and Paul not to nurture any illfeeling against me for not writing to them: I love, esteem and respect them as ever, but ask them to bear with me, for we all have our troubles, and to accept the messages I send them through you as if they were sent direct in all loving-kindness and solicitude. I said there was no immediate prospect of relief: and yet who knows? with the beginning of next year we may be better off. I am sure to have an increase of salary, and Peter too I hope: then if Aristides could pay off his debt (poor fellow! he works hard enough) and do better, all might yet be well: and the payment of the Indemnities see us all united here again early in the coming spring. Moss is kind, Moss is good, but Moss shall not have my services any longer after the expiration of this year, unless at a higher premium. I am confident I am worth something to the business and that something must become palpable to the touch ere I allow my time and life to be wasted in the dogged wretchedness of office-life: for wretchedness it is, work of a beast of burden out of which (as business goes now-a-days) the most must be got for the least money ¯ But hope, hope that the glorious rise of some orient sun may yet blaze forth and scatter the gloomy clouds from around us and give us a peaceful day!
     You say there is no news from George. He may not fare so well and thus shrink from writing, not that it is an excuse to leave one’s dearest unadvised, but it is a sorry to ask to write unpleasant things. So I feel it: hence my desire that you should not be disturbed with other than your own difficulties.
     Enclosed you find a cheque in Paul’s name of £18: the £8 are from Aristides, and the rest mine and Peter’s miserable sparings. ¯ You ask news of my poetical inclinations: how say that I but rarely indulge? The sparks of the fire-flame are easily extinguishable at the blast of the North wind. I am not joking. What say you? Can the tree bear fruit in an uncultured soil? and how culture the latter when both time and disposition are lacking? I have imagined this: that poetry is not the outburst of impassioned words, but rather the sublimity of inward feeling: hence the poetry and prose of all song: in the early Spring time, as of old, the goddess lures the unwary, bids them tell what is inexpressible: but then times change, the insanity of this world’s life passes, the prose of song in all its rigidity kills the weakly daring, for how in man’s framed speech tell fitly the tumultuous exuberances of Nature’s wilderness? Enough and too much. ¯ I send you under separate cover a list of the words you have sent me for translation into Greek: I have done my best. Give dear mother many many kisses for me, ask her to keep up her spirits, for the sake of all of us
          and believe me
               Yours devotedly
                    John


From John C. Cavafy
To Constantine Cavafy

Transcribed and edited by Katerina Ghika