Days of 1908 The Canon
Print
That year he found himself without a job.
Accordingly he lived by playing cards
and backgammon, and the occasional loan.
 
A position had been offered in a small
stationer’s, at three pounds a month. But he
turned it down unhesitatingly.
It wouldn’t do. That was no wage at all
for a sufficiently literate young man of twenty-five.
 
Two or three shillings a day, won hit or miss―
what could cards and backgammon earn the boy
at his kind of working class café,
however quick his play, however slow his picked
opponents? Worst of all, though, were the loans―
rarely a whole crown, usually half;
sometimes he had to settle for a shilling.
 
But sometimes for a week or more, set free
from the ghastliness of staying up all night,
he’d cool off with a swim, by morning light.
 
His clothes by then were in a dreadful state.
He had the one same suit to wear, the one
of much discolored cinnamon.
 
Ah days of summer, days of nineteen-eight,
excluded from your vision, tastefully,
was that cinnamon-discolored suit.
 
Your vision preserved him in the very act of
casting it off, throwing it all behind him,
the unfit clothes, the mended underclothing.
Naked he stood, impeccably fair, a marvel―
his hair uncombed, uplifted, his limbs tanned lightly
from those mornings naked at the baths, and at the seaside.

Translated by James Merrill

(James Merrill, Collected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002)

- Original Greek Poem

- Translation by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard