Thursday, 13 March 2014

Cavafy on the Tube

So (he says, hastening the day - surely not far off - when every utterance in English will be preceded by a redundant 'So'), there I was, sitting on the Tube last night, when I raised my weary eyes from my book to the line of posters above the windows - and was pleasantly surprised to find this:

'Though we have broken their statues,
though we have driven them out of their temples,
the gods did not die because of this.
O Ionian land, it is you they still love,
it is you their souls still remember.
When the August morning dawns upon you,
a vigour from their life moves through your air;
and at times a figure of ethereal youth,
indistinct, in rapid stride,
crosses over your hills.'

It is Ionian Song (Ionikon) by the Alexandrian poet Constantin Cavafy - memorably described by Forster as 'a Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe'. It's an elegant little poem that needs no gloss, and is one of six Greek Poems on the Underground, a series launched last month. Greek poems they are, but by English and Irish poets too, with Keats's great and glorious sonnet On First Looking into Chapman's Homer rightly included, and a stanza from Byron's The Isles of Greece (not, alas, this one -    
'Fill high the bowl with Samian wine !
     Our virgins dance beneath the shade—
I see their glorious black eyes shine ;
     But gazing on each glowing maid,
My own the burning tear-drop laves,
To think such breasts must suckle slaves.')
Why this set of Greek poems? It is to mark Greece's current Presidency of the European Union - which must be nice for them, having a stint as Presidents of the union that's engaged in pauperising them.
You can read (if your eyesight's up to it) all six poems here.

5 comments:

  1. Had to comment on the use of the redundant 'So'. For me its anathema. It seems to be used a great deal by 'experts','scientists and the like who use it to set up a condescending relationship with their interlocutor. For me it often signals, 'now listen carefully while I explain this important business to your callow understanding'. It doesn't ingratiate itself.

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  2. Indeed, Guy - and it's spreading at an alarming rate - as is the 'double is', or should I say 'as is is the double is'?

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