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.


  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.

  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'?