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Book cover of C. P. Cavafy: The Unfinished Poems

C. P. Cavafy: The Unfinished Poems

by Daniel Mendelsohn

Published: April 2009
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Pages: 144
Hardcover
ISBN: 9780307265463






Overview of C. P. Cavafy: The Unfinished Poems

A remarkable discovery, an extraordinary literary event: the never-before translated Unfinished Poems of the great Alexandrian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, published for the first time in English alongside a revelatory new rendering of the Collected Poems—translated and annotated by the renowned critic, classicist, and award-winning author of The Lost.

When he died in 1933 at the age of seventy, C. P. Cavafy left the drafts of thirty poems among his papers—some of them masterly, nearly completed verses, others less finished texts, all accompanied by notes and variants that offer tantalizing glimpses of the poet’s sometimes years-long method of rewriting and revision. These remarkable poems, each meticulously filed in its own dossier by the poet, remained in the Cavafy Archive in Athens for decades before being published in a definitive scholarly edition in Greek in 1994. Now, with the cooperation and support of the Archive, Daniel Mendelsohn brings this hitherto unknown creative outpouring to English readers for the first time.

Beautiful works in their own right—from a six-line verse on the “birth of a poem” to a longer work that brilliantly paints the autumn of Byzantium in unexpectedly erotic colors—these unfinished poems provide a thrilling window into Cavafy’s writing process during the last decade of his life, the years of his greatest production. They brilliantly explore, often in new ways, the poet’s well-established themes: identity and time, the agonies of desire and the ironies of history, cultural decline and reappropriation of the past. And, like the Collected Poems, the Unfinished Poems offers a substantial introduction and notes that provide helpful historical, textual, and literary background for each poem.

This splendid translation, together with the Collected Poems, is a cause for celebration—the definitive presentation of Cavafy in English.

Synopsis of C. P. Cavafy: The Unfinished Poems

A remarkable discovery, an extraordinary literary event: the never-before translated Unfinished Poems of the great Alexandrian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, published for the first time in English alongside a revelatory new rendering of the Collected Poems—translated and annotated by the renowned critic, classicist, and award-winning author of The Lost.

When he died in 1933 at the age of seventy, C. P. Cavafy left the drafts of thirty poems among his papers—some of them masterly, nearly completed verses, others less finished texts, all accompanied by notes and variants that offer tantalizing glimpses of the poet’s sometimes years-long method of rewriting and revision. These remarkable poems, each meticulously filed in its own dossier by the poet, remained in the Cavafy Archive in Athens for decades before being published in a definitive scholarly edition in Greek in 1994. Now, with the cooperation and support of the Archive, Daniel Mendelsohn brings this hitherto unknown creative outpouring to English readers for the first time.

Beautiful works in their own right—from a six-line verse on the “birth of a poem” to a longer work that brilliantly paints the autumn of Byzantium in unexpectedly erotic colors—these unfinished poems provide a thrilling window into Cavafy’s writing process during the last decade of his life, the years of his greatest production. They brilliantly explore, often in new ways, the poet’s well-established themes: identity and time, the agonies of desire and the ironies of history, cultural decline and reappropriation of the past. And, like the CollectedPoems, the Unfinished Poems offers a substantial introduction and notes that provide helpful historical, textual, and literary background for each poem.

This splendid translation, together with the Collected Poems, is a cause for celebration—the definitive presentation of Cavafy in English.

The New York Times - James Longenbach

Auden maintained that Cavafy's tone seems always to "survive translation," and Daniel Mendelsohn's new translations render that tone more pointedly than ever before…It's easy to translate what a poem says; to concoct a verbal mechanism that captures a poem's movement, its manner of saying, requires a combination of skills that very few possess. Like Richard Howard's Baudelaire or Robert Pinsky's Dante, Mendelsohn's Cavafy is itself a work of art.

About the Author, Daniel Mendelsohn

An accomplished author, reporter, and literary critic, Daniel Mendelsohn has garnered his widest acclaim to date for The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million -- the story of his search for the truth behind his family's tragic past in World War II.

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Editorials

James Longenbach

Auden maintained that Cavafy's tone seems always to "survive translation," and Daniel Mendelsohn's new translations render that tone more pointedly than ever before…It's easy to translate what a poem says; to concoct a verbal mechanism that captures a poem's movement, its manner of saying, requires a combination of skills that very few possess. Like Richard Howard's Baudelaire or Robert Pinsky's Dante, Mendelsohn's Cavafy is itself a work of art.
—The New York Times

Publishers Weekly

In the last months of his life, Cavafy told a few friends that he had 25 more poems he was working on. This last work, abandoned at various stages of drafting, was mostly lost until it was discovered in the Cavafy Archive, carefully filed and dated by the author, in the 1960s. An authoritative Greek-language edition of Cavafy's unfinished poems-30 in all, written between 1918 and the poet's death-did not appear until the 1990s. Mendelsohn, by special arrangement with the Cavafy Archive, is the first person to be allowed to translate these poems into English, to be published alongside Mendelsohn's Collected Poems of Cavafy (reviewed above). Mendelsohn, in his introduction, says these poems "represent the last and greatest phase of the poet's career" and that they "fully partake of Cavafy's special vision, in which desire and history, time and poetry are alchemized into a unified and deeply meaningful whole." Most of these pieces seem as "finished" as anything in the Collected Poems, though perhaps in full command of a kind of erotic abandon that Cavafy only exposed in the latter part of his writing life: "Ah the ancient Greeks were men of taste,/ to represent the loveliness of youth/ absolutely nude." (Mar.)

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