C. P. Cavafy

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Biography

(Poetry for Students)

Constantine Peter Cavafy was born on April 17, 1863, in Alexandria, Egypt. He was a Greek citizen, the ninth and last child of Peter (an importer and exporter) and Hariklia Cavafy. His parents had settled in Alexandria in the mid-1850s. After his father died in 1870, Cavafy’s mother moved the family to Liverpool, England, where her two eldest sons managed the family business.

From the age of nine to sixteen, Cavafy lived in England, where he developed a love for the writing of William Shakespeare, Robert Browning, and Oscar Wilde. The family business did not prosper, and the family was compelled to move back to Alexandria in 1880. Two years later, Cavafy’s mother and some of his eight siblings moved again, to Constantinople. It was in Constantinople that Cavafy wrote his first poems.

In 1885, having received little formal education, Cavafy eventually rejoined his older brothers in Alexandria and became a newspaper correspondent for Telegraphos. In 1888, he began working as his brother’s assistant at the Egyptian Stock Exchange. Within four years, he became a clerk at the Ministry of Public Works. Cavafy remained at the ministry for the next thirty years, eventually becoming its assistant director. He retired in 1922.

Although he began publishing poems in 1896 and continued to do so until 1932, a year before his death, it was a long time before Cavafy received much literary recognition beyond Alexandria. In his lifetime, he did not offer a single volume of poetry for sale. He printed pamphlets of his work privately and distributed them to friends and relatives. Only in his later years did he become sufficiently well known for Western visitors to seek him out in Alexandria.

In 1926, Cavafy received the Order of the Phoenix from the Greek government. In 1930, he was appointed to the International Committee for the Rupert Brooke memorial statue that was placed on the island of Skyros.

On April 29, 1933, eleven years after leaving the ministry, Cavafy died of cancer of the larynx.

The first collected edition of his poems was published in 1935 and first translated into English in 1948. In subsequent years, Cavafy became recognized as one of the foremost Greek poets of the twentieth century.