Constantine Cavafy Criticism - Essay

E. M. Forster (essay date 1923)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Poetry of C. P. Cavafy,” in Pharos and Pharillon, Alfred A. Knopf, 1923, pp. 110-17.

[In the following excerpt, Forster—a noted British novelist and friend of Cavafy—describes Cavafy's stature and work in modern Greek poetry.]

Modern Alexandria is scarcely a city of the soul. Founded upon cotton with the concurrence of onions and eggs, ill built, ill planned, ill drained—many hard things can be said against it, and most are said by its inhabitants. Yet to some of them, as they traverse the streets, a delightful experience can occur. They hear their own name proclaimed in firm yet meditative accents—accents that seem not so much to expect an...

(The entire section is 1672 words.)

Petroula Kephala Ruehlen (essay date 1965)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Constantine Cavafy: A European Poet,” in Nine Essays in Modern Literature, edited by Donald E. Stanford, Louisiana State University Press, 1965, pp. 36-62.

[In the following essay, Ruehlen posits that Cavafy was a European poet because of his firm grounding in Western culture and his continued relevance to European readers.]

On the twenty-ninth of April 1933, Constantine Cavafy died on his seventieth birthday. A few days before, he had jotted down for a friend to read—cancer of the throat had deprived the poet of the ability to speak—“And I had twenty-five more poems to write!”

In 1963 Greece, the world, celebrated the centennial...

(The entire section is 11978 words.)

George Seferis (essay date 1966)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Cavafy and Eliot—A Comparison,” in On the Greek Style: Selected Essays in Poetry and Hellenism, translated by Rex Warner and Th. D. Frangopoulos, Little, Brown and Company, 1966, pp. 119-62.

[In the excerpt which follows, Seferis proposes that the poetry of Cavafy and T. S. Elliot, despite differences in technique, contains parallel themes and similar outlooks.]

I am not going to suggest that Constantine Cavafy and Thomas Eliot are bound together by any bonds of influence. They are too widely separated by the years—almost a whole generation. Cavafy was born in Alexandria in 1863; Eliot in St. Louis in 1888. When Eliot is still at the starting point of...

(The entire section is 10049 words.)

C. M. Bowra (essay date 1967)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Constantine Cavafy and the Greek Past,” in The Creative Experiment, Macmillan, 1967, pp. 29-60.

[In the following excerpt, Bowra discusses Cavafy's unusual relationship to Greek culture and his life in Alexandria, arguing that his best poetry attests to his individuality.]

The Greek poet, Constantine Cavafy, who was born in 1868 and spent most of his time in Alexandria until his death in 1933, presents a special case, both as a man and as a poet, of one whose situation cut him off from much of contemporary life and from any immediate or easy connection with a civilised past. His case is not unique, and the United States has more than once shown that it...

(The entire section is 11930 words.)

Edmund Keeley and George Savidis (essay date 1971)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Passions and Ancient Days: New Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley and George Savidis, The Dial Press, 1971, pp. ix-xxiii.

[In the following excerpt, Keeley and Savidis discuss the nature, scope, and characteristics of Cavafy's poetry as well as his reluctance to publish poetry during his lifetime.]

C. P. Cavafy's mode of publishing—or not publishing—his poems was as original in its way as the poetry itself became once he found his mature voice. The implications of this mode help to explain why it was not until some thirty years after his death that the poems included in the selection offered here finally appeared in print to complete the...

(The entire section is 5691 words.)

D. N. Maronitis (essay date 1972)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Arrogance and Intoxication: The Poet and History in Cavafy,” in Eighteen Texts: Writings by Contemporary Greek Authors, edited by Willis Barnstone, Harvard University Press, 1972, pp. 117-34.

[In the following essay, Maronitis provides a close textual and historical study of Cavafy's poem “Darius.”]

In times like ours, when history is produced and written by machines with human appendages, of what use can the poet's voice be?

In a small, poor country like ours, where land, seas, and men are transformed by the electronic computers of the powerful into programs of war, economic, and tourist policies, what can be salvaged by the few...

(The entire section is 6696 words.)

Kimon Friar (essay date 1973)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Constantine Caváfis,” in Modern Greek Poetry, edited by Kimon Friar, Simon and Schuster, 1973, pp. 22-27.

[In the following essay, Friar discusses the characteristics of Cavafy's poetry, ranking his historical poems as his best.]

Kostís Palamás was to cast his shadow over most Greek poets during the first decades of the twentieth century, but it was his younger (by four years) contemporary Cónstantine Caváfis who, although not very well known in Greece proper until the middle thirties, was ultimately to challenge and overwhelm him as the true predecessor of modern poetry. Caváfis was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1863, and died there in 1933. But for...

(The entire section is 2074 words.)

Robert Liddell (essay date 1974)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Poems before 1911,” in Cavafy: A Critical Biography, Gerald Duckworth & Co., 1974, pp. 132-50.

[In the following excerpt, Liddell chronicles Cavafy's early development as a poet of note, focusing on the period between 1891 and 1911.]

As Cavafy himself caused a line to be drawn dividing his poems written before 1911 from those written after that date, it seems natural to make use of it, though it need not be given undue significance; there were several dates in his literary development.

It will be best to set out briefly and clearly the facts about the early poems: considered as publications, they fall into three groups:


(The entire section is 6847 words.)

Nasos Vayenas (essay date 1979)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Language of Irony (Towards a Definition of the Poetry of Cavafy),” in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Vol. 5, 1979, pp. 43-56.

[In the essay which follows, Vayenas attempts to settle the debate over whether Cavafy's poetry is lyric or dramatic by emphasizing the importance of verbal and situational irony in his works.]

The first time André Gide heard the name of Cavafy was during his visit to Greece, in April 1939. He was talking to Dimaras, Theotokas and Seferis when the conversation turned to the poet of Alexandria. Gide asked what kind of poetry Cavafy wrote. ‘Lyrique’, Dimaras replied. ‘Didactique’, corrected Seferis. Later on Dimaras...

(The entire section is 4950 words.)

Valeria A. Caires (essay date 1980)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Originality and Eroticism: Constantine Cavafy and the Alexandrian Epigram,” in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Vol. 6, 1980, pp. 131-55.

[In the essay below, Caires compares and contrasts ideas in Cavafy's poetry with those typical in Hellenistic literature, revealing significant differences.]

Although it has become generally accepted by critics that Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933) was influenced greatly by the Hellenistic epigram ‘in attitude, subject matter, and technique’,1 a close comparison of that poetic tradition and Cavafy's poems reveals interesting differences as well as similarities. We know that Cavafy was familiar with...

(The entire section is 7510 words.)

C. Capri-Karka (essay date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Introduction” and “Journey and Complications,” in Love and the Symbolic Journey in the Poetry of Cavafy, Eliot and Seferis: An Interpretation with Detailed Poem-by-Poem Analysis, Pella Publishing Company, 1982, pp. 19-28, 83-94.

[In the following excerpt, Capri-Karka discusses Cavafy's evolution as a poet and provides a detailed thematic analysis of several of his poems.]

“Ithaca”1 is considered not only central for the theme of the journey but also the “brain” of Cavafy's whole work—if one can extend here the symbolism used by Stuart Gilbert for the ninth episode of James Joyce's Ulysses. It is for this reason that Cavafy...

(The entire section is 9465 words.)

Roderick Beaton (essay date 1983)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “The History Man,” in Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, Vol. 10, Nos. 1-2, Spring/Summer, 1983, pp. 23-44.

[In the essay which follows, Beaton urges critics to take a closer look at Cavafy's use of time and history in his poetry, arguing that the poet has a more complex and intricate method of merging history and the present than scholars previously believed.]

“It was all a plot.” “I thought you liked plots … In any case, it's the plot of history. It was simply inevitable.” “But you helped inevitability along a little. …” “There's a process … It charges everyone a price for the place they occupy, the stands they...

(The entire section is 10209 words.)

Gregory Jusdanis (essay date 1985)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “C. P. Cavafy and the Politics of Poetry,” in The Text and Its Margins: Post-Structuralist Approaches to Twentieth-Century Greek Literature, edited by Margaret Alexiou and Vassilis Lambropoulos, Pella Publishing Company, Inc., 1985, pp. 37-58.

[In the essay below, Jusdanis analyzes Cavafy's poems “The Enemies,” “A Byzantine Nobleman in Exhile Composing Verses,” “Growing in Spirit” and the essay “The Thoughts of an Old Artist” discussing ideas of power and politics in his work.]

The politics of Cavafy's poetry has been largely ignored or misunderstood, since traditional criticism assumes that his oeuvre itself is apolitical. Thus, any...

(The entire section is 7387 words.)

Margaret Alexiou (essay date 1985)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “C. P. Cavafy's ‘Dangerous’ Drugs: Poetry, Eros and the Dissemination of Images,” in The Text and Its Margins: Poststructuralist Approaches to Twentieth-Century Greek Literature, edited by Margaret Alexiou and Vassilis Lambropoulos, Pella Publishing Company, Inc., 1985, pp. 157-96.

[In the following essay, Alexiou applies a deconstructionalist critical approach of Cavafy and explores the concepts of truth, poetry, and eros in his poems.]

Un texte n'est un texte que s'il cache au premier regard, au premier venu, la loi de sa composition et la règle de son jeu. Un texte reste d'ailleurs toujours imperceptible. La loi et la règle ne...

(The entire section is 14088 words.)

Publishers Weekly (essay date 2001)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Before Time Could Change Them: The Complete Poems of Constantine P. Cavafy, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 248, No. 13, March 26, 2001, p. 85.

[In the following review, the critic compares Before Time Could Change Them with two other Cavafy collections, finding that the main asset of Before Time Could Change Them is its inclusion of several poems never before published in English.]

Though Cavafy never published a book during his lifetime, preferring to circulate his poems privately in broadsides and pamphlets, acclaim for his work has grown steadily, both in the U.S. and abroad, since his death in 1933. A Greek citizen who lived and...

(The entire section is 363 words.)