The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The speaker of this rather long dramatic monologue is a pagan Greek in the city of Alexandria, Egypt, in the year 340 c.e., lamenting the death of his Christian lover. The speaker tells of his visit to the house of the dead man and, of there watching the Christian rites and becoming aware not only that has he lost his lover to death, but that perhaps he never knew him at all. The poem does not quite fit the usual definition of a dramatic monologue, though, in that one cannot be sure whom the speaker is addressing. He may, indeed, be talking half to himself, even as he is reporting what has happened to someone else, someone who may have known the dead man, Myris, but not very well.

The conversational, almost colloquial, intensely felt tone of the poem is expressed in its language, in its lines, and in its word choices. Although the lines have varying numbers of syllables, usually between eleven and fifteen, Constantine P. Cavafy’s basic metrical pattern is a deliberately loose iambic. He uses no rhyme, although, since modern Greek has a rather limited vowel pattern and is a relatively inflected language, there are always sound echoes made by the repeated vowels and by those inflections. The poem is divided into stanzas or, rather, verse paragraphs, of varying length; the first three paragraphs are each four lines each, but the next four are ten, eight, twenty-three, and seventeen lines.

The speaker begins by...

(The entire section is 519 words.)