Friday, May 25, 2012

`The Marvelous Journey'

My closest companion in Poland has been a former Greek diplomat, age seventy-six, who was born in Alexandria and lived in Iraq, the United States, Syria, Canada, Australia and now, in retirement, Greece. Walking to dinner in Krak√≥w the other evening, I asked him about Alexandria, ancient and modern, and he spoke of the Library as though it had burned down last week. I mentioned Cavafy, E.M. Forster’s 1922 book about the city and Lawrence Durrell’s tetralogy. He couldn’t finish the Durrell, read Forster years ago and recited Cavafy from memory in Greek. Here is how Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard rendered the lines from “Ithaka” in English:

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.”

From the same translators I returned the favor with the final lines of “Waiting for the Barbarians”:

“And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.”

The retired diplomat recited the lines in Greek and said, “The end of that poem always makes me laugh.”

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