Archive for May 5th, 2014

Sounds from our life’s first poetry/like music at night, far off, fading out — Sharon, out of Cavafy

Swindon and Hiddleston as Adam and Eve

Dear friends and readers,

For Poetry Sunday on Trollope19thCStudies (alas, @ Yahoo), I remembered that in 2009 the Admiral and I went to an MLA meeting and in the then vast book-sale room (it has since shrunk) he found a volume of Cavafy’s poems as translated by Avi Sharon, which he bought and from which he would read aloud to me. He later took out of the GMU library The Forster-Cavafy Letters where he found a couple of Valassopoulos’s translations of Cavafy which Forster had tried to persuade the Woolfs to publish. I remember him reading aloud to me a couple of Valassopoulos’s translations from Cavafy and Forster’s letters, and have this copy in my files:

Come Back

Come back often and take me,
beloved sensation come back and take me­ —
when awakes the body’s memory,
and an old desire again courses through my blood;
when the lips and the skin remember,
and the hands feel as though they were touching again.
Come back often, at night, and take me,
when the lips and the skin remember

This too he read aloud, Valassopoulos’s translation of

The God Abandoning Antony

When at the hour of midnight
an invisible choir is suddenly heard passing
with exquisite music, with voices —
Do not lament your fortune that at last subsides,
your life’s work that has failed, your schemes that have proved illusions.
But like a man prepared, like a brave man,
bid farewell to her, to Alexandria who is departing.
Above all, do not delude yourself, do not say that it is a dream,
that your ear was mistaken.
Do not condescend to such empty hopes.
Like a man for long prepared, like a brave man,
like the man who was worthy of such a city,
go to the window firmly,
and listen with emotion
but not with the prayers and complaints of the coward —

Ah! supreme rapture!
listen to the notes, to the exquisite instruments of the mystic choir,
and bid farewell to her, to Alexandria whom you are losing.

As I recall we listened to some Leonard Cohen music that night where Cohen alluded to or quoted lines from “The God Abandons Anthony.”

That is all I have recorded of that night the Admiral read aloud from this library book to me. But from Sharon’s translation I can add this, which I am drawn to:

Since Nine O’Clock

Half past twelve. The time has passed quickly
since I first lit the lamp at nine o’clock,
and sat down here. I’ve sat without reading,
without speaking. With whom could I speak,
all alone in this house?

Since nine o’clock when I lit the lamp
a ghostly image of my adolescent body
came to me, reminding me
of closed and scented chambers,
and past pleasures – what brazen pleasures!
It brought before my eyes
streets now unrecognizable,
bars once filled with movement, now closed,
cafes and theatres that once existed.

The vision of my body in its youth
brought sorrowful memories also:
the grieving of my family, separations,
the feelings I had for my own kin, feelings
for the dead, whom I little acknowledged.

Half past twelve; how the time has passed.
Half past twelve; how the years have passed.

I know little of Alexandria, Eygpt (Alexandria, Va I do know) beyond what I read more than 4 decades ago of 3 of the 4 volumes of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandrian Quartet (which has stayed with me, highly romantic); my only sense of what this city might be comes from Orphan Pamuk’s Istanbul, a travel-meditative book I cannot recommend highly enough. I have read all Forster’s novels, seen a number of the film adaptations, read a biography. Of Cavafy all I know is what is written in the Penguin classic book of Sharon’s translations: a gay man whose lyrics come out of classical poetry like The Iliad as much as they do modern Alexandria.

Yesterday I went to my Grief Support Group at the Haven: almost all the people were there plus the two facilitators, and this time the talk helped me. There were more people, more interaction, I know them better — I can see how some are suffering so badly and they utter words and feel feelings I do. I was thinking this morning that all the patterns I lived were intermixed with and dependent on the Admiral’s particular personality interacting with mine as well as his tastes, his predilections, his values which I fell in with and were unusual. I can’t find a new place because other people’s patterns (often deriving from family or work-schooling life) are all set up and of course I don’t belong to these as it takes years for such to evolve. I can enter into some relationship with others impersonally by say going to teach, maybe joining a course, more casually by going out to plays and movies and just being around others. Beyond that there’s only the few patterns I’ve belonged to and these are mostly on the Net. So doomed to live quietly alone unless something is genuinely nearby as I’m too frightened and anxious to go far places by myself and to do things by myself is hard for me — anyway for now much of that’s stopped as I still have no license to drive (how mean powerful institutions like the DMV with a grasp on police are — I broke a tooth yesterday, if it were an abscess my death would suit them just fine).

I read Johnston’s Unusual Suspects to write a review for the Intelligencer (about which I’ll blog eventually) and Eleanor Sleath’s Radcliffian Orphan of the Rhine (a Northanger Abbey novel, one of those Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe plan to read) to write an introduction for a Valancourt edition.

Today in the early afternoon Yvette and took an Uber cab to and from the Shirlington movie-house and saw a remarkable removie, The Only Lovers Left Alive, a witty melancholy vampire tale with Tilda Swindon as Eve and Tom Hiddleston as Adam, sensitive reclusive vampires; when the movie begins, she is living in Tangiers with Christopher Marlowe, another vampire, the real author (we learn) of Shakespeare’s plays. She takes a plane to join Adam in Detroit where they go for long drives and visit old grand theaters and factories, thus allowing Jim Jarmusch to film these haunted and haunting spots (he also wrote the screenplay). Nothing could be farther from the mainstream type film (outlined by Syd Field) than this. Again I remember going to a Jarmusch film with the Admiral in the 1980s: it was playing in some art theater perhaps in DC.

As usual the stills on the Net are not of the landscapes so central to the movie experience, but only of the stars, and promotional “cool” shots outnumber typifying scenes like this:

"only lovers left alive"


In the evening while Yvette and I ate our roast chicken and spaghetti we listened to Puccini’s O Mio Bambini Caro from Pucchini’s Trittico which the Admiral bought tickets for and drove us to so we all saw and heard these three with him one summer day (Summer Splendor) a couple of years ago now. For the music we can turn to Forster as connector again:

Ian pussycat very loving today,


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