Monday, November 26, 2012

Waiting for the Barbarians - Constantine Cavafy

The more I read Cavafy, the more I like his poem and his approach on the world. I generally don't read that much poetry but every once in a while there is something that really catches my eye. The first Cavafy poem I read was Ithaka. It is probably the most known poem by Cavafy being translated in all major languages.

The one that I'm writing today though is called "Waiting for the Barbarians". If you didn't know it before I hope you will enjoy the swift criticism with perfume of irony that this poem, written at the beginning of the 20th century brings, being just as current now as it was then.


Constantine Cavafy - Waiting For The Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

            The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

            Because the barbarians are coming today.
            What laws can the senators make now?
            Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

            Because the barbarians are coming today
            and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
            He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
            replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

            Because the barbarians are coming today
            and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

            Because the barbarians are coming today
            and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

            Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
            And some who have just returned from the border say
            there are no barbarians any longer.

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

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