Selected Prose Works
Selected Prose Works (Writers on Writing)
by Constantine P. Cavafy
University of Michigan Press
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The poems of C. P. Cavafy, even when fragmentary or incomplete, have a stamp of finality about them; they seem permanently incised, like inscriptions recovered from antiquity. The same cannot be said of Cavafy's prose. His essays and reflections are restless, hesitant, darting. That makes them all the more precious. They reveal to us a Cavafy shorn of pince-nez and sleeve garters; still at a slight angle to the universe, as E. M. Forster memorably described him, but somehow more cozily akimbo. Peter Jeffreys, who last year edited the dry and amusing correspondence between Cavafy and Forster (The Forster-Cavafy Letters, published by the American University in Cairo Press), has here collected, edited, and translated Cavafy's prose writings dating from around 1882 through 1930, three years before the poet's death. The subjects are wildly eclectic. There are essays on lycanthropy, Persian manners, Greek misogyny, Shakespeare; there are gloomy short stories and prose poems in the manner of Baudelaire; there are "literary reflections" that include a fascinating essay on Browning, who was a powerful influence on Cavafy. A section of miscellaneous writings includes "Twenty-Seven Notes on Poetics and Ethics," a series of revealing aphorisms. Thirteen of these forty pieces were composed in English, a language Cavafy knew from childhood. The selection concludes with a self-portrait, written anonymously in French for a Parisian literary magazine, in which Cavafy calls himself "an ultra-modern poet, a poet of the future generations," and shamelessly praises his own "impeccable style"