Cavafy was born in 1863 in Alexandria, Egypt, to Greek parents, and was baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church. His father was a prosperous importer-exporter who had lived in England in earlier years and acquired British nationality. After his father died in 1870, Cavafy and his family settled for a while in Liverpool in England. In 1876, his family faced financial problems due to the Long Depression of 1873, so, by 1877, they had to move back to Alexandria.
In 1882, disturbances in Alexandria caused the family to move again, though temporarily, to Constantinople. This was the year when a revolt broke out in Alexandria against the Anglo-French control of Egypt, thus precipitating the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War. Alexandria was bombarded by a British fleet and the family apartment at Ramleh was burned.
In 1885, Cavafy returned to Alexandria, where he lived for the rest of his life. His first work was as a journalist; then he took a position with the British-run Egyptian Ministry of Public Works for thirty years. (Egypt was a British protectorate until 1926.) He published his poetry from 1891 to 1904 in the form of broadsheets, and only for his close friends. Any acclaim he was to receive came mainly from within the Greek community of Alexandria. Eventually, in 1903, he was introduced to mainland-Greek literary circles through a favourable review by Xenopoulos. He received little recognition because his style differed markedly from the then-mainstream Greek poetry. It was only 20 years later, after the Greek defeat in the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), that a new generation of almost nihilist poets (e.g. Karyotakis) would find inspiration in Cavafy's work.
A biographical note written by Cavafy reads as follows:
"I am from Constantinople by descent, but I was born in Alexandria—at a house on Seriph Street; I left very young, and spent much of my childhood in England. Subsequently I visited this country as an adult, but for a short period of time. I have also lived in France. During my adolescence I lived over two years in Constantinople. It has been many years since I last visited Greece. My last employment was as a clerk at a government office under the Ministry of Public Works of Egypt. I know English, French, and a little Italian."He died of cancer of the larynx on April 29, 1933, his 70th birthday. Since his death, Cavafy's reputation has grown. He is now considered one of the finest European and modern Greek poets. His poetry is taught at schools in mainland Greece and Cyprus, and across universities around the world.
E.M. Forster knew him personally and wrote a memoir of him, contained in his book Alexandria. Forster, Arnold Toynbee, and T.S. Eliot were among the earliest promoters of Cavafy in the English-speaking world before the Second World War. In 1966, David Hockney made a series of prints to illustrate a selection of Cavafy's poems, including In the dull village.
Cavafy was instrumental in the revival and recognition of Greek poetry both at home and abroad. His poems are, typically, concise but intimate evocations of real or literary figures and milieux that have played roles in Greek culture. Uncertainty about the future, sensual pleasures, the moral character and psychology of individuals, homosexuality, and a fatalistic existential nostalgia are some of the defining themes.
The sensual poems are filled with lyricism and emotion; inspired by recollection and remembrance. The past and former actions, sometimes along with the vision for the future underlie the muse of Cavafy in writing these poems.
C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems translated by Daniel Mendelsohn
Hardcover: 624 pages
Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (April 7, 2009)
Amazon: C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems
An extraordinary literary event: the simultaneous publication of a brilliant and vivid new rendering of C. P. Cavafy’s Collected Poems and the first-ever English translation of the poet’s thirty Unfinished Poems, both featuring the fullest literary commentaries available in English—by the acclaimed critic, scholar, and award-winning author of The Lost.
No modern poet brought so vividly to life the history and culture of Mediterranean antiquity; no writer dared break, with such taut energy, the early-twentieth-century taboos surrounding homoerotic desire; no poet before or since has so gracefully melded elegy and irony as the Alexandrian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (1863–1933). Now, after more than a decade of work and study, and with the cooperation of the Cavafy Archive in Athens, Daniel Mendelsohn—a classics scholar who alone among Cavafy’s translators shares the poet’s deep intimacy with the ancient world—is uniquely positioned to give readers full access to Cavafy’s genius. And we hear for the first time the remarkable music of his poetry: the sensuous rhymes, rich assonances, and strong rhythms of the original Greek that have eluded previous translators.
The more than 250 works collected in this volume, comprising all of the Published, Repudiated, and Unpublished poems, cover the vast sweep of Hellenic civilization, from the Trojan War through Cavafy’s own lifetime. Powerfully moving, searching and wise, whether advising Odysseus as he returns home to Ithaca or portraying a doomed Marc Antony on the eve of his death, Cavafy’s poetry brilliantly makes the historical personal—and vice versa. He brings to his profound exploration of longing and loneliness, fate and loss, memory and identity the historian’s assessing eye as well as the poet’s compassionate heart.
With its in-depth introduction and a helpful commentary that situates each work in a rich historical, literary, and biographical context, this revelatory new translation, together with The Unfinished Poems, is a cause for celebration—the definitive presentation of Cavafy in English.
Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America by Christopher Bram
Hardcover: 372 pages
Publisher: Twelve; 1 edition (February 2, 2012)
Amazon: Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America
In the years following World War II, a small group of gay writers established themselves as literary power players, fueling cultural changes that would resonate for decades to come, and transforming the American literary landscape forever.
In EMINENT OUTLAWS, novelist Christopher Bram brilliantly chronicles the rise of gay consciousness in American writing. Beginning with a first wave of major gay literary figures-Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Allen Ginsberg, and James Baldwin-he shows how (despite criticism and occasional setbacks) these pioneers set the stage for new generations of gay writers to build on what they had begun: Armistead Maupin, Edmund White, Tony Kushner, and Edward Albee among them.
Weaving together the crosscurrents, feuds, and subversive energies that provoked these writers to greatness, EMINENT OUTLAWS is a rich and essential work. With keen insights, it takes readers through fifty years of momentous change: from a time when being a homosexual was a crime in forty-nine states and into an age of same-sex marriage and the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century by Graham Robb
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (February 17, 2005)
Amazon: Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century
"A brilliant work of social archaeology....A major historical contribution."—Adam Goodheart, The New York Times Book Review
The nineteenth century was a golden age for those people known variously as sodomites, Uranians, monosexuals, and homosexuals. Long before Stonewall and Gay Pride, there was such a thing as gay culture, and it was recognized throughout Europe and America. Graham Robb, brilliant biographer of Balzac, Hugo, and Rimbaud, examines how homosexuals were treated by society and finds a tale of surprising tolerance. He describes the lives of gay men and women: how they discovered their sexuality and accepted or disguised it; how they came out; how they made contact with like-minded people. He also includes a fascinating investigation of the encrypted homosexuality of such famous nineteenth-century sleuths as Edgar Allan Poe's Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes himself (with glances forward in time to Batman and J. Edgar Hoover). Finally, Strangers addresses crucial questions of gay culture, including the riddle of its relationship to religion: Why were homosexuals created with feelings that the Creator supposedly condemns? This is a landmark work, full of tolerant wisdom, fresh research, and surprises.
The Forster-Cavafy Letters: Friends at a Slight Angle by Peter Jeffreys
Hardcover: 191 pages
Publisher: American University in Cairo Press (July 8, 2009)
Amazon: The Forster-Cavafy Letters: Friends at a Slight Angle
The English novelist E.M.Forster and the Greek Alexandrian poet C.P. Cavafy met when Forster was working for the Red Cross in Alexandria during the First World War. Their subsequent correspondence bears witness to a complex relationship and serves as a fascinating testament to Forster's relentless determination to promote Cavafy by bringing out an English translation of his work. The letters also chronicle Cavafy's calculated refusal to comply fully with Forster's plans. The story they tell involves a number of major twentieth century literary personalities Arnold Toynbee, T.S. Eliot, T.E. Lawrence, and Leonard Woolf all participated in Forster s early translation project. Forster ultimately succeeded in launching Cavafy's reputation in the English-speaking world, setting an important precedent for his present global literary fame. Included are all extant letters, the earliest Cavafy translations by George Valassopoulo (incorporating Cavafy's own authorial emendations), poems by E.M. Forster, archival photographs, and related letters.
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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