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This report is taken from PN Review 111, Volume 23 Number 1, September - October 1996.

Quintessence Rachel Hadas

At the funeral of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in May 1994, Mrs Onassis's companion, Maurice Tempelsman, read c.P. Cavafy's poem 'Ithaka'. The poem was subsequently printed in its entirety in the New York Times, whereupon so many intrigued readers apparently rushed to their bookstores that Princeton University Press reprinted its Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, which had first appeared in 1975. At 262 pages, the Collected Cavafy was hardly a hefty tome. But now Ecco Press has given us, in The Essential Cavafy, selected and introduced by Keeley and using the same Keeley-Sherrard translations, what might be called the quintessential work (about forty small pages of poetry) of a poet whose oeuvre is already highly distilled. The notion of an essential Cavafy is in some ways an odd one. Unlike some other poets in Ecco's Essential series (Robinson and Browning, Hardy and Whitman come to mind), Cavafy was not a prolific writer. In addition, and more importantly, he was a severe judge of his own work, his own most draconian editor. In his useful Introduction to this little book, Keeley describes Cavafy's

idiosyncratic mode of promulgating his work. He never offered a volume of poems for sale during his lifetime. And a number of good poems of his maturity actually remained unpublished in any form, kept among his papers for possible revision at some later date… Those poems that Cavafy allowed to be printed during his lifetime were distributed to a ...

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