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This review is taken from PN Review 184, Volume 35 Number 2, November - December 2008.

ON AN ANCIENT STONE C.P. CAVAFY The Canon: the original one hundred and fifty-four poems. Translated by Stratis Haviaras. Edited by Dana Bostrom. Foreword by Seamus Heaney. Introduction by Manuel Savidis (Harvard University Press/Center for Hellenic Studies) £16.95

In a 1919 poem Cavafy reflects on the memory of 'a glimpse of bared flesh' that has survived for twenty-six years and only now been conveyed from the visual and virtual world to the world of words. Its title ('Comes to rest' or 'He comes to rest', from its last line) seems perfectly adapted to the issue whether this poem and this poet ever can come to rest. For even if we have heard and read Cavafy before, the experience can seem something like the verbal equivalent of a 'glimpse'. 'Comes to rest' is not alone in being a kind of ars poetica in disguise (or deshabille), and it seems apt that Cavafy should have become a bit like one of his own creations, a figure of 'Days' lost and found in a scatter of historical and imagined specifics. Here we have a poet who, as time has passed, is perhaps still in the process of emerging - a gradual emergence of the kind found in his poems - despite his having been born as long ago as 1863, five years before Browning's The Ring and the Book.

Along the way Cavafy has assumed the status of a point of reference with just a few, really very few, 'classic' poems ('Waiting For the Barbarians', 'Ithakas', 'The City', 'The God Abandons Antony'), behind which lies a large, more or less vague, hinter-land strewn with a number of sites waiting patiently to be ...


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