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This article is taken from PN Review 112, Volume 23 Number 2, November - December 1996.

British Poets in Egypt 1940-1945 Patrick McGuinness

ROGER BOWEN, 'Many Histories Deep': The Personal Landscape Poets in Egypt, 1940-45 (Associated University Press)
 

You will not find new lands, not find another sea.
The city will follow you. You'll wander down
these very streets, age in the same quarters of the town,
among the same houses finally turn grey.
You'll reach this city always. Don't hope to get away:
for you there is no ship, no road anywhere.
As you've destroyed your life here,
in this small corner, so in the whole world you've
  wrecked it utterly.
                                 (C.P. Cavafy, 'The City')


Cavafy placed his poem 'The City' beneath the group-heading 'Prisons', and these lines, written in 1894 by an Alexandrian Greek poet and Egyptian civil servant, part-English-educated scion of a once-prosperous mercantile family, could stand as an opening onto the work of a later generation of displaced persons: the Personal Landscape poets. The reluctant cosmopolitans who found themselves 'stranded' in Egypt during the Second World War - variously teachers, civil servants, soldiers or nomadic academics - reacted in different ways to their Middle Eastern exile. In his dramatic poem 'In Europe: Recitative for a Radio Play', Lawrence Durrell's voices contemplate their own prisons, the imprisonment of exile, of freedom and mobility so forced as to have become entrapment and isolation:
 

Old Man
We are getting the refugee habit:
The past and the ...


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