I have hubristically attempted my own free translations of C. P. Cavafy’s poems, in order to draw out the resonances of his lyrical, ironic and sexually truthful voice.
I was introduced to Cavafy in the lovely and scholarly Rae Dalven translations, which include some of the ‘repudiated’ and ‘unpublished’ poems, in The Complete Poems of C. P. Cavafy, Chatto and Windus 1968 (still to be found in good second-hand bookshops).
I would also recommend the translation by Daniel Mendel sohn, which includes the ‘unfinished poems’: C.P.Cavafy Complete Poems (Harper Press 2013) and, for anyone who can read Greek, C.P.Cavafy The Collected Poems, translated by Evangelos Sachperoglu (Oxford University Press 2007) which has the English text alongside the Greek.
C. P. Cavafy lived in Alexandria for most of his life and died in 1933. He was gay and his emotional and sexual life had to be kept a closely guarded secret. A scholar, he wrote many erudite poems alluding to the events of early Byzantine history and myth. However the poems are centred on modern themes of alienation, disillusionment and an understanding of the body/mind split which is now being even more widened by technology.
His erotic poems are charged with unsentimental clarity and heart-searing detail, which is truly heroic, given the age in which he lived. He speaks to lovers throughout time.
His most famous poem, Ithaca, brought him to wide attention when it was read at Jackie Kennedy’s funeral and it is still a favourite memorial poem with its theme of the journey being more important than the destination.