Two ‘Voices’ – Cavafy

‘Voices’ – Cavafy and editing

The Greek poet Constantine Cavafy was a perfectionist, obsessively refining every single line of his poetry. He did not like his early work and changed his early poems by making them free of adjectives. He rewrote the poem ‘Sweet Voices’ with a poem simply titled ‘Voices’. It is interesting to compare the two versions … see below …

Sweet Voices (1894)

Those voices are the sweeter which have fallen
forever silent, mournfully
resounding only in the heart that sorrows.

In dreams the melancholic voices come,
timorous and humble,
and bring before our feeble memory

the precious dead, whom the cold cold earth
conceals; for whom the mirthful
daybreak never shines, nor springtimes blossom.

Melodious voices sigh; and in the soul
our life’s first poetry
sounds — like music, in the night, that’s far away.
(translated by Daniel Mendelsohn)

Voices (1904)

Imagined voices, and beloved, too,
of those who died, or of those who are
lost unto us like the dead.

Sometimes in our dreams they speak to us;
sometimes in its thought the mind will hear them.

And with their sound for a moment there return
sounds from the first poetry of our life—
like music, in the night, far off, that fades away.
(translated by Daniel Mendelsohn)

Constantine Cavafy (29 April 1863 – April 29, 1933)

I prefer the adjective-free version. The reader is left to create his or her own adjectives – there is no need to define the voices as sweet, melodious, or melancholic… the reader perhaps remembering specific voices of those that have been dear to them, whether died or lost … ‘sometimes in its thought the mind will hear them’ … no more needs to be said … this one line is sufficient.

A poem is a perpetual Lazarus … dead meat … only coming alive when it is read … and when a poem does come alive the poem is not merely the words on the page but an extension involving the reader … the poem is a unique combination of both poet and reader. In the above the reader component is all important.

A link to Cavafy on Wikipedia …

2 thoughts on “Two ‘Voices’ – Cavafy

Leave a Reply to richinaword Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s