Poem #30: God Abandons Antony by C.P. Cavafy

Constatine P. Cavafy (1863 – 1933) was a Greek poet and is considered one of the best European poets of the 20th century.  He divided his poems into three groups:  historical, sensual and philosophical or instructive.

Today’s poem, God Abandons Antony, is one of his philosophical poems.  The poem refers to Plutarch’s story of the Roman general, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) and the siege of Alexandria by Octavian.  On the night before the city fell, Mark Antony heard an invisible troupe, with sounds of instruments and voices, making its way through and leaving the city.  He then passed out, for what he heard was his god and protector Bacchus (Dionysus) deserting him. Cavafy was born  in Alexandria and the city features quite prominently in his works.   Here then is the poet’s advice on how to handle loss.  Enjoy!

God Abandons Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who proved worthy of this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

9 comments

  1. Such a lyrical poem. What I loved about it is that it can also be read as a stand alone poem. My fav lines – Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
    it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
    don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.

    Thanks for introducing me to a new poet too! :)

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    • You are most welcome, Birdy. I love the poetry of Cavafy and this post has been well appreciated that I might just feature another one by him in the coming weeks.

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  2. A ‘which-shall-I do-loudest: Laugh-or-cry?’ kind of poem. Kinna, thanks for this and for introducing me to Cavafy.

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  3. Cavafy is one of my favorite poets. This poem in particular inspired Leonard Cohen to write the song Alexandra Leaving which I love, especially because I’m called Alexandra :)

    Do you know the poem Itaka? It’s my favorite by him.

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