1863-04-29

CONSTANTINE P. CAVAFY, Greek poet (d. 4-29-1933); A major modern Greek poet who worked as a journalist and civil servant. He has been called a skeptic and a neo-pagan. In his poetry he examines critically some aspects of Christianity, patriotism, and homosexuality, though he was not always comfortable with his role as a nonconformist. He published 154 poems; dozens more remained incomplete or in sketch form. His most important poetry was written after his 40th birthday. Cavafy has been instrumental in the revival and recognition of Greek poetry both at home and abroad. His poems are, typically, concise but intimate evocations of real or literary figures and milieux that have played a role in Greek culture. Uncertainty about the future, sensual pleasures, the moral character and psychology of individuals, homosexuality, and a fatalistic existential nostalgia are some of the defining themes.

Cavafy, who was gay, wrote many sexually explicit poems. W.H. Auden noted as much in his introduction to the 1961 volume The Complete Poems of C. P. Cavafy when he wrote, “Cavafy was a homosexual, and his erotic poems make no attempt to conceal the fact.” Auden added: “As a witness, Cavafy is exceptionally honest. He neither bowdlerizes nor glamorizes nor giggles. The erotic world he depicts is one of casual pickups and short-lived affairs. Love, there, is rarely more than physical passion… At the same time, he refuses to pretend that his memories of moments of sensual pleasure are unhappy or spoiled by feelings of guilt.”

Editor’s Note: Well I blew Constantin Cavafy big time, and I’m not talking in a good way. Obviously I completely messed up his date of birth, and or his date of death, because they were the same day, seventy years apart; today was his actual birthdate. He died in 1933. All this on top of misidentifying the Duane Michals photo (which now graces the page heading). I try to be careful about these things. But sometimes we all just fall on our face. I’ll be more careful in the future.