C. P. CAVAFY’S “GRAY”
“In representing more adequately what translation does, and in raising awareness even among translators of the implications of textual instability for their task, this book may encourage us to translate differently — to expand our notion of what translation can do, and to imagine modes of translating that break the mold in which the reigning (if often disguised) discourse of originality and derivation seems to have trapped us.” — Karen Emmerich, Literary Translation and the Making of Originals (Bloomsbury, 2017), 31.
Having explored the possibilities off and on for several years of translating poems from ancient Greek in stages I thought of as rough, rougher, and roughest, I made a firm commitment in the early spring of 2017 to the effort by formalizing it in two sets of translations following this three-way paradigm entitled “Theocritus: Rough, Rougher, Roughest Trade and Commentary” for a special issue of Golden Handcuffs Review: “Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee! Thou Art Translated” (Vol. 11, #23, 2017). Put directly, the idea behind doing what I have come to call the “rough stuff” involves starting with a rendition that presents a version that is as faithful to the content and form of the original as I can make, followed by two more versions guided by the comparative and superlative degrees of “rough,” levels conceived and executed with the intention of exploring new and unexpected contexts and textures for the poem rather than by a wish to produce a more finished adaptation or do-over of the level of “rough.” But while the “rougher” version retains its ties to the “rough” despite the revisions it imposes in its urge to reiterate––to tell again but with a difference––the “roughest” rendition immediately displays an appearance of the disappearance of the translator altogether and begs to be read as a separate poem, a process which by a small stretch of the imagination could be taken as an emulation of the way old poems beget new poems.
The first version of “Gray” in this sequence is from my book Complete Plus: The Poems of C. P. Cavafy in English (Shearsman Books, 2013), p. 107.
C. P. CAVAFY (1863-1933) “Gray” (1917) Looking at a pale gray opal I remembered two beautiful gray eyes that I saw; must have been twenty years ago … …………………………………………………………… We were lovers for a month. Then he took off, for Smyrna I think, for a job there, and we never saw each other again. They’ll have lost their look––if he lives––those gray eyes; that beautiful face will have broken down. Memory, keep it the way it was. And, memory, whatever you can of that love, whatsoever you can, bring back to me tonight. * A pale gray opal I saw browsing a bazaar, reminded me in a flash of a pair of eyes, exquisite gray eyes I knew twenty years ago … [ ] Lovers for a month––then he left for a new job and that was that. Those eyes––if he’s still alive––will have dimmed and his exquisite good looks broken down. Memory, only you can hold that love fast. Memory, face it, only you can raise the past. I implore you––restore it to me tonight. * If a love walks talks and breathes in beauty it’s bound to break apart even in the poem a lover celebrates it. Then both by Time’s fell hand defaced Time simply takes their love away–– but leaves the poem or what’s left of it to beg remembrance to return what’s bereft of it.
George Economou has published fourteen books of poetry and translations and three books of scholarly criticism, as well as over a hundred articles, essays, and book review, and has lectured and given poetry readings at many universities and literary venues throughout the United States and abroad. Numerous of his poems have been translated into Greek, French, Spanish, and Ukrainian. In addition to a research grant in 1975 from The American Council of Learned Societies, he has been named twice as Fellow in Poetry by The National Endowment for the Arts (1988 and 1999), as New York State CAPS Fellow in Poetry (1976–77) and Rockefeller Bellagio Fellow in Residence (May–June, 1993). His primary archive and papers are held in The Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University, with smaller collections in the libraries of the Universiity of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Princeton University. He and poet and playwright Rochelle Owens were married on June 17, 1962, in Great Falls, Montana. They live in Philadelphia and Wellfleet, Massachusetts.