Constantine P. Cavafy: “In Despair”

Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933) is acclaimed for his poems of love and longing. The website Billie Dee’s Electronic Poetry Anthology includes several of his poems translated by Rae Dalven. I particularly appreciated this one, depicting the familiar tragedy of religious guilt coming between two lovers. Which of them is pursuing an illusion? Perhaps both; or perhaps the idealized lover of our imagination, whether human or divine, is a more rewarding prize than the love of an ordinary mortal.

In Despair

He has lost him completely.   And now he is
on the lips of    every new lover
the lips of his beloved   in the embrace
of every new lover    he seeks to be deluded
that he is the same lad,   that it it to him he is

He has lost him completely,    as if he had never
    been at all.
For he wanted — so he said —    he wanted to be
from the stigmatized,   the sick sensual delight;
from the stigmatized,   sensual delight of shame.
There was still time —    as he said — to be saved.

He has lost him completely,   as if he had never
    been at all.
In his imagination,    in his delusions,
on the lips of others   it is his lips he is seeking;
he is longing to feel again   the love he has