LOOKING BUT NOT SEEING

Here is another translated poem by the Alexandrian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy:

THE MORNING SEA

Let me stop here; and let me also look at nature a while.
Sea of morning and cloudless sky
Brilliant mauve, and yellow shore —
All beautiful and bright.

Let me stop here; and let me smile as I see them —
I did actually see them a moment when first I stopped,
And not my fantasies here —
My memories — the sensual images.

Cavafy pauses at the shore of the Mediterranean to look at the view — the morning sea, sky, and shore .

He smiles as he looks, because after only a moment of seeing sea, sky, and shore, his vision turned inward, and then he saw nothing but the images in his mind of sensual — that is, sexual — memories.

As so often happens with us, he is looking but not really seeing — lost in the images within his mind instead of the view before him.

It is amazing how much time we humans spend in our memories, thoughts and imagination rather than in the reality of the world around us.  And even when we are aware of that world, we all too often see it through the distorting glass of our fears, hopes, and expectations.  We really live in two worlds — the outer and the inner, and frequently  — like Cavafy in this poem — far more in the latter.

Where I translate “let me smile,” others have “let me pretend” or “let me fool myself.”

Here is the poem in a phonetic transliteration, so you may get some sense of the sound of the original:

Edó as stathó. Ki as do k’ egó tin fýsi lígo.
Thálassas tou proïoú ki anéfelou ouranoú
lamprá maviá, kai kítrini óchthi:
óla oraía kai megála fotisména.

Edó as stathó. Ki as gelasthó pos vlépo aftá
ta eíd’ alítheia mia stigmí san protostáthika
ki óchi k’ edó tes fantasíes mou, tes anamníseis mou,
ta indálmata tis idonís.

And here is the original Greek:

Θάλασσα του πρωϊού

Εδώ ας σταθώ. Κι ας δω κ’ εγώ την φύσι λίγο.
Θάλασσας του πρωϊού κι ανέφελου ουρανού
λαμπρά μαβιά, και κίτρινη όχθη· όλα
ωραία και μεγάλα φωτισμένα.

Εδώ ας σταθώ. Κι ας γελασθώ πως βλέπω αυτά
(τα είδ’ αλήθεια μια στιγμή σαν πρωτοστάθηκα)·
κι όχι κ’ εδώ τες φαντασίες μου,
τες αναμνήσεις μου, τα ινδάλματα της ηδονής.

One thought on “LOOKING BUT NOT SEEING

  1. Interesting you should write about this now when in this pandemic we have all been looking inward! Perhaps not in the way that Cavafy was imagining, but nevertheless we are at a point in time when we have an opportunity to reassess our own positions on the map of life!

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