“An Old Man” by C.P. Cavafy

C.P. Cavafy


An old man, stooped over the table,
sits in the hubbub of a café’s middle,
alone, a newspaper open before his face.
And scorning the misery of age
he thinks how little he engaged
the time when he had strength and speech and grace.
He’s much declined; he knows it, sees it,
though years when he was young still please
by seeming close. How small a span, how small!
He thinks about how good sense laughed
at him, while he believed—how mad!—
that cheat who promised “all the time in the world.”
He recalls the urges he controlled,
joy given up, his caution cold,
and every lost chance that haunts him now.
But all this thinking and remembering
dizzies him. Soon he’s slumbering
at the café table with his head laid down.
Translated from the Greek by David Mason

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022
Tribute to Translation


C.P. Cavafy (1863–1933) was a Greek poet, journalist, and civil servant from Alexandria. During his lifetime Cavafy lived in relative seclusion and published little of his work, choosing instead to circulate it among his friends. His most important poems were written after his fortieth birthday, and only published two years after his death. | David Mason: “I started translating poems in the 1980s in my effort to hold on to the bit of Greek I had learned when I was young. Over time, I have refined these translations as best I can. In two of them I come close to Cavafy’s rhymes, which are more brilliant and incisive than mine. The other two poems are free verse in the originals, but even so I find I have to make small alterations to bring them across in English.”

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