He wrapped them carefully and tidily
in precious green silk.
Roses of rubies, lilies of pearl,
violets of amethyst. He judges them
as he wants them to be, sees them beautiful, not as he saw them
in nature, not as he studied them. He will leave them in the safe
as a token of his daring and skilled work.
If some customer comes into the shop,
he takes from the cases other things to sell—first-rate ornaments—
bracelets, chains, necklaces, and rings.
C. P. Cavafy (1863-1933) was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and grew up in Liverpool, England and Constantinople (now Istanbul). Considered one of the most accomplished Greek poets of the twentieth century, he published little work during his lifetime and prefered to circulate poems among close friends. However, he had a long friendship with British novelist E. M. Forester, who was impressed with Cavafy’s poems set during antiquity and wrote an essay called “The Poetry of C. P. Cavafy” that praised him for bucking traditional representations of ancient Greece. Cavafy’s work was also starkly personal, and many of his poems dealt explicitly with sex and homosexuality. His best-known poems, “Ithaca” and “Waiting for the Barbarians,” inspired generations of modern Greek poets who came after him, including Nobel laureate George Seferis.