From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In the last months of his life, Cavafy told a few friends that he had 25 more poems he was working on. This last work, abandoned at various stages of drafting, was mostly lost until it was discovered in the Cavafy Archive, carefully filed and dated by the author, in the 1960s. An authoritative Greek-language edition of Cavafy's unfinished poems—30 in all, written between 1918 and the poet's death—did not appear until the 1990s. Mendelsohn, by special arrangement with the Cavafy Archive, is the first person to be allowed to translate these poems into English, to be published alongside Mendelsohn's Collected Poems
of Cavafy (reviewed above). Mendelsohn, in his introduction, says these poems represent the last and greatest phase of the poet's career and that they fully partake of Cavafy's special vision, in which desire and history, time and poetry are alchemized into a unified and deeply meaningful whole. Most of these pieces seem as finished as anything in the Collected Poems
, though perhaps in full command of a kind of erotic abandon that Cavafy only exposed in the latter part of his writing life: Ah the ancient Greeks were men of taste,/ to represent the loveliness of youth/ absolutely nude. (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* In tandem with Mendelsohn’s big Collected Poems of Cavafy, this slim volume bids fair to constitute the poetry publishing event of the year. It contains the first English versions of 30 poems that Cavafy had not finished entirely to his satisfaction when he died. All are in his most developed manner, in which apprehension of the past is so rich and powerful as to expunge mere nostalgia. They are historical vignettes of the declines of Alexander’s Hellenistic hegemony, imperial Rome, and the Byzantine Empire; and glowing memories, triggered by news items, drink, or moonlight, of decades-old homosexual rapture. Gay desire often informs historical poems, too. They are about ideals and love and how idealists and lovers are confounded by time, the passage of which exposes their follies and ironizes their triumphs. A much higher proportion of this book than of the Collected Poems is occupied by notes, which here are almost exclusively about the history behind the poems. One could become well informed about centuries of seldom-taught history just by reading the notes, though yet more so by absorbing the poems, as well. --Ray Olson