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In Harbor -- Constantine Cavafy

(Poem #522) In Harbor
 A young man, twenty eight years old, on a vessel from Tenos,
 Emes arrived at this Syrian harbor
 with the intention of learning the perfume trade.
 But during the voyage he was taken ill. And as soon
 as he disembarked, he died. His burial, the poorest,
 took place here. A few hours before he died,
 he whispered something about "home," about "very old parents."
 But who these were nobody knew,
 nor which his homeland in the vast panhellenic world.
 Better so. For thus, although
 he lies dead in this harbor,
 his parents will always hope he is alive.
-- Constantine Cavafy
Heinlein once wrote: "Romantic times need pragmatic men". And though it's all
very well to celebrate the glories of the Silk Road in its heyday, it behooves
us also to remember that in those times, travel of any sort was a perilous
undertaking, fraught with danger and uncertainty. What I like about Cavafy's
poem is the way it accepts this danger as a part of life... the image of the
aged parents waiting, waiting for the son who will never return to them, is
heartbreakingly sad, yet Cavafy points out that the alternative is even sadder.
A beautifully poignant poem.


[Theme and Links]

Our journey, which began in Li Po's China several poems ago, has taken us
through the grassy plains of Mongolia and the lofty peaks of Central Asia, the
cool gardens of Persia and the bare deserts of Arabia, until now we find
ourselves on the shores of that greatest of seas, the Mediterranean.

I did a week of poems based upon a Mediterranean theme once; this included a
previous Cavafy poem, 'Footsteps', archived at poem #296.

While we're in this part of the world: Martin once used 'Lays of Ancient Rome'
as a theme; likewise, I once ran a bunch of poems based upon the Trojan War. See
Minstrels poems 490, 492, 494, 495 and 500 for the former, and poems 449, 451
and 75 for the latter.

My favourite Cavafy poem is his masterpiece, 'Ithaka', which you can read (along
with biographical info and the like) at poem #217.

[Bonus Poem]

'For Cavafy'

 The poems are sad and short: love half-remembered,
 history--beautiful, closed and Greek.
 But what I like best
 is the blank three-quarters page,
 white as a statue's marble eyes--

 a space to write or cry.

        -- Bruce Williams

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