Go Firmly to the Window

November 30, 2009

in Adaptation,History,Poetry

“The God Abandons Antony” by C.P. Cavafy:

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

Some backstory from Roger Housden:

“In Plutarch’s version, the night before the city falls, Mark Antony hears an invisible troupe of musicians and singers leaving the city. At that moment he passes out, in the realization that the god Bacchus, his protector, and god of music, wine, and festivity, is deserting him, and that he, Antony, is destined to lose the city. Historically, Antony and Cleopatra, on realizing that all is lost, are said to have committed suicide rather than suffer defeat.”

Leonard Cohen also reinterpreted this poem in his song “Alexandra Leaving”.

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