Waiting for the Barbarians

Originally posted 3/27/2010

When are you at war, and with whom?
What happens when you take sides?
What happens if you don't take a side?*


Waiting for the Barbarians
by C.P. Cavafy


The barbarians are to arrive today.

Why such inaction in the Senate?
Why do the Senators sit and pass no laws?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
What laws can the Senators pass any more?
When the barbarians come they will make the laws.

Why did our emperor wake up so early,
and sits at the greatest gate of the city,
on the throne, solemn, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
And the emperor waits to receive
their chief. Indeed he has prepared
to give him a scroll. Therein he inscribed
many titles and names of honor.

Why have our two consuls and the praetors come out
today in their red, embroidered togas;
why do they wear amethyst-studded bracelets,
and rings with brilliant, glittering emeralds;
why are they carrying costly canes today,
wonderfully carved with silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today,
and such things dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't the worthy orators come as always
to make their speeches, to have their say?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today;
and they get bored with eloquence and orations.

Why all of a sudden this unrest
and confusion. (How solemn the faces have become).
Why are the streets and squares clearing quickly,
and all return to their homes, so deep in thought?

Because night is here but the barbarians have not come.
And some people arrived from the borders,
and said that there are no longer any barbarians.

And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?
Those people were some kind of solution.




If you’d like to read more poems by C. P. Cavafy, please go to this page I created.

*As I asked myself the questions that Jesse Cardin posed at the end of Hafiz’s poem, “We Have Not Come to Take Prisoners,” I thought of another poem by another poet I admire, C.P. Cavafy. His “Waiting for Barbarians” comes from another time – 600 years after Hafiz. And though Alexandria is not geographically far from ancient Persia, a long distance of human history, measured out in blood and war, stands between them. Cavafy wrote in Greek, Hafiz in classical Persian, but I still say they are connected.

Here is what Jesses writes at the end of the post: I dedicate today's poem to all people who are in war, on all sides – in Darfur, Iraq, the Balochistan conflict, Northwest Pakistan, Yemen, The Niger Delta, Southern Thailand, Chad, the Mexican drug war, Ingushetia, Cambodia, Burma, Sudan, the North Caucasus, Somalia, and everywhere else.

Comments

Jesse Cardin said…
Mmmmmm, beautiful :) Took me a couple times reading it. Where am I without an arch-nemesis? I am forced to gaze upon my own grave wounds, self-inflicted in most cases, or to find another goat to sacrifice post-haste.

Thanks, Ken.

-Jesse C.

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