In Church (after Cavafy)

C.P. Cavafy, “In Church”

From silver vessels
to the bronze of candle bases,
an illumined space
with iconic windows of gold –
well, I like church.

In the Greek church
arises the aroma of incense;
a chanted liturgy
brings mouths to harmony.
The priests’ majesty
in splendorous vestments
dazzles, then gestures
set rhythm solemn
as if all our history was that motion,
the great glory of Byzantium.


Not really much to say. I think what I did with the first stanza is very clear. The progression there leads to revelation; one can see the end of the first stanza as related to the end of the second.

Three senses are represented in the second stanza: smell, hearing, sight. Only the first stanza obliquely refers to taste (“silver vessels”), the second to touch (“gestures”). Thus, I’ve turned “love” in the Keeley/Sherrard to “like.” I’ve preserved a number of their phrases otherwise, but that lack of a more erotic love is striking to me as a theme. The sights in church dazzle, the speech orders, the smell distinguishes. This only adds up to a gestured history, some perhaps empty vessels.


  1. Ever since you told me the other day what you’re aiming at with these “after Cavafy’s” (i.e. not making your own poems in his style–I don’t no why that’s what I first imagined!–but quasi-translating, recasting his poems in English) I’ve been reading and enjoying them very much.

    This is lovely. I like the ponderous ending.

  2. @ACooper – it’s weird. I’m sometimes changing the translation to make more of my own poem. And maybe one day I’ll take a theme and some language of his and make my own poem entirely.

    But right now, I’m a bit too tied to his ideas, even if I’m editorializing. I don’t know.

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