Years and years of walking setting streets -
I see cafés, houses, dreamed places fade.
Built while happy, built while sad -
bricks of light and shadow.
The wind blows soft. My memory
a feeling: city all too real.
I’ve changed a lot from the Keeley/Sherrard translation. I’ve added imagery to make it very clear from the start we’re working with a place that is the author’s construction. From there, I’ve ambiguously moved us to the “real.”
I might be getting Cavafy’s poem exactly backwards. He might want us to start with his city, then see it as his construction, then watch it dissolve into his feeling. That’s fair, but in the Keeley/Sherrard, here’s the last line:
And, for me, the whole of you is transformed into feeling.
“For me” and “of you” bring up a very significant issue that shouldn’t stay hidden: to what degree is an authorial construction solipsism? When thinking about how encompassing such self-absorption can be, I started to see that any explanation of the hometown that let it merely be sensed (walked, seen) and turned immediately into feeling would be unsatisfactory.
We don’t just feel because there’s some environmental trigger. Nor simply because some part of the brain decides to act up and push us a certain way. Ultimately, I think what Cavafy is getting at is that thinking carefully about what a place means to us yields all the other actions and reactions experienced, all the passions of others that are within our own memories. We feel revealing other feelings. I don’t want the place the author is describing, then, to simply fade away into one thing. I wanted that “sameness” of the title to be realized in its fullness and diversity.