Author Topic: Waiting For The Barbarians  (Read 2309 times)

Waiting For The Barbarians
« on: May 24, 2013, 01:59:47 AM »
While doing some other research I happened to discover the poem "Waiting For The Barbarians" written in Greek by Konstantinos Kavaphes (AKA C.P. Cavafy) in 1904.

This version is translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard and included in the 1992 Collected Poems. I give just the beginning and end of it here.


What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

             The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

             Because the barbarians are coming today.
             What laws can the senators make now?
             Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

...

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

             Because the barbarians are coming today
             and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

             Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
             And some who have just returned from the border say
             there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.


In a way, this is more about claims and fears of some external danger than actual barbarians poised to strike.

But what happens when the people decide, because they have seen no barbarians today, that there are no barbarians anymore?

What if they're wrong?

At The Gates will be "just a game," of course. But I wonder what it might be able to say about the questions that Cavafy's poem raises.

Re: Waiting For The Barbarians
« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2013, 07:46:41 AM »
I really enjoy the style and voice of this translation. There is a strong sense of foreboding danger and tradition.

Maybe we are the new barbarians. As smaller and weaker cultures are assimilated into larger ones and disappear, so too the barbarians eventually find themselves with Roman blood, even decades after they destroyed the Roman Empire. The culture was so strong that it sucked them into it.

If there aren't any barbarians left, maybe their blood continues in our veins?

Just some thoughts, thanks for sharing the poem!

~ Joshua
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Re: Waiting For The Barbarians
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