Sunday, February 19, 2023

Waiting For the Barbarians by C P Cavafy

An interesting poem by the Greek poet C. P Cavafy (1863-1933). His poetry never got the attention it deserved during his lifetime because as a gay man he couldn't really publish his poems but fortunately since his death his poems are receiving wide critical acclaim.  Here is one of his most famous poems: 

Waiting for the Barbarians by C. P. Cavafy

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

      The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

      Because the barbarians are coming today.
      What’s the point of senators making laws now?
      Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.
      He’s even got a scroll to give him,
      loaded with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up 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 bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

      Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.


  1. I love this poem! I'm so glad you shared it. That last stanza totally makes me smile. :D

  2. That last stanza is funny. And I found this poem by reading an essay by Philip Lopate "My Poetry Years" He mentioned Cavafy very briefly but I was curious because Lopate said that he wrote in a prose style and that's the kind of poetry I do best with. I also like his poem The City and most read more by C P Cavafy.

  3. That is a very good poem. Cavafy is not a poet I am familiar with, but then I don't read a lot of poetry. I will have to try more prose poems.

  4. Hi Tracy, I am the same. Until I started taking the challenge I avoided poetry. Alot of it I continue to find difficult to follow but these prose poems I am finding I do understand