He Asked about the Quality The Canon
Print
He left the office where hed taken up
a trivial, poorly paid job
(eight pounds a month, including bonuses)
left at the end of the dreary work
that kept him bent all afternoon,
came out at seven and walked off slowly,
idling his way down the street. Good-looking;
and interesting: showing as he did that hed reached
his full sensual capacity.
Hed turned twenty-nine the month before.
 
He idled his way down the main street
and the poor side-streets that led to his home.
 
Passing in front of a small shop
that sold cheap and flimsy things for workers,
he saw a face inside there, saw a figure
that compelled him to go in, and he pretended
he wanted to look at some colored handkerchiefs.
 
He asked about the quality of the handkerchiefs
and how much they cost, his voice choking,
almost silenced by desire.
And the answers came back the same way,
distracted, the voice hushed,
offering hidden consent.
 
They kept on talking about the merchandisebut
the only purpose: that their hands might touch
over the handkerchiefs, that their faces, their lips,
might move close together as though by chance
a moments meeting of limb against limb.
 
Quickly, secretly, so the shopowner sitting at the back
wouldnt realize what was going on.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

- Original Greek Poem