The First Rung The Canon
Print
Complaining to Theocritus one day
the youthful poet Eumenes spoke thus:
“Two years have passed since I began to write,
and on one idyl my achievement rests:
it is the only perfect piece of mine.
Alas, the ladder of Poetic art
is lofty, very lofty, I perceive;
and from the first rung here I stand upon,
no moving upward for unhappy me.” —
Answered Theocritus: “These words of yours
are unbecoming — nay, are blasphemous.
Even though you are on the first rung only, still
hold your head high and know that you are blest.
So far as you have come is no small feat;
so much as you have done, uncommon praise.
Even this first rung lies distant from the range
of most, and has no fellowship therewith.
That you should come to stand upon this rung —
needs must you be through your own blameless right
a citizen of the city of ideas.
And in that city never without care,
nor oft, do they award the citizenship:
for in its market-place are to be found
law-givers that no braggart can deceive.
So far as you have come is no small feat;
so much as you have done, uncommon praise.”

Translated by John Cavafy

(Poems by C. P. Cavafy. Translated, from the Greek, by J. C. Cavafy. Ikaros, 2003)

- Original Greek Poem

- Translation by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard