Poetry 43: An Old Man by C.P. Cavafy


At the noisy end of the café, head bent
over the table, an old man sits alone,
a newspaper in front of him.

And in the miserable banality of old age
he thinks how little he enjoyed the years
when he had strength, and wit, and looks.

He knows he’s very old now: sees it, feels it.
yet it seems he was young just yesterday.
the time’s gone by so quickly, gone by so quickly.

And he thinks how Discretion fooled him,
how he always believed, so stupidly,
that cheat who said: “Tomorrow. You have plenty of time.”

He remembers impulses bridled, the joy
he sacrificed. Every chance he lost
now mocks his brainless prudence.

But so much thinking, so much remembering
makes the old many dizzy. He falls asleep,
his head resting on the café table.

Image courtesy of www.pixabay.com

About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

2 thoughts on “Poetry 43: An Old Man by C.P. Cavafy

  1. I somehow doubt this verse was written by an old man, rather by someone who is projecting his own anxieties about ageing on to a sleepy fellow having a mid-morning nap. It’s certainly not my experience that people my age or older (I’m 76) are prone to the kind of morbid retrospective wool-gathering described.

    I’m aware of my ageing body and gradually declining faculties/capabilities, but – like almost every ‘old person’ I know, I don’t feel old. ‘Inside’ I’m still about 18. It’s a well-known phenomenon. Decrepitude and banality is in the eye of the beholder, I think.

    1. Hi Peter,
      I agree, as an elderly woman I find the poem very down beat. I looked Cavafy up
      on wikipedia, David Hockney made a portrait, an etching of Cavafy in honour of some of his poems entitled ‘ Illustrations for Fourteen Poems,’ which shows him as a fairly young man, the background has palm trees, he spent most of his life in Egypt, his parents were Greek. He died on his birthday aged seventy in 1933.

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