by C.P. Cavafy

My soul, guard against pomp and glory.
And if you can’t curb your ambitions,
at least pursue them hesitantly, cautiously.
And the higher you go,
the more searching and careful you need to be.
And when you reach your summit, Caesar at last —
when you assume the role of someone as great as that —
be really careful as you go out into the street,
a conspicuous man of power with your retinue;
and should a certain Artemidoros
come up to you out of the crowd, bringing a letter,
and say hurriedly: “Read this right away.
It’s about you, and it’s vitally important,”
be sure to stop; be sure to put off
all talk or business; be sure to keep clear
of those who salute and bow to you
(they can be seen later); let even
the Senate itself wait — and find out at once
what vital news Artemidoros has written down for you.

SOURCE: Poetry magazine (August 1972)

IMAGE: Laurel leaf crown


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Constantine P. Cavafy (1863- 1933) was a poet of Greek extraction born in Alexandria, Egypt. When he was nine, his family moved to Liverpool, England. For most his his life, Cavafy worked as a journalist and civil servant. The author of 154 published poems, his most important poetry was written after his fortieth birthday. He is widely considered the most distinguished Greek poet of the twentieth century.