Friday, December 21, 2012

Waiting for the Barbarians

If you have never read C.P. Cavafy's eloquent poem, "Waiting for the Barbarians" do yourself a favor and click on that URL...

The apocalyptic light of sunset (that was a few weeks ago not far from my house) peppers Facebook. Everyone seems to be allured at some point or another with the fascination of "the end". One of my friends is passionate about Horror Movies, and we all know far too much lately about the disgusting American addiction to firearms--another form of frenetic (if sublimated) barbarism and deathwish.

I often imagine the apocalyptic horror that my distant ancestors must have experienced in 1204 and a few centuries later in 1453 when the Barbarians did indeed breach the walls of The City. I shall never forget one of my aunts as we sat gazing from the summit of Roca near Pervolakia, describing how they watched the thousands of Nazi paratroopers descend like confetti a mere fifteen miles away on Maleme in May 21, 1941. The barbarians are out there all right: C.P. is wrong.

The Barbarians are everywhere. They massacre innocent children in schools and theatres (not far from where I live you know). They have killed a dozen or so of my extended family over the last century alone. They cause us to lock doors and fret when we travel (or sometimes when we are at home late at night). Although the Mayan Calendar was apparently wrong this time. I do hope against hope my many Republican buddies (in terminal and truly asinine denial about global warming) are right. I know Pastor Joe, my Facebook buddy I used to work with at the Gardens, is dead wrong about Obama being the "end of the world". The ultimate Barbarism is our blind faith in technology.

I vastly prefer Cavafy's gently optimistic nihilism to T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": I would have posted a Youtube of Eliot reciting that poem, but it was removed from that site due to "multiple third party notifications of copywrite infringement" (a sort of bureaucratic world-ending whimper if there ever was one). But searching for that pitiful poem of tragic endings I stumbled on something much, much nicer indeed: Groucho Marx's account of the evening he spent with Eliot in 1964. The thought of Julius and Tom stumbling over conversation, and writing notes back and forth is just too rich: no...the world is not ending today, not tomorrow. Not when Groucho is clearly eclipsing Prufrock as an American artistic legacy. He's my kind of barbarian! Vita brevis, Ars longa.


  1. Eliot. The first "movement" of Burnt Norton is fantastically imagined, and beautiful, and there are memorable lines scattered throughout his work, but I am constantly reminded of what William Carlos Williams thought of the author of "la figlia che piange".
    I suspect that Eliot's ultimate influence on American poetry was negligible. Poems with notes showing how erudite one is, etc.

  2. I put my money on the Marx brothers for longevity...


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