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2002-2003 Visiting Fellows

Anthony Hirst
Institute of Byzantine Studies, Queen's University
Belfast BT7 1NN, Northern Ireland, U.K.

A critical edition of Cavafy's 'acknowledged' poems

My arrival in Princeton was delayed by last-minute hardware and software problems related to the research I was coming here to do. Arriving on Sunday Aug. 18, instead of Tuesday Aug.13., I was a little concerned that I might not finish the work within the time available. However, the period from Monday Aug. 19 to Thursday Sept. 19 has proved exactly right to complete the work on the Princeton corpus of the collections of Cavafy's poems printed at the poet's expense and distributed by him hors de commerce, and on related materials in the Princeton University Library.

The Rare Books Department of Princeton University Library has seven examples of Cavafy's scarce and valuable, self-published collections:

Four of the thematically arranged collections:

A. Poiemata [Poems] 1908-1914 (an earlier form of B)

B. Poiemata 1905-1915 (the final form of A)

C. 2 copies of Poiemata 1916-1918

And one copy of each of the following three chronologically arranged collections:

D. Poiemata 1912-1919

E. Poiemata 1915-1926

F. Poiemata 1919-1932.

Items B, C and F are the three collections which Cavafy was circulating during the last three years of his life (1930-33), and it is in these that one finds examples of his final printings of the poems. Unfortunately, for my immediate purposes, the two examples of C are both quite early (C was first circulated in 1929) and contain very few final printings. However, the Princeton copies of B and F are late copies and rich in final printings. I had already completed the identification of printings in the Princeton corpus during my year as a post-doctoral fellow in Hellenic Studies (1999/2000). It was no surprise, then, to find in B, C and F the final printings of 87 of the 154 poems of the Cavafy 'Canon'. The texts of these 87 final printings have been transcribed into my database, checked, printed and rechecked. I have made a very small number of corrections, correcting only where I felt sure that the deviation from normal Greek orthography was a purely typographical error for which the printers rather than the author were responsible. One of the main objectives of my new edition of Cavafy is to avoid the normalization of Cavafy's spelling and of his use of diacritics. Such normalization (often involving norms which were not generally established and accepted until well after Cavafy's death) has increasingly plagued even the best posthumous editions of his work. Cavafy is not consistent in his spelling, using different forms of the same word in different poems. While some of his choices may be purely arbitrary, others, I am convinced, have aesthetic (aural or visual) or semantic significance. Some of his unusual spellings, particularly of verbs, create hybrid forms: without changing the sound of a word, he makes it look like another word, inviting (or subliminally compelling) the reader to call on two sets of associations. I had already stumbled on a small number of these intriguing word forms, and have now discovered others in the course of the last five weeks' intensive immersion in his texts. They will certainly not be "corrected" in my edition, though I shall comment on them.

My edition will be a critical edition, recording variants in all of Cavafy's earlier printings of his poems (the poems were printed from one to thirteen times each), and in all versions of his poems published in books, periodicals and newspapers during his lifetime, including publication within critical articles where the whole text of a poem is quoted (there are instances where the first publication of a poem was in a critical article, from a manuscript supplied to the critic by Cavafy). At present I cannot say how many of these published versions there are, but I estimate the average as ten per poem.

As well as transcribing almost 60% of the copy texts for my edition from the Princeton corpus of Cavafy's privately printed collections (over 60% with five extra texts from a copy of B in Columbia University Library, which I transcribed in the course of a day trip on Sept. 12), I have made a significant start on the recording of variants. The Princeton corpus contains one, two or three earlier printings of many of the poems whose final printings are in the corpus. These have been carefully compared with the final printings and all variants recorded. I have also found many, published forms of the poems in books, pamphlets or journals in the Princeton University Library: some in Rare Books, a few in the open stacks of the Firestone Library, others in old Greek journals, recalled from the Forrestal Annex. From these sources I have accumulated photocopies of almost one hundred examples of publications of poems in periodicals etc. Where these are of poems whose final printings have been found and transcribed, the variants in the published versions have been recorded. Many of these published versions I already knew of, but some of the versions of poems I found in copies of the Ethnikon Hemerologion [National Almanac], for instance, were not previously known to me from any published bibliographical source. The most curious and unexpected discovery was in the Firestone's only issue (April, 1925) of the Greek-American illustrated periodical Ethnikos Keryx/Monthly Illustrated National Herald, published in New York. This contains a mutilated version of Cavafy's early poem, "An old man": the first three lines are omitted, making nonsense of its complex rhyme scheme; and it is provided with a new title, which translates (roughly) as "Contempt for the wretchedness of old age", a phrase adapted from a line within the body of the poem.

Although I have completed all the work that I can do at present with the Princeton corpus and the related publications in the PU Library, I have not exhausted the usefulness of the material. There are many non-final printings which will become useful once I have transcribed (from other sources) the final printings of which they are earlier versions. I have, therefore, ordered photocopies of the entire corpus, to enable me, first, to recheck my transcriptions and recording of variants, and, secondly, to utilize later all the printings which I have not yet been able to check against the corresponding final printing.

Since I was offered the Short-Term Library Fellowship in January, I have more recently been awarded a two-year Special Research Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust, specifically for the Cavafy Critical Edition. I shall take up this fellowship in November 2002, and the UK edition should be ready for publication by the end of the two-year period. Publication in the UK is guaranteed, as the edition will be produced by my home department, the Institute of Byzantine Studies, Queen's University Belfast, in association with its established series, Belfast Byzantine Texts and Translations. Some of the editorial matter in the Belfast edition will be in English, and a companion volume of my own English translations of the poems is also planned. I hope to interest a Greek publisher in producing an entirely Greek edition, since it is among Greeks that the restored texts of Cavafy's poems, in the first ever critical edition, should find its widest readership.

In all publications the importance of the Princeton corpus of Cavafy's self-published collections, and the financial assistance of the Friends of the Princeton University Library will be fully and gratefully acknowledged. On a personal level, let me end by saying how grateful I am for five marvelous and highly productive weeks spent in the Dulles Reading Room and other parts of the PU Library, and especially for the friendly and courteous assistance of all the staff in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.


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