'Waiting For The Barbarians' by C.P. Cavafy
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1904What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?The barbarians are due here today.Why isn't anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?Because the barbarians are coming today.What laws can the senators make now?Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city's main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?Because the barbarians are coming todayand the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.He has even prepared a scroll to give him,replete with titles, with imposing names.Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?Because the barbarians are coming todayand things like that dazzle the barbarians.Why don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?Because the barbarians are coming todayand they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,everyone going home so lost in thought?Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.And some who have just returned from the border saythere are no barbarians any longer.And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Waiting For The Barbarians: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation
Waiting For The Barbarians is a poem written by C.P. Cavafy, a celebrated Greek poet. It is one of his most well-known works, and has been the subject of much literary criticism and interpretation over the years. In this essay, I will be taking a closer look at the poem, analyzing its themes and imagery, and exploring its deeper meanings.
Before delving into the poem itself, it is important to understand a bit about Cavafy and the historical context in which he was writing. Cavafy was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1863, and spent most of his life there. During his lifetime, Egypt was a British protectorate, and the country was undergoing a period of rapid change and modernization. This context is important because it informs much of the imagery and themes in Waiting For The Barbarians.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a city that is waiting for the arrival of the barbarians. The tone is one of anticipation and fear - the people of the city are both curious and afraid of what the barbarians will bring. The first stanza sets the stage for the rest of the poem, and establishes the central theme of the work.
The second stanza introduces the figure of the emperor, who is waiting in his palace for news of the barbarians. The emperor is described as being dressed in his finest clothes, and surrounded by his courtiers. The tone here is one of pomp and ceremony, as the emperor prepares to meet the barbarians.
In the third stanza, the speaker describes the people of the city going about their daily lives, but with an undercurrent of fear and anxiety. The tone here is more subdued than in the previous stanzas, as the reality of the situation begins to sink in.
The fourth stanza is perhaps the most poignant in the entire poem. The speaker describes a group of philosophers who have gathered in the city square to discuss the impending arrival of the barbarians. The philosophers are divided in their opinions - some believe that the barbarians will bring great destruction, while others believe that they will bring enlightenment. The tone here is one of uncertainty, as the philosophers struggle to make sense of the situation.
The final stanza is the most enigmatic of the poem. The speaker describes the arrival of the barbarians, but does not provide any details about what they do. Instead, the poem ends with the line "and now, what will become of us without barbarians?" This line is both haunting and thought-provoking, and has been the subject of much interpretation over the years.
There are several themes that run throughout Waiting For The Barbarians, including the fear of the unknown, the clash of cultures, and the nature of power.
One of the central themes of the poem is the fear of the unknown. The people of the city are afraid of what the barbarians will bring, and this fear permeates every aspect of their lives. The uncertainty of the situation is unsettling, and the people are unable to fully prepare themselves for what is coming.
Another important theme is the clash of cultures. The barbarians represent an unknown and foreign culture, and the people of the city are unsure of how to interact with them. The poem raises important questions about cultural identity and the way in which different cultures can come into conflict with one another.
Finally, the poem explores the nature of power. The emperor is portrayed as a figure of great authority and wealth, but his power is ultimately meaningless in the face of the barbarians. The poem suggests that power is fragile and fleeting, and that even the most powerful rulers are ultimately at the mercy of external forces.
The imagery in Waiting For The Barbarians is rich and evocative, and helps to create a vivid picture of the city and its inhabitants.
One of the most striking images in the poem is the description of the emperor and his courtiers. The emperor is dressed in his finest clothes, and is surrounded by a retinue of servants and advisors. This image is one of opulence and decadence, and stands in stark contrast to the uncertainty and fear that pervades the rest of the poem.
Another powerful image is that of the philosophers gathered in the city square. The image of these learned men debating the nature of the barbarians is both poignant and thought-provoking, and raises important questions about the role of intellectuals in times of crisis.
Finally, the image of the barbarians themselves is fascinating. The poem provides very little detail about who they are or what they do, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. This image is both frightening and intriguing, and adds to the overall sense of uncertainty and unease that pervades the poem.
In conclusion, Waiting For The Barbarians is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores important themes of fear, cultural identity, and power. The imagery in the poem is rich and evocative, and helps to create a vivid picture of the world that Cavafy is describing. Despite being written over a century ago, the poem remains relevant today, and continues to be the subject of much literary criticism and interpretation. Whether you are a fan of poetry or simply interested in exploring the human condition, Waiting For The Barbarians is a work that is well worth your time and attention.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Waiting for the Barbarians: An Analysis of C.P. Cavafy's Classic Poetry
C.P. Cavafy's "Waiting for the Barbarians" is a classic poem that has been studied and analyzed by scholars and poetry enthusiasts alike for decades. The poem, written in 1904, is a powerful commentary on the human condition and the nature of power and oppression. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in the poem to gain a deeper understanding of its meaning and significance.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a city that is waiting for the arrival of the barbarians. The people of the city are anxious and fearful, and they have prepared for the arrival of the barbarians by fortifying their walls and gates. The speaker describes the city as being in a state of anticipation, with everyone waiting for the barbarians to arrive.
The imagery used in the poem is powerful and evocative. The city is described as being "silent" and "empty," with the only sound being the "distant sound of the barbarians' horses." This creates a sense of tension and unease, as the reader is left to imagine what the arrival of the barbarians will bring.
As the poem progresses, the speaker describes the people of the city becoming more and more anxious. They begin to question why the barbarians have not arrived yet, and they start to doubt whether they will come at all. The speaker describes the people as being "bored" and "restless," with nothing to do but wait.
The language used in the poem is simple and direct, but it is also rich in meaning. The repetition of the phrase "waiting for the barbarians" creates a sense of urgency and anticipation, while the use of the word "barbarians" itself is loaded with meaning. The word is often used to describe people who are uncivilized or primitive, and it is clear that the people of the city view the barbarians as a threat to their way of life.
As the poem reaches its climax, the speaker describes the arrival of the barbarians. However, instead of the violent and destructive force that the people of the city were expecting, the barbarians are described as being "kind" and "gentle." They bring with them gifts and treasures, and they offer to teach the people of the city their ways.
This twist in the narrative is unexpected and powerful. It challenges the reader's assumptions about power and oppression, and it forces us to question our own prejudices and biases. The poem suggests that the fear and anxiety that the people of the city felt was based on a false perception of the barbarians, and that their arrival was not a threat but an opportunity for growth and learning.
In conclusion, C.P. Cavafy's "Waiting for the Barbarians" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores themes of power, oppression, and the human condition. The imagery and language used in the poem are simple but evocative, and they create a sense of tension and unease that builds throughout the poem. The twist in the narrative at the end of the poem challenges the reader's assumptions and forces us to question our own biases and prejudices. Overall, "Waiting for the Barbarians" is a classic poem that continues to resonate with readers today.
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