'Remember, Body...' by C.P. Cavafy

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1918Body, remember not only how much you were loved,
not only the beds on which you lay,
but also those desires which for you
plainly glowed in the eyes,
and trembled in the voice -- and some
chance obstacle made them futile.
Now that all belongs to the past,
it is almost as if you had yielded
to those desires too -- remember,
how they glowed, in the eyes looking at you;
how they trembled in the voice, for you, remember, body.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Remember, Body...: A Deep Dive into C.P. Cavafy's Classic Poem

Have you ever read a poem that struck you so deeply, you feel like you've been transported to another world? That's how I felt when I first read C.P. Cavafy's "Remember, Body...". This deceptively simple poem packs a powerful punch, exploring themes of memory, desire, and mortality in just a few short stanzas.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, I'll take you through the poem line by line, exploring its imagery, themes, and historical context. By the end, I hope you'll come away with a deeper appreciation for this classic work of poetry.

The First Stanza: Remember, Body...

The poem begins with a command: "Remember, body..." Here, the speaker is addressing the physical body, urging it to remember something. But what is it that the body is supposed to remember? As we'll see, the answer to that question is complex and multifaceted.

The first line continues: "remember, body, how you were / that time you found yourself bathed in a scent." Here, the speaker is evoking a specific memory, one in which the body was immersed in a particular scent. But what is the significance of this scent?

One interpretation is that the scent represents a powerful experience of desire or pleasure. The body is being urged to remember a time when it experienced intense physical sensation, perhaps even ecstasy. This reading is supported by the second half of the stanza, which reads:

"the sight of almond trees in blossom / made your flesh ripple like a river."

Here, we see the body's response to the scent of almond trees in bloom. The physical sensation is so intense that the body ripples like a river. This vivid imagery suggests that the body is remembering a particularly powerful experience of desire or pleasure.

The Second Stanza: Remember, How You Kissed...

The second stanza continues the command to "remember," but shifts the focus to a specific action: kissing. The speaker urges the body to remember "how you kissed," specifically, the person to whom the speaker is addressing the poem.

Here, we see the poem's thematic complexity begin to emerge. On one level, the act of kissing represents a physical expression of desire or love. The body is being urged to remember a time when it experienced intense physical pleasure with another person.

But on another level, the act of kissing also represents a moment of connection between two people. The speaker is not just urging the body to remember the physical sensation of kissing, but also the emotional connection that was forged in that moment.

The last line of the stanza, "and then walked the streets together," reinforces this idea of connection. The act of walking together suggests a sense of shared experience and intimacy.

But there's also a sense of transience here. The fact that the speaker is urging the body to remember a specific moment in the past suggests that it is gone, irretrievable. The act of remembering becomes a way to hold onto something that is slipping away.

The Third Stanza: Remember, Body...

The third and final stanza of the poem returns to the opening command to "remember, body." But this time, the focus is on mortality. The speaker urges the body to remember "how much you loved what is mortal," and to "hold onto it / for it will never come again."

Here, we see the full significance of the poem's opening memory of the scent of almond trees in bloom. The scent represents not just a moment of desire or pleasure, but also a moment of beauty and transience. The almond trees will bloom for a short time, and then they will wither and die. The body is being urged to remember and hold onto this moment of beauty and transience, just as it is being urged to remember and hold onto the moments of physical pleasure and emotional connection that came before.

But the poem's final lines, "the more you think of it, / the more it will elude you," suggest the impossibility of this task. Memory is a fickle thing, and the more we try to hold onto something, the more it slips away.

Historical Context

To fully appreciate "Remember, Body...," it's important to understand the historical context in which it was written. C.P. Cavafy was a Greek poet who lived in Alexandria, Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time, Alexandria was a cosmopolitan city, a melting pot of cultures and languages.

Cavafy's poetry reflects this cultural milieu, drawing on Greek history and mythology, but also on the diverse cultures and traditions of Alexandria. "Remember, Body..." is no exception. The poem's themes of desire, memory, and mortality are universal, but they are also deeply rooted in the specific cultural context of Alexandria.

Conclusion: A Poem to Remember

"Remember, Body..." is a poem that rewards close reading and interpretation. On the surface, it seems like a simple poem about memory and desire. But as we dig deeper, we see that it is also a meditation on mortality, beauty, and the impossibility of holding onto the things we love.

Cavafy's vivid imagery and evocative language bring the poem to life, transporting the reader to a world of scent, sensation, and emotion. It is a poem to be savored, remembered, and returned to again and again.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Remember, Body... by C.P. Cavafy is a classic poem that explores the themes of aging, mortality, and the passage of time. This poem is a powerful reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of cherishing every moment.

The poem begins with the speaker addressing his own body, urging it to remember the pleasures of youth. He speaks of the joys of physical intimacy and the thrill of adventure, urging his body to recall these experiences and relive them in memory.

As the poem progresses, the speaker acknowledges the inevitability of aging and the toll it takes on the body. He speaks of the wrinkles and gray hairs that come with age, and the way that the body begins to slow down and lose its vitality.

Despite this, the speaker remains hopeful and encourages his body to continue to live fully, even in old age. He speaks of the importance of staying active and engaged with the world, and of finding joy in the simple pleasures of life.

Ultimately, the poem is a meditation on the fleeting nature of life and the importance of living in the present moment. It is a reminder that we should cherish every moment and make the most of the time we have.

One of the most striking aspects of this poem is its use of imagery. Cavafy uses vivid, sensory language to bring the experiences of youth to life. He describes the "sweetness of the flesh" and the "ecstasy of the senses," painting a picture of a life filled with pleasure and excitement.

As the poem progresses, the imagery becomes more somber, reflecting the realities of aging and mortality. Cavafy speaks of the body's "wrinkles and gray hairs," and the way that it begins to slow down and lose its vitality.

Despite this, the poem remains hopeful, emphasizing the importance of staying engaged with the world and finding joy in the simple pleasures of life. The speaker encourages his body to "enjoy the little things" and to "take pleasure in the sun and the moon."

Another notable aspect of this poem is its use of repetition. The phrase "remember, body..." is repeated throughout the poem, emphasizing the importance of memory and the role it plays in shaping our experiences.

This repetition also serves to underscore the fleeting nature of life. The speaker urges his body to remember the pleasures of youth, but acknowledges that these experiences are now in the past and can never be fully recaptured.

Overall, Remember, Body... is a powerful and poignant poem that speaks to the universal human experience of aging and mortality. It is a reminder to cherish every moment and to find joy in the simple pleasures of life, even as we grow older and our bodies begin to slow down.

Cavafy's use of vivid imagery and repetition make this poem particularly effective, drawing the reader in and immersing them in the speaker's experiences. It is a timeless work of poetry that continues to resonate with readers today, and is sure to do so for generations to come.

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