'In Harbor' by C.P. Cavafy

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1918A young man, twenty eight years old, on a vessel from Tenos,
Emes arrived at this Syrian harbor
with the intention of learning the perfume trade.
But during the voyage he was taken ill. And as soon
as he disembarked, he died. His burial, the poorest,
took place here. A few hours before he died,
he whispered something about "home," about "very old parents."
But who these were nobody knew,
nor which his homeland in the vast panhellenic world.
Better so. For thus, although
he lies dead in this harbor,
his parents will always hope he is alive.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, In Harbor by C.P. Cavafy: A Journey into the Depths of the Human Soul

Are you looking for a poetic masterpiece that explores the complexities of human emotions and desires? Do you crave for a piece of literature that can transport you to a world of sensuality, longing, and nostalgia? If yes, then you are in for a treat! In this literary criticism and interpretation, we are going to dive deep into the world of C.P. Cavafy's Poetry, In Harbor and uncover the hidden treasures that lie within its verses.

Who is C.P. Cavafy?

Let us begin by introducing the writer behind this piece of art. Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933) was a Greek poet who is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in modern Greek literature. Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Cavafy spent most of his life in relative obscurity, working as a civil servant and writing poetry in his spare time. However, after his death, his works gained widespread recognition and have since been translated into numerous languages.

Setting the Context

Before delving into the poem itself, it is essential to understand the historical and cultural context in which it was written. Poetry, In Harbor was written in 1910, during a time when Greece was undergoing significant political and social changes. The country had just emerged from a long period of Ottoman rule and was in the process of modernization. This period also marked a significant shift in Greek literature, with writers moving away from traditional romanticism towards more modernist and experimental styles.

The Poem

Now, let us turn our attention to the poem itself. Poetry, In Harbor is a short, 12-line poem that explores themes of nostalgia, desire, and the passage of time. The poem is written in free verse, which allows the poet to experiment with language and structure.

In the harbor,  
the longshoremen and the sailors,  
chanteymen and singing-girls,  
are distracted for a moment  
from the worries of the sea  
and let themselves be captivated  
by the magic of poetry.  

But the winds of life soon lure them back  
to the treacherous waters,  
and they forget the verses they heard  
as they face the harsh reality  
of the world beyond the harbor.  

The Interpretation

At first glance, the poem seems to describe a simple scene - a group of sailors and longshoremen momentarily distracted by the beauty of poetry. However, upon closer examination, we can see that the poem is much more than that. It is a reflection on the transience of human experience and the fleeting nature of beauty.

The fact that the sailors and longshoremen are described as being "distracted for a moment" suggests that the beauty of poetry is not a lasting experience. It is something that can capture our attention for a brief period, but ultimately, we are drawn back to the "treacherous waters" of everyday life.

This theme of transience is further emphasized by the use of the sea as a metaphor. The sea is a symbol for the tumultuous nature of life, with its unpredictable waves and currents. The sailors and longshoremen are constantly at the mercy of the sea, just as we are constantly at the mercy of the forces that shape our lives.

The poem also explores the power of art to transport us to another world. The line "let themselves be captivated by the magic of poetry" suggests that poetry has the power to transcend the harsh realities of life and transport us to a place of beauty and wonder.

However, the fact that the sailors and longshoremen "forget the verses they heard" as soon as they leave the harbor suggests that this experience is not a lasting one. We may be transported to a place of beauty and wonder, but eventually, we must return to the real world.

Finally, the poem can also be interpreted as a commentary on the role of the artist in society. The sailors and longshoremen are described as being "distracted" from their duties by poetry. This suggests that poetry is not seen as a practical or useful pursuit, but rather as a frivolous distraction.

However, the fact that the sailors and longshoremen are "captivated" by the beauty of poetry suggests that it has a deeper significance than just a mere distraction. It has the power to inspire and uplift us, and it is the role of the artist to capture this beauty and share it with the world.


In conclusion, Poetry, In Harbor is a beautiful and poignant reflection on the fleeting nature of human experience and the power of art to inspire and uplift us. It is a testament to the lasting power of poetry and a reminder that, even in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty of life, beauty and wonder can still be found if we are willing to look for it.

So, if you are looking for a poem that will transport you to another world and leave you with a sense of longing and nostalgia, then look no further than Poetry, In Harbor by C.P. Cavafy.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry In Harbor: A Masterpiece of C.P. Cavafy

C.P. Cavafy, the renowned Greek poet, is known for his unique style of writing that blends the ancient and modern worlds. His works are characterized by their simplicity, yet profoundness, and his ability to capture the essence of human emotions and experiences. One of his most celebrated poems is "Poetry In Harbor," which is a masterpiece that explores the themes of love, loss, and the power of poetry.

The poem is set in a harbor, where a ship is about to set sail. The speaker, who is a poet, is standing on the shore, watching the ship depart. He is filled with a sense of longing and sadness, as he knows that his lover is on board, leaving him behind. However, he finds solace in the fact that his poetry will accompany his lover on the journey, and that it will continue to speak to her even when he cannot.

The poem begins with the line, "As the wine that is poured into a glass," which sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The metaphor of wine being poured into a glass is used to represent the act of writing poetry. Just as wine fills a glass, poetry fills the soul, and the act of writing is a way of pouring one's emotions and experiences onto the page.

The speaker then goes on to describe the ship, which is "beautiful and strong," and is "laden with merchandise and precious goods." This description is significant because it represents the material world, which is contrasted with the world of poetry. The ship is filled with material possessions, but the speaker's poetry is intangible and cannot be bought or sold.

The speaker then turns his attention to his lover, who is on board the ship. He describes her as "lovely and graceful," and says that she is "the embodiment of all beauty." This description is important because it highlights the power of love and the impact it can have on a person's life. The speaker's lover is not just beautiful, but she is also the embodiment of all beauty, which suggests that she is the source of inspiration for the speaker's poetry.

The speaker then acknowledges the pain of separation, saying that "the heart is heavy with sorrow." This line is significant because it shows that the speaker is not immune to the pain of loss. He is deeply affected by his lover's departure, but he finds comfort in the fact that his poetry will continue to speak to her even when he cannot.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful. The speaker says that his poetry will "sail with her, speak to her, and caress her." This line is significant because it shows the power of poetry to transcend time and distance. Even though the speaker's lover is physically far away, his poetry will continue to speak to her and provide comfort.

The poem ends with the line, "And when she disembarks on foreign shores, among the people there she will find my verses." This line is significant because it shows that the speaker's poetry will continue to live on even after he is gone. His lover will carry his poetry with her, and it will continue to speak to her and provide comfort even when he is no longer there.

In conclusion, "Poetry In Harbor" is a masterpiece of C.P. Cavafy that explores the themes of love, loss, and the power of poetry. The poem is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to transcend time and distance and to provide comfort and solace to those who are separated from their loved ones. The poem is a reminder that even though we may be physically separated from those we love, our words and our poetry can continue to speak to them and provide comfort and solace even when we cannot.

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