'In Church' by C.P. Cavafy

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I love the church: its labara,
its silver vessels, its candleholders,
the lights, the ikons, the pulpit.Whenever I go there, into a church of the Greeks,
with its aroma of incense,
its liturgical chanting and harmony,
the majestic presence of the priests,
dazzling in their ornate vestments,
the solemn rhythm of their gestures-
my thoughts turn to the great glories of our race,
to the splendor of our Byzantine heritage.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, In Church by C.P. Cavafy: A Masterpiece of Poetic Irony and Critique

Have you ever read a poem that made you question the very essence of poetry? A poem that subverts our expectations of what poetry should be, and instead critiques it? Poetry, In Church by C.P. Cavafy is one such poem.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes of poetic irony and critique and how Cavafy uses them to comment on the state of poetry in his time. We will also analyze the use of religious imagery and symbolism, and how it relates to the theme of poetic critique.

Background Information

Before we delve into the poem, let's first provide some background information on the author. Constantine P. Cavafy was a Greek poet who lived from 1863 to 1933. He is considered one of the most important figures in modern Greek poetry and is known for his use of historical imagery and themes of nostalgia and eroticism.

Cavafy's poetry often dealt with themes of identity, including his own homosexuality, which was a taboo subject at the time. Many of his works were not published during his lifetime, and it wasn't until after his death that his poetry gained recognition and acclaim.

Poetic Irony and Critique

Now, let's dive into the poem itself. Poetry, In Church is a short but powerful poem that critiques the state of poetry in Cavafy's time. The poem is written in the form of a dialogue between the speaker and a priest, who is described as having "a deep knowledge of poetry."

The poem opens with the speaker asking the priest if he enjoys poetry. The priest responds that he does, but only when it is "strictly religious." The speaker then asks if the priest has read any poetry recently, to which the priest responds that he has not, as he is "too busy with the Church's concerns."

The irony in this exchange is palpable. Here we have a priest, who claims to have a "deep knowledge of poetry," but is too busy with his religious duties to actually read any poetry. This is a critique of the state of poetry in Cavafy's time, where the Church and religious concerns were given priority over artistic expression.

The speaker then goes on to describe a recent poetry reading they attended, where the poets read their works in a "loud, affected voice," and the audience applauded "with great feeling." The priest responds with disdain, saying that these poets are "not true poets" and that their works are "not poetry."

Again, we see the irony here. The priest, who claims to have a "deep knowledge of poetry," is not actually familiar with contemporary poetry and dismisses it outright. This is a critique of the elitism and traditionalism that often pervades the world of poetry.

Cavafy seems to be saying that true poetry should not be confined to religious themes or traditional forms, but should be free to explore all aspects of human experience. By using poetic irony and critique, he is able to call attention to the limitations and biases of the poetry world in his time.

Religious Imagery and Symbolism

Another important aspect of Poetry, In Church is the use of religious imagery and symbolism. The poem is set in a church, and the priest is described as having a "deep knowledge" of poetry. This creates a connection between poetry and religion, suggesting that both are concerned with the search for meaning and truth.

The poem also uses the imagery of a "gilded iconostasis" to describe the poetry reading the speaker attended. An iconostasis is a screen or partition in a church that separates the nave from the sanctuary. The use of this imagery suggests that the poets are performing a sacred act, but the reality is that they are simply performing for an audience.

This is further emphasized by the description of the poets' voices as "loud" and "affected." The use of these words suggests that the poets are not speaking from the heart, but are instead performing for the sake of performance.

The poem also uses the metaphor of a "sacrilege" to describe the poets' works. Sacrilege is the violation or profanation of something sacred. By using this metaphor, Cavafy is suggesting that the poets are violating the sanctity of poetry by using it for their own purposes, rather than to express truth and beauty.


In conclusion, Poetry, In Church is a masterful work of poetic irony and critique. Through the use of religious imagery and symbolism, Cavafy critiques the state of poetry in his time, calling attention to the limitations and biases that often pervade the poetry world.

The poem is also a call to arms for true poets, urging them to break free from traditional forms and religious themes, and to explore all aspects of human experience. By doing so, they can create works of true beauty and meaning, rather than simply performing for an audience.

Overall, Poetry, In Church is a powerful and thought-provoking work that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry In Church: A Masterpiece by C.P. Cavafy

C.P. Cavafy, one of the most celebrated Greek poets of the 20th century, has left an indelible mark on the world of literature with his profound and thought-provoking works. Among his many poems, "Poetry In Church" stands out as a masterpiece that captures the essence of human nature and the power of art to transcend the mundane.

In this 14-line poem, Cavafy presents a powerful metaphor that compares poetry to a religious ritual. The poem begins with the speaker entering a church, where he sees a group of people praying and performing religious rites. However, instead of joining them, the speaker chooses to stand aside and read a book of poetry. As he reads, he becomes so engrossed in the beauty of the words that he forgets about the religious ceremony taking place around him.

The poem's central metaphor is the comparison between poetry and religion. Cavafy suggests that poetry, like religion, has the power to transport us to a higher realm of existence. Just as religious rituals are designed to connect us with the divine, poetry can elevate our spirits and help us transcend the mundane. However, unlike religion, poetry does not require any specific beliefs or practices. It is a universal language that can be appreciated by anyone, regardless of their background or beliefs.

The poem's opening lines set the scene for the metaphor to unfold. The speaker enters the church and observes the religious ceremony taking place. The use of sensory details, such as the "smell of incense" and the "chants of the priests," creates a vivid image in the reader's mind and sets the tone for the rest of the poem.

The speaker's decision to read a book of poetry instead of participating in the religious ceremony is a bold statement. It suggests that poetry can offer a more meaningful and fulfilling experience than traditional religious practices. The fact that the speaker becomes so absorbed in the poetry that he forgets about the religious ceremony around him further emphasizes this point.

The poem's final lines are particularly powerful. The speaker describes how the poetry "lifted me up high" and allowed him to "see the world with other eyes." This suggests that poetry has the power to change our perspective and help us see the world in a new light. It can offer us a fresh perspective on life and help us find meaning and purpose in our existence.

Overall, "Poetry In Church" is a profound and thought-provoking poem that captures the essence of human nature and the power of art to transcend the mundane. Cavafy's use of metaphor and sensory details creates a vivid image in the reader's mind and emphasizes the transformative power of poetry. The poem is a testament to the enduring power of art and its ability to connect us with something greater than ourselves.

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