'Footsteps' by C.P. Cavafy

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1909On an ebony bed decorated
with coral eagles, sound asleep lies
Nero -- unconscious, quiet, and blissful;
thriving in the vigor of flesh,
and in the splendid power of youth.But in the alabaster hall that encloses
the ancient shrine of the Aenobarbi
how restive are his Lares.
The little household gods tremble,
and try to hide their insignificant bodies.
For they heard a horrible clamor,
a deathly clamor ascending the stairs,
iron footsteps rattling the stairs.
And now in a faint the miserable Lares,
burrow in the depth of the shrine,
one tumbles and stumbles upon the other,
one little god falls over the other
for they understand what sort of clamor this is,
they are already feeling the footsteps of the Furies.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Footsteps by C.P. Cavafy: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Have you ever walked down a deserted street at night, with nothing but the sound of your own footsteps echoing in your ears? The loneliness of that experience can be overwhelming, but it can also be a source of inspiration. C.P. Cavafy understood this, and his poem "Footsteps" captures the essence of that feeling perfectly.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of "Footsteps" in order to gain a deeper understanding of this classic poem.

The Theme of Loneliness

At its core, "Footsteps" is a poem about loneliness. The speaker is walking through the city at night, and he is acutely aware of the emptiness around him. He describes the streets as "deserted," and he notes that there are "no voices, no signs of life" anywhere to be seen.

This sense of isolation is further emphasized by the repetition of the word "alone." The speaker is "alone" in the streets, and he hears "nothing but the sound / of his own footsteps." The repetition of this word underscores the speaker's loneliness, and it reminds us that he is truly by himself in this moment.

But what is the significance of this loneliness? Why does Cavafy choose to write about it? One possible interpretation is that the poem is a commentary on the human condition. We are all, at times, alone in the world, and we all must face the emptiness of that experience. By writing about this feeling, Cavafy is tapping into something universal and deeply human.

The Structure of the Poem

One of the most striking things about "Footsteps" is its structure. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which has a distinct mood and tone.

The first stanza is the longest, and it sets the scene for the rest of the poem. The speaker describes his surroundings in vivid detail, and he emphasizes the emptiness and isolation of the city at night. This stanza is melancholy and introspective, and it sets the stage for the emotional journey that the speaker will take over the course of the poem.

The second stanza is much shorter, and it marks a turning point in the poem. The speaker hears the sound of someone else's footsteps, and he becomes acutely aware of his own loneliness. This stanza is filled with tension and anticipation, and it creates a sense of unease that carries through to the final stanza.

The third and final stanza is the most enigmatic. The speaker hears the footsteps of someone else, but he never sees who it is. The poem ends with a sense of ambiguity and mystery, leaving the reader to wonder about the significance of this encounter.

The Language of the Poem

One of the most impressive things about "Footsteps" is the way that Cavafy uses language to create a sense of mood and atmosphere. The poem is filled with sensory details, from the "deserted streets" to the "cold air" to the "echoing footsteps." These details help to create a vivid sense of place, and they draw the reader into the world of the poem.

But it is not just the sensory details that make "Footsteps" such a powerful poem. Cavafy also uses language in subtle ways to create a sense of tension and anticipation. For example, in the second stanza, he writes:

And suddenly he hears

his own footsteps,

and nothing else. . .

The use of the word "suddenly" here creates a sense of urgency and tension, and it prepares the reader for the moment when the speaker hears someone else's footsteps.

The final stanza is perhaps the most impressive in terms of language. Cavafy manages to create an atmosphere of mystery and ambiguity, using language that is both simple and evocative. He writes:

But no one

appears on the road before him,

no one in the misty moonlight.

The repetition of the word "no one" here creates a sense of emptiness and isolation, and it emphasizes the speaker's loneliness. But it is the final line that is perhaps the most powerful. The image of the moonlight is both beautiful and haunting, and it leaves the reader with a sense of unresolved tension.


In the end, "Footsteps" is a poem that captures the essence of loneliness in a way that is both universal and deeply personal. Through its structure, language, and themes, the poem creates a vivid sense of mood and atmosphere, drawing the reader into the speaker's world and making us feel the emptiness of his experience.

Ultimately, the power of "Footsteps" lies in its ability to tap into something fundamental about the human experience. We have all felt alone in the world at times, and we have all heard the sound of our own footsteps echoing in the darkness. By capturing this feeling so perfectly, Cavafy has created a poem that speaks to us all, across time and distance.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Footsteps: A Journey Through Time and Space

C.P. Cavafy, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, is known for his unique style of writing that blends the ancient with the modern. His poem "Poetry Footsteps" is a perfect example of this style, as it takes the reader on a journey through time and space, exploring the power of poetry to transcend boundaries and connect us to our past, present, and future.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a dream in which he hears the footsteps of ancient poets, such as Homer and Sappho, walking through the streets of modern-day Alexandria. The speaker is filled with a sense of wonder and awe as he imagines these great poets walking among the people of his city, their voices echoing through the centuries.

As the poem progresses, the speaker reflects on the power of poetry to connect us to our past and to the great minds that came before us. He notes that even though these ancient poets are long gone, their words still resonate with us today, inspiring us and guiding us on our own journeys.

The poem also explores the idea of poetry as a universal language that transcends cultural and linguistic barriers. The speaker notes that even though the ancient poets wrote in Greek, a language that is no longer widely spoken, their words still have the power to move us and to speak to us across time and space.

Throughout the poem, Cavafy uses vivid imagery and sensory language to bring the reader into the world of the ancient poets. He describes the sound of their footsteps echoing through the streets, the scent of the sea and the flowers that surrounded them, and the feel of the warm sun on their skin.

At the same time, Cavafy also uses the poem to explore the role of the modern poet in society. He notes that while the ancient poets were revered and celebrated in their time, modern poets often struggle to find their place in a world that is increasingly focused on technology and materialism.

Despite this, the speaker of the poem remains hopeful, noting that poetry still has the power to inspire and to connect us to our deepest selves. He encourages the reader to listen for the footsteps of the ancient poets and to follow in their path, using poetry to explore the mysteries of the world and to connect with the great minds that came before us.

Overall, "Poetry Footsteps" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the timeless themes of connection, inspiration, and the power of language. Through its vivid imagery and thoughtful reflections, the poem invites us to join the ancient poets on their journey through time and space, and to discover the power of poetry to connect us to our past, present, and future.

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