'Desires' by C.P. Cavafy

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1904Like beautiful bodies of the dead who had not grown old
and they shut them, with tears, in a magnificent mausoleum,
with roses at the head and jasmine at the feet --
this is what desires resemble that have passed
without fulfillment; with none of them having achieved
a night of sensual delight, or a bright morning.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Desires" by C.P. Cavafy: A Deep Dive into Human Longings

Have you ever felt your desires taking over your entire being, consuming you with a burning, insatiable hunger? You're not alone. The Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy captured this universal human experience in his poem "Desires," which explores the paradoxical nature of our longing for the unattainable. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we'll delve deeper into Cavafy's poetic language and uncover the underlying themes and imagery that make "Desires" a timeless masterpiece.

A Brief Overview

Before we dive in, let's take a quick look at the poem's structure and form. "Desires" consists of six stanzas, each composed of four lines, and follows a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB. The poem's tone is melancholic and introspective, with a speaker who seems to be struggling with the weight of their unfulfilled longings. Cavafy's use of imagery is sparse and carefully chosen, adding layers of meaning to the poem's concise lines.

Unraveling the Paradox

So, what is the paradox that "Desires" presents? On the surface, the poem seems to be a lamentation of the speaker's unfulfilled desires. They long for "a kiss from whoever has the power / to give it with precision and modesty" and "to see some village fair / and not just to imagine its streets." These desires are simple and relatable, yet the speaker is tormented by their inability to satisfy them. However, as we delve deeper into the poem's language, we realize that the paradox lies in the very nature of desire itself.

In the third stanza, the speaker acknowledges that their desire is "unattainable." This word is key to understanding the poem's meaning. It suggests that the speaker's longing is not simply for something that is currently out of reach; rather, it is fundamentally impossible to realize. This raises the question: why do we desire things that we know we can't have? The answer lies in the very essence of desire, which is not about obtaining the object of our longing, but rather about the experience of longing itself.

This is beautifully expressed in the final stanza, where the speaker declares that they "enjoyed the sweet fruit / of their desire" even though it remained unfulfilled. This is a powerful testament to the human capacity for imagination and the ability to find pleasure in the act of longing. The paradox of desire, then, is that it is both a source of torment and a source of joy. It is the fire that burns within us, driving us forward even as it consumes us.

Imagery and Symbolism

Cavafy's sparing use of imagery adds a layer of richness to the poem's language. One particularly striking image is that of the "yellow Persian silk" in the first stanza. This evokes a sense of luxury and sensuality, highlighting the speaker's desire for something beautiful and indulgent. The choice of Persian silk is also significant, as it suggests a distance from the speaker's own culture and a longing for the exotic and unfamiliar.

In the second stanza, the image of the "yellow oranges" is similarly evocative. Oranges are often associated with the sun and warmth, suggesting a desire for life and vitality. The color yellow, too, is significant, as it represents both happiness and caution, hinting at the potential dangers of desire.

The third stanza, which is the turning point of the poem, contains perhaps the most striking image. The speaker describes their desire as "unattainable, elusive." This suggests a sense of futility and frustration, but it is the next line that really captures the paradox of desire: "eternally unattainable." The use of the word "eternally" implies that desire is not simply a temporary state, but a fundamental aspect of the human experience. It is something that we will always strive for, but can never truly obtain.

Finally, in the fourth and fifth stanzas, the speaker turns to the image of the "village fair." This represents a desire for community, for a sense of belonging and connection with others. The fact that the speaker can only imagine the streets of the fair suggests that this desire is also unattainable, and yet it remains a powerful force in their life.


In "Desires," Cavafy captures the essential human experience of longing for the unattainable. Through his sparse yet evocative language, he creates a sense of paradox that is both beautiful and haunting. The poem asks us to reflect on the nature of desire and its place in our lives. Is it a source of torment or a source of joy? Can we find fulfillment in the act of longing itself, or must we always strive for something more?

As we ponder these questions, let us take comfort in the words of the final stanza: "and although their bodies were defeated / their desire for the sweet fruit never died." For even as we are consumed by our desires, they remain a testament to our capacity for hope and imagination, and a reminder that there is beauty to be found in the longing itself.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Desires: A Masterpiece by C.P. Cavafy

Poetry is an art form that has the power to move people, to inspire them, and to touch their souls. It is a medium through which we can express our deepest desires, our innermost thoughts, and our most profound emotions. And no one understood this better than the great Greek poet, C.P. Cavafy.

Cavafy was a master of his craft, and his poem "Poetry Desires" is a testament to his genius. In this poem, he explores the relationship between poetry and desire, and how the two are intertwined in ways that are both complex and beautiful.

The poem begins with the speaker expressing his desire to write poetry that is "full of sensuality and passion." He longs to create something that will stir the hearts of his readers, something that will make them feel alive and vibrant. He wants his poetry to be a celebration of life, a tribute to the beauty and wonder of the world around us.

But the speaker also recognizes that poetry is not just about desire. It is also about the struggle to express that desire, to capture it in words and images that will do it justice. He speaks of the "anguish and torment" that comes with trying to create something that is truly great, something that will stand the test of time.

Despite this struggle, however, the speaker remains committed to his craft. He knows that poetry is a calling, a vocation that he cannot ignore. He speaks of the "divine fire" that burns within him, driving him to create, to express himself in ways that are both profound and meaningful.

As the poem progresses, the speaker becomes more introspective, reflecting on the nature of desire itself. He speaks of the "longing for the unattainable," the sense of yearning that drives us to seek out new experiences, new sensations, new ways of being in the world.

But he also recognizes that desire can be dangerous, that it can lead us down paths that are destructive and harmful. He speaks of the "dark abyss" that lies at the heart of desire, the sense of emptiness and despair that can consume us if we are not careful.

Despite this danger, however, the speaker remains committed to his desire, to his passion for poetry. He speaks of the "joy and ecstasy" that comes with creating something truly great, something that will touch the hearts of others and inspire them to greatness.

In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker reflects on the legacy of poetry, on the way that it has the power to transcend time and space, to connect us with the great poets of the past and the future. He speaks of the "eternal flame" that burns within us, the sense of wonder and awe that comes with experiencing great poetry.

In the end, "Poetry Desires" is a powerful testament to the beauty and power of poetry, to the way that it can inspire us, move us, and touch our souls. It is a reminder that poetry is not just a form of expression, but a way of life, a calling that we cannot ignore. And it is a tribute to the great poets of the past and the future, who continue to inspire us with their words and their vision.

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