'Waiting For The Barbarians' by C.P. Cavafy
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What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
The barbarians are due here today.
Why isn't anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?
Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city's main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.
Translated by Edmund Keeley.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Waiting For The Barbarians: A Poem of Fear and Uncertainty
C.P. Cavafy's "Waiting For The Barbarians" is a masterpiece of modern poetry that speaks to the human condition with poignancy and depth. Written in 1904, the poem portrays a city-state waiting anxiously for an invasion by the barbarians, who are seen as a threat to the established order. The poem is a powerful allegory of the human condition, as it explores themes of fear, uncertainty, and the need for control.
The poem begins with the city-state's officials waiting for the barbarians to arrive. The officials are anxious and fearful, as they do not know what to expect from the barbarians. They have heard rumors about the barbarians' cruelty and savagery, and they fear that the barbarians will destroy their way of life. The poem captures the mood of uncertainty and anxiety that permeates the city-state, as the officials wait for the unknown.
The poem's opening lines are particularly powerful, as they set the tone for the rest of the poem. Cavafy writes:
What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum? The barbarians are due here today.
These lines immediately establish the theme of waiting and anticipation, as well as the sense of impending doom that hangs over the city-state. The use of the word "barbarians" is also significant, as it sets up the contrast between the civilized, ordered world of the city-state and the savage, chaotic world of the barbarians.
Throughout the poem, Cavafy plays with this contrast between civilization and savagery, exploring the tension between the two. The officials in the city-state are portrayed as cultured and refined, while the barbarians are seen as uncivilized and primitive. This contrast is highlighted in the following lines:
Those people were some kind of solution.
Here, the officials are discussing the possibility of the barbarians bringing some kind of solution to the city-state's problems. The use of the word "those people" is significant, as it reinforces the idea that the barbarians are different from the officials themselves. The officials see themselves as superior to the barbarians, and yet they are afraid of them.
The poem's central image is that of the barbarians arriving at the city-state. This image is repeated throughout the poem, and it serves to heighten the sense of anticipation and fear. The arrival of the barbarians is portrayed as a moment of great significance, as it represents the breaking of the established order. The following lines capture this sense of upheaval:
Why isn't anything going on in the senate? Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?
Here, Cavafy is suggesting that the arrival of the barbarians will render the established political order meaningless. The senators, who are supposed to be in charge of the city-state's affairs, are shown to be powerless in the face of the barbarians' arrival.
The poem's final lines are perhaps its most powerful. In these lines, the officials realize that the barbarians are not coming:
And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians? They were, those people, a kind of solution.
Here, Cavafy is suggesting that the fear of the barbarians was what held the city-state together. Without the threat of the barbarians, the officials are left without a sense of purpose or direction. The barbarians, who were seen as a threat to the established order, were actually the glue that held it together.
In conclusion, "Waiting For The Barbarians" is a powerful and haunting poem that speaks to the human condition in a profound way. Through its exploration of themes of fear, uncertainty, and the need for control, the poem provides a deep insight into the human psyche. The contrast between civilization and savagery, and the tension between the two, is played out with great skill and subtlety. The poem's central image of the barbarians arriving at the city-state is a powerful metaphor for the breaking of established orders and the upheaval that follows. Overall, "Waiting For The Barbarians" is a masterpiece of modern poetry that deserves to be read and appreciated by all lovers of literature.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Waiting For The Barbarians: A Poem That Captures The Essence Of Human Nature
C.P. Cavafy's poem "Waiting for the Barbarians" is a masterpiece that captures the essence of human nature. The poem is a commentary on the human condition, exploring themes of power, fear, and the unknown. It is a powerful and thought-provoking piece that has stood the test of time and continues to resonate with readers today.
The poem is set in a city that is waiting for the arrival of the barbarians. The people of the city are anxious and fearful of the unknown, and they are preparing for the worst. The poem begins with the line, "What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?" This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it highlights the sense of anticipation and anxiety that the people of the city are feeling.
The poem goes on to describe the preparations that the people of the city are making for the arrival of the barbarians. They are fortifying their walls, sharpening their weapons, and preparing for battle. The people are convinced that the barbarians are a threat to their way of life, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to protect themselves.
As the poem progresses, the people of the city become more and more anxious. They begin to question their own strength and their ability to defend themselves against the barbarians. The line, "Why do our Senators not legislate a new and better law?" highlights the sense of helplessness that the people are feeling. They are looking to their leaders for guidance, but they are not finding any answers.
The poem then takes a turn, as the barbarians fail to arrive. The people of the city are left waiting, but the barbarians never come. The line, "And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?" highlights the sense of disappointment and confusion that the people are feeling. They had prepared for the worst, but the worst never came.
The poem ends with the line, "Those people were a kind of solution." This line is perhaps the most powerful in the entire poem, as it highlights the fact that the people of the city needed the barbarians. They needed an enemy to fight against, a threat to their way of life. Without the barbarians, the people of the city are left with a sense of emptiness and purposelessness.
The poem is a commentary on the human condition, exploring themes of power, fear, and the unknown. It highlights the fact that humans need an enemy to fight against, a threat to their way of life. Without an enemy, humans are left with a sense of purposelessness and emptiness.
The poem is also a commentary on the nature of power. The people of the city are willing to do whatever it takes to protect themselves, even if it means sacrificing their own values and morals. They are willing to go to war, to kill, and to destroy in order to protect themselves. This highlights the fact that power can corrupt even the most well-intentioned individuals.
The poem is also a commentary on the nature of fear. The people of the city are afraid of the unknown, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to protect themselves from it. This highlights the fact that fear can drive individuals to do things that they would not normally do.
Overall, "Waiting for the Barbarians" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that captures the essence of human nature. It explores themes of power, fear, and the unknown, and it highlights the fact that humans need an enemy to fight against in order to give their lives meaning and purpose. The poem is a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers today.
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