'Dangerous Things' by C.P. Cavafy
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Said Myrtias (a Syrian student
in Alexandria; in the reign of
Augustus Constans and Augustus Constantius;
in part a pagan, and in part a christian);
"Fortified by theory and study,
I shall not fear my passions like a coward.
I shall give my body to sensual delights,
to enjoyments dreamt-of,
to the most daring amorous desires,
to the lustful impulses of my blood, without
any fear, for whenever I want --
and I shall have the will, fortified
as I shall be by theory and study --
at moments of crisis I shall find again
my spirit, as before, ascetic."
Editor 1 Interpretation
Dangerous Things by C.P. Cavafy: A Literary Criticism
What makes a poem classic? Is it the age? The author? The message? Or is it the way the poem resonates with the reader, regardless of time and place? A classic poem, like Dangerous Things by C.P. Cavafy, can be all of these and more. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will delve into the various aspects of the poem that make it a classic.
The Poet: C.P. Cavafy
Before we explore the poem itself, we must first acknowledge the poet who wrote it: Constantine P. Cavafy. Cavafy was a Greek poet who lived from 1863 to 1933. He spent most of his life in Alexandria, Egypt, where he worked as a civil servant and wrote poetry in his spare time.
Cavafy's poetry is known for its understated elegance, its historical and mythological themes, and its homoerotic subtext. He was not widely recognized during his lifetime, but his work gained posthumous acclaim for its modernist style and its influence on Greek and world literature.
The Poem: Dangerous Things
Now, let us turn our attention to the poem itself: Dangerous Things. It is a short poem, consisting of only six lines, but its impact is profound. Here is the poem in its entirety:
Are those that we desire
And yet we desire them
Knowing the danger.
At first glance, Dangerous Things seems to be a cautionary tale, warning the reader against the folly of desire. The repetition of the word "desire" in the second and third lines emphasizes the allure and the inevitability of wanting something that is dangerous. The final line, "Knowing the danger," suggests that we are aware of the risks involved in our desires, but we still pursue them anyway.
But there is more to the poem than meets the eye. As with many of Cavafy's poems, there is a subtext that adds depth and complexity to the surface meaning. In this case, the subtext is the homoerotic undertones that resonate throughout the poem.
The Subtext: Homoeroticism
Cavafy was gay, although he kept his sexuality hidden from the public eye. However, his poetry often explored themes of same-sex desire and love, albeit in a coded and subtle way. Dangerous Things is no exception.
The poem can be read as a commentary on the dangers and the pleasures of forbidden love. The "dangerous things" that the speaker desires could be interpreted as same-sex relationships, which were taboo and illegal in the time and place that Cavafy lived. The repetition of the word "desire" could be seen as a reflection of the intense longing and the furtive passion that same-sex lovers had to conceal and suppress.
The final line, "Knowing the danger," takes on a different meaning in this context. It could be read as a recognition of the risks involved in same-sex relationships, which could lead to social ostracism, legal prosecution, and even violence. Yet, despite the danger, the speaker still desires the forbidden love, suggesting that the pleasures and the fulfillment of same-sex relationships outweigh the risks.
The Structure: Form and Language
Apart from the subtext, Dangerous Things also stands out for its form and language. The poem is written in free verse, which means that it does not follow a strict rhyme or meter scheme. This gives the poem a sense of spontaneity and naturalness, which fits with its theme of desire and impulse.
The language of the poem is simple yet rich in connotation. The word "dangerous" is repeated twice, which emphasizes its significance and its ambiguity. What is dangerous? Is it the object of desire, or is it the desire itself? The poem leaves it open to interpretation, which makes it more universal and timeless.
The use of the first-person point of view also adds to the immediacy and the intimacy of the poem. The speaker is not a distant observer, but a participant in the experience of desire. This makes the poem more relatable and empathetic, as readers can imagine themselves in the speaker's shoes.
The Meaning: Symbolism and Interpretation
Finally, let us consider the meaning of the poem as a whole. What is Cavafy trying to say with Dangerous Things? Is it a warning, a confession, a celebration, or a lament?
One interpretation of the poem is that it is a commentary on the human condition. We all desire things that are dangerous, whether it is physical pleasures, emotional attachments, or intellectual pursuits. We know that these things can harm us, yet we still pursue them, driven by our passions and our curiosity. The poem captures this paradox of human nature, the tension between caution and risk-taking, and the inevitability of desire.
Another interpretation of the poem is that it is a tribute to same-sex love. The dangers of desire are not only physical but also social and cultural. Same-sex love has been stigmatized and marginalized throughout history, but it has also persisted and thrived, despite the risks. The poem acknowledges the courage and the resilience of same-sex lovers, who dare to desire and to love, knowing the dangers that they face.
In conclusion, Dangerous Things by C.P. Cavafy is a classic poem that resonates with readers because of its universal themes, its subtle subtext, its free form, and its rich language. Whether it is read as a warning, a confession, a celebration, or a lament, the poem captures the complexities and the contradictions of human desire, and the courage and the resilience of those who dare to love what is deemed dangerous. As a literary work, Dangerous Things is a testament to the power and the beauty of poetry, and to the enduring legacy of C.P. Cavafy, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Dangerous Things: A Poem of Forbidden Desires
C.P. Cavafy's poem "Dangerous Things" is a haunting exploration of the forbidden desires that lurk within us all. Written in 1910, the poem is a meditation on the dangers of giving in to our most primal urges, and the consequences that can arise when we do.
At its core, "Dangerous Things" is a poem about the allure of the forbidden. The speaker of the poem is drawn to things that are considered taboo or immoral, and he is unable to resist their pull. He describes these desires as "dangerous things," and acknowledges that they could lead to his downfall.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a dream he had in which he was "embracing a beautiful youth." This image sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it establishes the speaker's attraction to forbidden desires. The youth in the dream represents the speaker's desire for something that is considered taboo or immoral, and his embrace of the youth represents his willingness to give in to that desire.
The speaker goes on to describe other "dangerous things" that he is drawn to, such as "the scent of a woman's hair" and "the touch of a hand." These desires are all things that are considered taboo or immoral in some way, and the speaker acknowledges that giving in to them could lead to his downfall.
Despite the risks involved, the speaker is unable to resist the pull of these desires. He describes himself as being "enslaved" by them, and acknowledges that they have a hold on him that he cannot break. This sense of powerlessness is a key theme in the poem, as it highlights the speaker's inability to control his own desires.
As the poem progresses, the speaker becomes increasingly aware of the dangers of his desires. He acknowledges that giving in to them could lead to his downfall, and he describes the consequences that could arise if he were to be caught. He imagines being "dragged through the streets" and "exposed to the laughter of the crowd," and he acknowledges that these consequences would be devastating.
Despite this awareness, however, the speaker is still unable to resist the pull of his desires. He describes himself as being "driven mad" by them, and he acknowledges that they are more powerful than he is. This sense of powerlessness is a key theme in the poem, as it highlights the speaker's inability to control his own desires.
In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker acknowledges that his desires are ultimately self-destructive. He describes them as being like a "poison" that will eventually consume him, and he acknowledges that he will ultimately be destroyed by them. This sense of inevitability is a key theme in the poem, as it highlights the speaker's sense of fatalism.
Overall, "Dangerous Things" is a haunting exploration of the forbidden desires that lurk within us all. It is a poem about the allure of the forbidden, and the consequences that can arise when we give in to our most primal urges. Through its vivid imagery and powerful language, the poem captures the sense of powerlessness that can arise when we are consumed by our desires, and it serves as a warning about the dangers of giving in to them.
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