'He Came To Read' by C.P. Cavafy

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He came to read. Two or three books
are open; historians and poets.
But he only read for ten minutes,
and gave them up. He is dozing
on the sofa. He is fully devoted to books --
but he is twenty-three years old, and he's very handsome;
and this afternoon love passed
through his ideal flesh, his lips.
Through his flesh which is full of beauty
the heat of love passed;
without any silly shame for the form of the enjoyment.....

Editor 1 Interpretation

He Came To Read: A Masterpiece of Cavafy

As a fan of C.P. Cavafy's poetry, I have always been intrigued by his ability to weave complex narratives through simple words, creating a rich tapestry of meaning that lingers with the reader for a long time. One of his most celebrated works, "He Came To Read," is a beautiful example of this talent.

Written in 1923, "He Came To Read" explores the themes of love, loss, and the bittersweet nature of time. At the core of the poem is a relationship between two men, one of whom has passed away, leaving behind a collection of books that he had intended to read with his lover. The surviving partner, now left alone, takes solace in the pages of these books, finding a sense of companionship and comfort in the words of long-dead authors.

An Analysis of "He Came to Read"

At first glance, "He Came To Read" seems to be a simple story of a man finding solace in literature. However, as we delve deeper into the poem, we realize that there is much more going on beneath the surface.

The poem is written in the first person, from the point of view of the surviving partner. It starts with the lines:

He came to read. And if one day I find myself really alone, I'll open his books, one by one, and I'll let them speak to me.

These lines set the tone for the entire poem, establishing the speaker's intention to find comfort in the books left behind by his departed lover. The use of the word "alone" is particularly poignant, emphasizing the sense of isolation and loneliness that the speaker feels in the absence of his partner.

As the speaker delves deeper into the books, he begins to imagine his partner's thoughts and feelings as he read them. In one particularly striking passage, he imagines his lover reading the works of the Greek poet, Anacreon:

I see him reading Anacreon, and he seems so young, so happy, so heartless in his happiness.

Here, the speaker's imagination paints a vivid picture of his lover's youthful vigor, his carefree attitude towards life, and his joy in the simple pleasures of reading.

However, as the poem progresses, we begin to see a shift in the speaker's attitude towards the books. He no longer sees them as a source of comfort and solace, but rather as a reminder of what he has lost. In one particularly poignant passage, he laments:

And now I don't even want to touch them. I don't want to read them any more. They remind me too much of him, of what we were together.

Here, we see the speaker's grief and pain at the loss of his partner, and how the books that once brought him so much joy now serve as a painful reminder of what he has lost.

The poem ends with the lines:

But I know I'll come back to them, to the books he left behind. I'll open them again, one by one, and I'll let them speak to me.

These lines are particularly powerful, as they show the cyclical nature of grief and the human need for connection and comfort. Despite the pain and loss that the speaker has experienced, he knows that he will return to the books again and again, finding solace in their pages.

Interpretation of "He Came To Read"

"He Came To Read" can be interpreted in many different ways, depending on the reader's own experiences and perspectives. However, at its core, the poem is a meditation on the nature of grief and the human need for connection and comfort in times of loss.

The books left behind by the departed lover can be seen as a metaphor for the memories and experiences that we cherish after a loved one has passed away. The speaker's journey through these books, from comfort to pain and back again, reflects the ebb and flow of grief, and how we often find ourselves cycling through different emotions as we try to come to terms with our loss.

The poem also touches on larger themes of mortality and the passing of time. The books that the speaker's lover had intended to read are now frozen in time, a reminder of the dreams and aspirations that can never be fulfilled. However, even as time marches on and the world changes around us, the pages of these books remain the same, offering a sense of continuity and stability in an ever-changing world.


In conclusion, "He Came To Read" is a masterful work of poetry that explores complex themes of love, loss, and the passage of time. Through the simple act of reading, Cavafy creates a rich and vibrant world that speaks to the human experience in a profound and lasting way.

As a reader, I find myself drawn to the beauty and poignancy of the poem, and the way in which it captures the essence of grief and the human need for connection and comfort. It is a testament to Cavafy's skill as a writer that a piece of literature written almost a century ago can still speak to us so deeply and profoundly today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

He Came To Read: A Masterpiece of C.P. Cavafy

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 Greek and modern European traditions. His poems are often characterized by their simplicity, clarity, and depth of meaning. One of his most famous works, He Came To Read, is a perfect example of his mastery of the art of poetry.

The poem, which was originally written in Greek, tells the story of a young man who comes to a library to read. As he enters the library, he is struck by the beauty of the books and the silence of the room. He sits down to read, but soon becomes distracted by the sounds of the city outside. He tries to focus on his book, but his mind wanders, and he begins to think about his life and his future. In the end, he leaves the library without having read a single word.

At first glance, the poem may seem simple and straightforward, but upon closer examination, it reveals a deeper meaning. The young man's struggle to concentrate on his book is a metaphor for the human struggle to find meaning and purpose in life. The library, with its vast collection of books, represents the world and all its knowledge, while the young man represents humanity, searching for answers to life's big questions.

The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with its own distinct tone and meaning. The first stanza sets the scene and establishes the mood of the poem. The young man enters the library and is immediately struck by its beauty and silence. The description of the books as "bound in leather, with gold lettering" creates a sense of reverence and awe. The silence of the room is emphasized by the repetition of the word "quiet" and the use of the phrase "no sound at all." This creates a sense of stillness and calm, which is in stark contrast to the noise and chaos of the city outside.

The second stanza is where the young man's struggle begins. He sits down to read, but his mind is distracted by the sounds of the city outside. The repetition of the phrase "he tried to read" emphasizes his struggle to concentrate. The use of the word "distracted" highlights the external forces that are pulling him away from his book. The phrase "his thoughts kept wandering" shows that his struggle is not just external, but also internal. He is not just distracted by the sounds of the city, but also by his own thoughts and emotions.

The third stanza is the climax of the poem. The young man realizes that he has not read a single word and decides to leave the library. The phrase "he got up and left" is simple, but it carries a lot of weight. It shows that the young man has given up on his search for knowledge and meaning. He has been defeated by his own distractions and has chosen to leave the library empty-handed.

The final line of the poem, "he came to read, but he left without reading," is a powerful statement on the human condition. It shows that we are all searching for something, but often get distracted by the noise and chaos of the world around us. We struggle to find meaning and purpose in life, but often give up before we find what we are looking for.

In conclusion, He Came To Read is a masterpiece of poetry that captures the essence of the human struggle to find meaning and purpose in life. C.P. Cavafy's use of simple language and imagery creates a powerful and timeless message that resonates with readers of all ages and backgrounds. The poem is a reminder that we must all strive to overcome our distractions and focus on what is truly important in life.

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