Constantine Peter Cavafy was born in Alexandria, Egypt to Greek parents who emigrated from Istanbul. He was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church, and later worked as a journalist before taking a position with the Egyptian Ministry of Public works, where he served for 30 years.
But Cavafy was also a poet, and he shared his poems mostly with the Greek community in Alexandria. Since his death in 1933, his poems have gained recognition with audiences around the world.
Cavafy’s poems frequently address themes of isolation, duty and human dignity. In fact, our inspiration for today is a Cavafy piece that speaks of isolation and regret. It’s a poem titled, “An Old Man.”
AN OLD MAN
By C.P. Cavafy
At the noisy end of the cafe, head bent
over the table, an old man sits alone,
a newspaper in front of him.
And in the miserable banality of old age
he thinks how little he enjoyed the years
when he had strength, eloquence, and looks.
He knows he’s aged a lot: he sees it, feels it.
Yet it seems he was young just yesterday.
So brief an interval, so brief.
And he thinks of Prudence, how it fooled him,
how he always believed – what madness –
that cheat who said: “Tomorrow. You have plenty of time.”
He remembers impulses bridled, the joy
he sacrificed. Every chance he lost
now mocks his senseless caution.
But so much thinking, so much remembering
makes the old man dizzy. He falls asleep,
his head resting on the cafe table.
FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems.
More spiritual nuggets for today
On this day in 1855, strange hoof-like marks that area residents named the “Devil’s Footprints” mysteriously appeared over a range of 60 kilometers following a snowfall in Devon, England.
The footprints measured about four inches long, three inches across and were spaced between eight and sixteen inches apart. They appeared in single file along a line that passed straight across everything in their path — the prints were seen on rooftops, haystacks, walls and other obstacles.
Local religious leaders suggested the footprints were the tracks of Satan. Here’s how a newspaper at the time described the incident:
“It appears on Thursday night last, there was a very heavy snowfall in the neighbourhood of Exeter and the South of Devon. On the following morning the inhabitants of the above towns were surprised at discovering the footmarks of some strange and mysterious animal endowed with the power of ubiquity, as the footprints were to be seen in all kinds of unaccountable places – on the tops of houses and narrow walls, in gardens and courtyards, enclosed by high walls and pailings, as well in open fields. The superstitious go so far as to believe that they are the marks of Satan himself; and that great excitement has been produced among all classes may be judged from the fact that the subject has been descanted on from the pulpit.”
Although there have been plenty of theories to explain the event, the source of the footprints remains a mystery.
Today is also the birthday of Dmitri Mendeleev, the Russian chemist who developed the periodic table of elements, in 1834.
He was born the son of a Russian Orthodox priest and according to the tradition at the time, priests’ children were given new family names while attending theological seminary. So, Mendeleev is actually not Dmitri’s family name, but the name of a local landlord. As an orthodox Christian, Mendeleev’s mother encouraged him to “patiently search divine and scientific truth.” Later, Mendeleev left the church and informed his mother he had embraced deism.
Mendeleev became a university instructor in 1867 and wrote the definitive chemistry textbook of the time. While he was working on classifying elements according to their chemical properties, he began to notice patterns and saw the arrangement of the elements in a dream. He later said:
“I saw in a dream a table where all elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper, only in one place did a correction later seem necessary.”
Finally, today’s happy thought comes to us from the American poet, Walt Whitman:
“Keep your face always toward the sunshine — and shadows will fall behind you.”
Sound advice, especially for a midwinter’s day.
And that’s today’s Spiritual Almanac.
For additional reading, see C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. There’s a link above.
Thanks for listening. Be kind, take good care and I’ll see you tomorrow.