Friday, April 11, 2008

POET ON A POEM | Che Fece...Il Gran Rifiuto

For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It's clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes from honor to honor, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he'd still say no. Yet that no--the right no--
drags him down all his life.

~ Cavafy [translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard]

Jane Hirshfield: I love the poem both for its reminder of the possibility of declaring a great Yes and a great No, and also for the koan held by the phrase "the right no." What does that mean, "the right no drags him down all his life"? Sometimes I think it means one thing and sometimes I think it means the other. For me it's a question you can weigh a life against.


Anonymous said...

Love the poem. It is one to think about and consider. And I love Hirschfield's comment on it. Her question is definitely one you can weigh a life against.

darkorpheus said...

Stefanie I've been thinking about this poem too for the past week. The "right No" -- is it possible to do the right thing and suffer for it all our lives.

Unknown said...

There is another english translation of this poem on a Kavafy website (translated by someone with the same family name - i'm not sure exactly what the relationship between poet and translator is).

This other version seems less ambiguous and reads as though the "great no" is a stand on convictions, while the reply "yes" is a compromise that will burden one for life.

I wish I could remember the URL for the site. Sorry.