Waiting for the Barbarians (HUM415)

Waiting for the Barbarians

By Constantine Cavafy (1864-1933), translated by Edmund Keeley

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.

One thought on “Waiting for the Barbarians (HUM415)

  1. Pingback: Wealth | analepsis

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