Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Morning Sea

There is a short poem by C. P. Cavafy, 'The Morning Sea' (1915), in which the poet stops and gazes out from the yellow shore on the brilliant blue of the sea.  'Let me stand here.  And let me pretend I see all this' he says, but what he actually sees are 'memories, those sensual images.'  It is an example of one kind of poetry where the themes of landscape and love intersect: the poet tries to concentrate on the beauty of nature but only sees a reflection of his own feelings.  English literature includes the example below, where Sir Philip Sidney concludes that 'infected minds infect each thing they see.' However, I'm sure there must also be poems that work the other way round, where landscape infects desire and strong memories of a place overshadow the sight of a loved one...

In wonted walks, since wonted fancies change,
Some cause there is, which of strange cause doth rise:
For in each thing whereto mine eye doth range,
Part of my pain, me-seems, engraved lies.

The rocks, which were of constant mind the mark,
In climbing steep, now hard refusal show;
The shading woods seem now my sun to dark,
And stately hills disdain to look so low.

The restful caves now restless visions give;
In dales I see each way a hard ascent:
Like late-mown meads, late cut from joy I live;

Alas, sweet brooks do in my tears augment:
   Rocks, woods, hills, caves, dales, meads, brooks, answer me;
   Infected minds infect each thing they see.

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