A poem of 1930 by the great C. P. Cavafy; it is translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn, who explores Cavafy’s sense of beauty in his introduction to Collected Poems. He writes, “The rich, perfervid, sensuous present of most lives is lost forever to recollection: only the living memory of that past, memory that is itself alchemized into something permanent, and permanently beautiful, by poetry, ‘preserves’ them forever.” Here, the mirror plays the role of recaller and preserver, with Cavafy’s sly assistance.
The Mirror in the Entrance
In the entrance hallway of that sumptuous home
there was an enormous mirror, very old;
acquired at least eighty years ago.
A strikingly beautiful boy, a tailor’s assistant,
(on Sunday afternoons, an amateur athlete),
was standing with a package. He handed it
to one of the household, who then went back inside
to fetch a receipt. The tailor’s assistant
remained alone, and waited.
He drew near the mirror, and stood gazing at himself,
and straightening his tie. Five minutes later
they brought him the receipt. He took it and left.
But the ancient mirror, which had seen and seen again,
throughout its lifetime of so many years,
thousands of objects and faces—
but the ancient mirror now became elated,
inflated with pride, because it had received upon itself
perfect beauty, for a few minutes.
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