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Waiting for The Barbarians

February 26, 2014

This is probably my favourite poem. I find myself referring to it more and more often. It speaks so sharply to our fears of immigrants, paedophiles, terrorists, EU bureaucrats, bankers and so much more. I have freely translated it for you.

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WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS

- What are we all waiting for, gathered here in the market?

 

The Barbarians are due to arrive today.

 

- Why, within the Senate, is there such paralysis?

Why do the Senators just sit, instead of legislating?

 

Because the Barbarians are due today.

What laws could Senators now pass?

When the Barbarians arrive, they’ll do the legislating.

 

- Why did our Emperor get up so early

And now sits at the City’s gate

Enthroned, ceremonial, crowned?

 

Because the Barbarians are due today.

And our own Emperor awaits to welcome

their chief. Indeed he has prepared,

in order to present to him, papyrus scrolls

with titles grand, impressive appellations.

 

- Why are our consuls and officials out

today, in red, embroidered togas

why are they wearing bracelets, amethyst-studded

and rings with splendid, shining emeralds

why do they reach for priceless canes

carved from exquisite gold and silver?

 

Because the Barbarians are due today;

And such things tend to dazzle them.

 

- And why are our worthy orators not here, as always,

Making their speeches, eloquent, telling it like they used to?

 

Because the Barbarians are due today;

and they get really bored of rhetoric and babble.

 

- Why is there suddenly such unease

and such confusion? (How serious all faces have become).

Why are the streets and squares now empty,

and everyone walks to their home, all looking very pensive?

 

Because it’s nightfall, but no Barbarians did arrive.

And border guards are back, and made reports

that say: Barbarians are no longer.

 

______

And now what shall become of us, with no Barbarians?

Those brutes have always been a sort of answer.

 

K. P. Kavafis

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Pauline Burney permalink
    February 26, 2014 4:10 pm

    That poem leaves me with lingering anxiety. It fits so many current situations.

  2. William Tamblyn permalink
    February 26, 2014 4:38 pm

    Should it not be “And why are our worthy orators not here, as always”?

    >________________________________ > From: sturdyblog >To: wmtamblyn@yahoo.com >Sent: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 9:08 AM >Subject: [New post] Waiting for The Barbarians > > > > WordPress.com >sturdyblog posted: “This is probably my favourite poem. I find myself referring to it more and more often. It speaks so sharply to our fears of immigrants, paedophiles, terrorists, EU bureaucrats, bankers and so much more. I have freely translated it for you.WAITING FOR TH” >

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