Waiting for the Barbarians

C.P. Cavafy

The Collected Poems by C.P. Cavafy, translated by Evangelos Sachperoglou

– What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
The barbarians are to arrive today.

– Why then such inactivity in the Senate?
Why do the Senators sit back and do not legislate?

Because the barbarians will arrive today.
What sort of laws now can Senators enact?
When the barbarians come, they’ll do the legislating.

– Why is our emperor up so early,
and seated at the grandest gate of our city, upon the throne,
in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians will arrive today.
And the emperor expects to receive their leader.
He has even prepared to present him
with a parchment scroll where he has
invested him with many names and titles.

– Why have our two consuls and the praetors come out
today in their purple, embroidered togas;
why did they put on bracelets studded with amethysts,
and rings with resplendent, glittering emeralds;
why are they carrying today precious staves
beautifully worked in gold and silver?

Because the barbarians will arrive today
and such things dazzle the barbarians.

– And why don’t our distinguished orators come out as usual
to give their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians will arrive today;
and they are bored by rhetoric and public speeches.

– Why this sudden commotion, this confusion?
(How solemn people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and the squares emptying so quickly,
and everyone is returning home lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some of our men have arrived from the frontiers,
and say that there are no barbarians anymore.

—And now, what will become of us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

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