The First Step

william-blake-jacobs-dream-c-1805

The young poet Eumenes complained
to Theocritus one day:
‘Two years have passed since I began to write,
and all I’ve composed is just one idyll.
It is my only completed work.
Alas, it’s high, so I see,
the stairway of Poetry is so very high;
and from the first step, where I stand,
miserable me, I’ll never climb higher. ‘
Theocritus said: ‘These words
are blasphemous and unbecoming.
Even though you stand on the first step,
you still ought to be proud and happy.
To have come so far is no small matter;
to have done so much is great glory.
For even this first step is still
by far above the common people.
In order to set foot upon this step,
you must be in your own right
a citizen in the city of ideas.
It is both difficult and rare
to be made a citizen of that city.
In its agora you come across Lawgivers
that cannot be deceived by any opportunist.
To have come so far is no small matter;
to have done so much is great glory.’

Text: C. P. Cavafy, The Collected Poems, translated by Evangelos Sachperoglou. Oxford University Press, 2007

Original Greek poem

Image: William Blake, Jacob’s Dream, c. 1805, The British Museum

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