[Philosophical Scrutiny]Άρθρα, μελετήματα, κριτικά σημειώματα
After the already settled Emendatory Work, a philosophical scrutiny of my poems should be made.
     Flagrant inconsistencies, illogical possibilities, ridiculous exaggeration should certainly be corrected in the poems, and where the corrections cannot be made the poems should be sacrificed, retaining only any verses of such poems as might prove useful later on in the making of new work.
     Still the spirit in which the Scrutiny is to be conducted should not be too fanatical.
     The principle of personal experience is undoubtedly a sound one; but were it strictly observed it would limit tremendously literary production and even philosophical production. If one ought to wait for old age to risk a word about it, if one ought to wait for the experience of a violent disease in order to mention it, if one ought to experience every sorrow or perturbed state of mind in order to speak of it — one would find that what is left to write of is very little, and indeed many things might not be written at all about as the person who experienced them might not be the person talented to analyse and express them.
     Guess work therefore is not to be avoided by any means in a wholesale manner; but of course it must be used cautiously. Guess work indeed —when intelligently directed— loses much of its riskiness, if the user transforms it into a sort of hypothetical experience. This is easier in the description of a battle, of a state of society, of a scenery. By the imagination (and by the help of incidents experienced and remotely or nearly connected) the user can transport himself into the midst of the circumstances and can thus create an experience. The same remark holds good —though it presents more difficulty— in matters of feeling.
     I should remark that all philosophers necessarily work largely on guess work — guess work illustrated and elaborated by careful thought and weighing of causes and effects, and by inference, I mean knowledge of other reliable experience.
     Moreover the poet in writing of states of mind can also have the sort of experience furnished by his knowledge of himself and has therefore very reliable gauging of what he would feel were he placed in the imagined conditions.
     Also care should be taken not to lose from sight that a state of feeling is true and false, possible and impossible at the same time, or rather by turns. And the poet —who, even when he works the most philosophically, remains an artist— gives one side: which does not mean that he denies the obverse, or even —though perhaps this is stretching the point— that he wishes to imply that the side he treats is the truest, or the one oftener true. He merely describes a possible and an occurring state of feeling — sometimes very transient, sometimes of some duration.
     Very often the poet’s work has but a vague meaning: it is a suggestion: the thoughts are to be enlarged by future generations or by his immediate readers: Plato said that poets utter great meanings without realising them themselves.
     I have said above that the poet always remains an artist. As an artist he should avoid —without denying— the seemingly highest —seemingly, for it is not quite proved that it is the highest— philosophy of the absolute worthlessness of effort and of the inherent contradiction in every human utterance. If he deny it: he must work. If he accept it: he must work still, though with the consciousness of his work being but finally toys, — at best toys capable of being utilised for some worthier or better pupose or toys the handling of which prepares for some worthier or better work.
     Moreover let us consider the vanity of human things, for this is a clearer way of expressing what I have called «the worthlessness of effort and the inherent contradiction in every human utterance». For few natures, for very few is it possible to —after accepting it— act accordingly, that is refrain from every action except such as subsistence demands. The majority must act; and though producing vain things their impulse to act and their obedience to it are not vain, because it is a following of nature, or of their nature. Their actions produce works, which can be divided into two categories, works of immediate utility and works of beauty. The poet does the latter. As human nature has got a craving for beauty manifested in different forms —love, order in his surroundings, scenery,— he purveys to a need. Some work done in vain and the shortness of human life may declare all this vain; but seeing that we do not know the connection between the after life and this life, perhaps even this may be contested. But the mistake lies chiefly in this individualisation. The work is not vain when we leave the individual and we consider the result. Here there is no death, at least no sure death: the result may perhaps be immense; there is no shortness of life, but an immense duration of it. So the absolute vanity disappears: at best only a comparative vanity may remain for the individual, but when the individual separates himself from his work and considers only the pleasure or the profit it has given him for a few years and then its vast importance for centuries and centuries even this comparative vanity disappears or vastly lessens.
     My method of procedure for this Philosophical Scrutiny may be either by taking up the poems one by one and settling them at once, — following the lists and ticking each on the list as it is finished, or effacing it if vowed to destruction; or by considering them first attentively, reporting on them, making a batch of the reports, and afterwards working at them on the basis and in the sequence of the batch: that is the method of procedure of the Emendatory Work.
     It may also very well happen that the guess work or rather the intellectual insight into the feelings of others may result in the delineating of more interesting intellectual facts or conditions than the mere relation of the personal experience of one individual. Moreover —though this is a delicate matter— is not such study of others and penetration of others part of what I call «personal experience»? Does not this penetration —successful or not— influence the individual thought and create states of mind?
     Besides, one lives, one hears, and one understands; and the poems one writes, though not true to one’s actual life, are true to other lives («Tο πρώτο φως των», «Tείχη», «Παράθυρα», «Θερμοπύλαι») —not generally of course, but specially— and the reader to whose life the poem fits admires and feels the poem: which is proved by Xenopoulos’ liking («Tείχη», «Kεριά»), and Pap.’s («Kεριά») and Tsocopoulos’ («Φωναί Γλυκείαι»). And when one lives, hears, and searches intelligently and tries to write wisely his work is bound, one may say, to fit some life.
     Perhaps Shakespeare had never been jealous in his life, so he ought not to have written Othello; perhaps he was never seriously melancholy, so he ought not to have written Hamlet; he never murdered, so he ought not to have written Macbeth!!!
     On Sunday (16 August 1903) I wrote some lines beginning «Σαν έρχεται καμμιά ημέρα ή μια ώρα». I was absolutely sincere at the time. In fact the lines as they now stand are not good, because they have not been worked: it was throwing on paper an impression. In the evening of the very same day I was ill, and the lines seemed to me flat. Yet they were sincere: they had the necessary truthfulness for art. So is every sincerity to be laid aside, on account of the short duration of the feeling which prompts its expression? But then art is at a standstill; and speech is condemned — because what is always lasting? And things cannot and should not be lasting, for man would then be «all of a piece» and stagnate in sentimental inactivity, in want of change.
     If a thought has been really true for a day, its becoming false the next day does not deprive it of its claim to verity. It may have been only a passing or a short lived truth, but if intelligent and serious it is worthy to be received, both artistically and philosophically.
25 November 1903
Here is another example. No poems were sincerer than the «two Months», written during and immediately after the great crisis of libidinousness succeeding on my departure from Athens. Now, say that in time Alekos Mavroudis comes to be indifferent to me, like Sul. (I was very much in love with him before my departure for Athens), or Bra.; will the poems —so true when they were made— become false? Certainly, certainly not. They will remain true in the past, and, though not applicable any more in my life, seeing that they may remind of a day and perhaps different impression, they will be applicable to feelings of other lives.
     The same therefore must apply to other works — really felt at the time. If even for one day, or one hour I felt like the man within «Walls», or like the man of «Windows» the poem is based on a truth, a short-lived truth, but which, for the very reason of its having once existed, may repeat itself in another life, perhaps with as short duration, perhaps with longer. If «Thermopylae» fits but one life, it is true; and it may, indeed the probabilities are that it must.

(Κ.Π. Καβάφης, Τα πεζά (1882;-1931), Φιλολογική επιμέλεια Mιχάλης Πιερής, Ίκαρος Εκδοτική Εταιρία, 2003)