Erotic poems, gnomic poems on erotic themes, as we see, rather than love poems. At first glance, we may even wonder if love for anyone in particular appears in these poems: either Cavafy experienced it very little or he has been discretely silent in its regard. On a closer look, however, almost nothing is missing: encounter and parting, desire slaked or unappeased, tenderness or satiety—is this not what remains of every erotic life once it has passed into the crucible of memory? Yet it is evident, too, that clarity of vision, refusal to overestimate, hence wisdom, but not less perhaps the differences in condition and age, and probably the venality of certain experiences, afford the lover a kind of retrospective detachment in the course of the hottest pursuits or the most ardent carnal joys. Doubtless, too, the poem’s slow crystallization, in Cavafy’s case, tends to distance him from the immediate shock, to confirm presence only in the form of memory, at a distance where the voice, so to speak, no longer carries, for in this poetry where “I” and “he” contend for primacy, “you,” the beloved addressed is singularly absent. We are at the antipodes of ardor, of passion, in the realm of the most egocentric concentration and the most avaricious hoarding. Consequently the gesture of the poet and of the lover handling his memories is not so different from that of the collector of precious or fragile objects, shells or gems, or even of the numismatist bending over his handful of pure profiles accompanied by a number and a date, those numbers and dates for which Cavafy’s shows an almost superstitious predilection. Beloved object.
—Marguerite Yourcenar, “A Critical Introduction to Cavafy,” The Dark Brain of Piranesi and Other Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984), translated by Richard Howard.