Waiting for the Barbarians (poem)

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"Waiting for the Barbarians" (Περιμένοντας τοὺς Bαρβάρους) is a Greek poem by Constantine P. Cavafy.


The poem was written in November 1898 and first published in 1904.[1] It depicts a day in an unnamed city-state where everything has come to a halt because the population is awaiting the arrival of "the barbarians", whom they plan to welcome.

Daniel Mendelsohn (one of many translators who has produced an English version of "Waiting")[2] has said that the poem's portrayal of a state whose lawmakers sit in stagnant idleness was "particularly prescient" in light of the United States federal government shutdown of 2013.[3]

Robert Pinsky has described it as "cunning" and "amusing".[4] Charles Simić has called it "an apt description of any state that needs enemies, real or imaginary, as a perpetual excuse",[1] while the Independent considered the poem's final line evocative of "the dangers implied by the end of the Cold War".[5]


J. M. Coetzee's 1980 novel Waiting for the Barbarians is named for the poem,[6][7] as are Waiting for the Barbarians, the 1998 essay collection by Lewis H. Lapham[5] and Waiting for the Barbarians, the 2013 essay collection by Daniel Mendelsohn.[8] American composer Philip Glass has also written an opera of the same name based on the Coetzee novel which premiered in September 2005 at Theater Erfurt, Germany.

Peter Carey's 1981 novel Bliss sees Lucy's young Communist boyfriend Kenneth quoting the first stanza directly from John Mavrogordato's translation.

Anaal Nathrakh's 2006 album Eschaton has a song named after the poem.

Await Barbarians, the 2014 album by Alexis Taylor, is also named for the poem;[9] similarly, that album's song "Without a Crutch" alludes directly to it.[9]

In 2011, Andrew Ford adapted the poem into a choral work.[10][2] In 2012, Constantine Koukias adapted it into an opera, "The Barbarians".[11]


  1. ^ a b Some Sort of a Solution: Charles Simic reviews 'The Collected Poems' by C.P. Cavafy, translated by Evangelos Sachperoglou and 'The Canon' by C.P. Cavafy, translated by Stratis Haviaras; by Charles Simić; in the London Review of Books (vol. 30, no. 6; page 32-34); published March 20, 2008 ; retrieved March 7, 2015
  2. ^ a b Andrew Ford: Waiting for the Barbarians, by Andrew Ford, at AndrewFord.net.au; published no later than March 6, 2012; retrieved March 7, 2015
  3. ^ “Waiting for the Barbarians” and the Government Shutdown, by Daniel Mendelsohn, in the New Yorker; published October 1, 2013; retrieved March 7, 2015
  4. ^ Waiting for the Barbarians (by Constantine Cavafy), by Robert Pinsky; in Slate; published June 26, 1997; retrieved March 7, 2015
  5. ^ a b Wednesday's book: Waiting for the Barbarians by Lewis Lapham (Verso, pounds 17) by Godfrey Hodgson ; in the Independent; published January 14, 1998; retrieved March 7, 2015
  6. ^ Konstantinos Kavaphes (Constantine Cavafy) · Waiting for the Barbarians (Translated by Richmond Lattimore), at the Kenyon Review; first published no later than March 6, 2012 (date of earliest version on archive.org); retrieved March 7, 2015
  7. ^ Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, by David Attwell; published 1992 by Harvard University Press (via Google Books)
  8. ^ Waiting for the Barbarians by Daniel Mendelsohn – review, by Christopher Bray, in the Guardian; published January 6, 2013; retrieved March 7, 2015
  9. ^ a b Don't Write for the Barbarians, by Joe Fassler, in The Atlantic; published July 25 2014; retrieved March 7, 2015
  10. ^ Waiting for the Barbarians : SATB choir by Andrew Ford, at the Australian Music Centre; published no later than June 5, 2012; retrieved March 7, 2015
  11. ^ Greek poet becomes a Greek opera, by Stephen Smooker, at NeosKosmos.com; published January 13, 2012; retrieved March 7, 2015

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