Today’s “Great Idleness” in Washington and Cavafy’s “Waiting for the Barbarians”

“And now what’s to become of us without barbarians.
Those people were a solution of a sort.”

 	 C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems As the DC stalemate continues, author and essayist Daniel Mendelsohn reminds us that this waiting is nothing new. Just ask the late Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, whose wise words are the basis for Mendelsohn’s recent post on the New Yorker‘s Page-Turner blog.

Cavafy’s poem, “Waiting for the Barbarians,” describes a scene where leaders in scarlet togas wait for the old fashioned decision makers to arrive and shake things up. These barbarians are “bored by eloquence and public speaking,” a combination that does not lead to action. Nonetheless, the barbarians never arrive in Cavafy’s city, and without these visitors, everyone returns home.

“Cultural exhaustion, political inertia, the perverse yearning for some violent crisis that might break the deadlock and reinvigorate the state: these themes, so familiar to us right now, were favorites of Cavafy,” Mendelsohn writes.

With the debt ceiling deadline approaching and an estimated 800,000 government workers stuck in limbo, the barbarian option is sounding better and better. Read Mendelsohn’s entire piece here.For more of Cavary’s work, pick up a copy of C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.