Poem of the Month Che fece…il gran rifiuto

I had so many requests from visitors to the website for a copy of this poem after I mentioned it in an article in the Telegraph. It helped me make a big decision about my career. I had been at the BBC for 10 years when Peter Fincham (now the head of ITV) offered me a job at Talkback. I was really torn. At the time I was seeing a therapist and she must have been really bored by me because she said I should read this poem by the Greek poet CP Cavafy. It was an epiphany. If only she’d given me the poem earlier, I’d have saved a fortune! The version I saw then had the poem titled as “The Big Decision” but the title is in fact a quote taken from Dante’s Inferno: “Colui che fece per viltate il gran rifiuto!” This roughly translates to “He who made through cowardice the great refusal”.

Che fece…il gran rifiuto
For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes forward in honor and self-assurance.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he would still say no. Yet that no—the right no—
undermines him all his life.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip
Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton
University Press, 1992)