Poetry 88: Ithaka BY C. P. Cavafy

ithaka

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

2 thoughts on “Poetry 88: Ithaka BY C. P. Cavafy

  1. I like Cavafy’s teasing, conversational tone and unique evocations of ancient Greece, but I hadn’t come across this one before. It seems to be about the openness of adventure and the provisionality of destinations. A short while ago, in helping to clear my father’s house after his death, I found a stash of letters I had written during youthful journeys and became immersed in them. One of those journeys, by bicycle to the North Cape of Norway when I was 19, for me perhaps has some resonances of the long journey to Ithaka. “She has nothing left to give you now” was in some ways how I felt on getting there. The journey was not about the destination, but nevertheless it provided a necessary goal for me to stretch myself in physical effort and venture into the furthest reaches of northern Europe.

  2. I’m going to India in a few weeks time for a month and this poem captures for me some of the excitement I feel about travelling to somewhere exotic (and taking my time).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CAPTCHA
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
 

Get a Gravatar