Friday, January 26, 2018
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and 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 and 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 the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen 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 gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not 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 will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
~ C.P. Cavafy ~
(Collected Poems, Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)
In Homer's great epic, "The Odyssey," the Greeks travel for many years on their way home from the Trojan War. For Odysseus, their great warrior/hero, home is Ithaka, an island in the Mediterranean. He sails for ten years on his return and has many adventures along the way, including encounters with various monsters, supernatural beings, and threatening gods (Laistrygonians, Cyclops, Poseidon).
It seems to me that this poem can be read as an allegory of our own life journey, which may be very long indeed, and certainly holds many experiences both challenging and delightful. "Ithaca' is our place of starting out. It could be the actual spot (our home town) or the society that surrounded us in childhood (family, socially approved ways of behaving or thinking.) More likely "Ithaca" is simply who we were when we began our journey, and the destination we imagine we wish to return to. Without that background and foundation, we could never have begun our worldly adventures. But now, when we reconsider that time of our lives, we have much experience beyond those early years of innocence. We have become someone else. Looking at "Ithaka" with the eyes of experience, we will finally see that earlier being in a different light, and understand what our beginning really meant.
(photo from internet)