Jun 17 2009

Constantine P. Cavafy – Ithaca

Published by at 8:34 am under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Ithaca
by Constantine P. Cavafy

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca on your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.

— from C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems, by Constantine P. Cavafy / Translated by Edmund Keely


/ Photo by Wolfgang Staudt /

A little motivation to take down that old copy of the Odyssey, dust it off, and crack it open once again. It was a favorite of mine when I was a teenager, with gods, monsters, heroes, adventure… and a reminder of my Greek heritage (my father’s father was from the Greek island of Chios).

Cavafy’s poem reminds us of the Odyssey’s hidden truth, that the hero’s journey to Ithaca is the soul’s journey home.

Ancient tradition says that Homer’s epics, the Illiad and the Odyssey, combine into a grand mystery tale, understood by initiates as describing the stages and struggles of the soul’s inner journey.

pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge…

Too often seekers decry the road, its bumps and turns, impatient for the destination.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.

But the stops along the journey are not roadblocks, they are stepping stones. Actually, even that’s not true. Seen clearly, the journey and the destination are a single continuum. The river pours into the sea, and they are one. Seated on the slow-moving river, we already touch the sea.

…and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can…

Cavafy suggests that worldly experience, the senses, a certain amount of materialism, these too are part of the journey. The physical world is the realm through which the soul journeys. Encountering marvels and terrors the soul strengthens and comes to know itself. Knowing itself in victory and adversity, the soul is finally ready to return. But to navigate through such bewildering, overwhelming experiences, the destination must never be forgotten:

Always keep Ithaca on your mind.

Don’t rush through the journey, impatient only for its end. The adventure is your soul’s story.

Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.

The wisdom you attain with each step reveals the destination’s true meaning.

And it is just as true to say that the destination’s gift is contained in the journey itself:

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

Constantine P. Cavafy, Constantine P. Cavafy poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Constantine P. Cavafy

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2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Constantine P. Cavafy – Ithaca”

  1. aparnaon 18 Jun 2009 at 3:07 am

    WHAT A PERFECT POEM IVAN,

    (sorry, didn’t mean to shout,… but can’t help …. top of my lungs- WHAAAAAAAAATT A PERFECT POEM for me, for today!!)
    You read minds or what???
    4000 minds- whew!! Voracious reader!!!

    Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
    Without her you would have never set out on the road.
    She has nothing more to give you….
    …And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
    I’ve got my answer that i’ve been struggling with for months!!
    What all Ithacas we set out for… and in what all ways we gain the way!!!

  2. Jim Atwellon 18 Jun 2009 at 9:07 am

    Ah the journey
    Songs I have sung of places long forgotten,
    Of dreams I have dreamt of desires of long ago.
    Of forms I have cherished in long forgotten times.
    Ah the journey of form in search of its mate.
    Love in search of Love.
    Intertwining Lovers in search of each other.
    Will they connect?
    Were they ever apart?
    Ah the Journey.
    I am with you forever.

    Much Love
    Jim Atwell