Feb 06 2018

Constantine P. Cavafy – Ithaca

Published by at 10:52 am under Poetry

Ithaca
by Constantine P. Cavafy

English version by George Barbanis

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.


/ Image by makithaca /

A little motivation to take down that old copy of Homer’s 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.

In the Odyssey, the hero Odysseus was returning home from the Trojan War to his island kingdom of Ithaca, but conflicts with gods and monsters and weather kept leading him off course into new adventures. It took him twenty years to finally return home!

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

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 disparage 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 our 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.


Recommended Books: Constantine P. Cavafy

C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems The Complete Poems of Cavafy: Expanded Edition Cavafy’s Alexandria Cavafy: A Biography


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

Egypt (1863 – 1933) Timeline
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More poetry by Constantine P. Cavafy

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Constantine P. Cavafy – Ithaca”

  1. Olga T.on 06 Feb 2018 at 1:36 pm

    An enviable journey back.
    Most of us are still in Troy…

  2. Annaon 07 Feb 2018 at 7:53 am

    This beautiful poem reminded me
    about the ancient Greek aphorism

    “Know thyself.

    “Know Thyself” was written on the forecourt
    of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

    Legend tells that the seven sages
    of ancient Greece, philosophers,
    statesmen and law-givers,
    who laid the foundation for western culture,
    gathered in Delphi to inscribe
    “know thyself”
    t the entry to its sacred oracle.

    Could we really Know Thyself with its all
    like onion layers,
    connected deeply
    with our linear, finite, duality mind?

    Thyself is infinite.
    It cannot be defined.
    To know it, is to know its shadow.
    For that which is truly us cannot be known,
    because knowing is facilitated by the mind,
    and the mind cannot comprehend this pre-quantum presence.

    ….and yet

    As the phrase was later expounded upon
    by the philosopher Socrates who taught that:

    “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

    Ithaca has given us an idea
    of a beautiful examination…

    Thank you, Ivan.

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