Archive for the 'Ivan’s Story' Category

Jan 27 2010

The Celestial Drink & Alcohol

In the past I’ve had a few emails pointing out that the language of the Celestial Drink series raises warning flags for people who’ve struggled alcoholism. I have loved ones who are recovering alcoholics, so I understand how serious this question is.

In these Celestial Drink posts, I’ve affected the jovial language of wine and drinking, as do many of the poems we will look at. But I don’t want this to be misunderstood as encouraging alcoholic excess. I certainly don’t read these poems that way.

Actually, I personally don’t drink at all — and never have. I know that sounds bizarre to many people. I wasn’t raised in a strict religious family or anything. In fact, I am the child of hippies, and I was around my share of alcohol and other more interesting smelling substances in my early childhood.

/ Photo by jurvetson /

No, the decision to avoid drinking was a solitary one I made when I was thirteen-years-old. I’ve always loved words, and at that age I started thinking about the word “intoxication.” It hit me that getting drunk would, in fact, make my body “toxic.” So I decided then and there never to drink alcohol. A strange choice that made me something of an outsider throughout my teenage years, but it also taught me a lot about social patterns and behavior. When I was a young adult I discovered that alcoholism ran through my family, further reinforcing my abstinence.

If you want the full truth, I’ll admit that I have tasted wine, beer, champagne, and vodka, each once, and just a sip or two each. I wanted to see what they tasted like. My version of, “I didn’t inhale.” 😉

Neither drinking nor abstinence has anything to do with the Celestial Drink, however. The “wine” we are talking about in this series isn’t wine, and the mystic’s drunkenness is not intoxication.

I sincerely apologize if this series upsets anyone — that is not my intention. But the theme is a foundational one in sacred poetry. I hope that the boisterous language comes through without being weighed down by its literal meaning.

With the Celestial Drink you can be entirely sober and giddy at the same time!

One response so far

Jan 27 2010

The Celestial Drink 1: Introduction

Wine, amrita, ambrosia, dew, tea, elixir, honey, virgin’s milk… References to a secret or forbidden drink appears in the writings and songs of initiates throughout the world. It is a drink that imparts wisdom, inspiration, prophecy, divine madness, and bliss. It is the sign of divine union between lover and the Beloved, the mystic’s marriage wine. But what is this celestial drink really? Why does it appear in sacred writings all over the world?

Let’s explore those questions in this Celestial Drink series…

As I was considering how to begin our exploration of the Celestial Drink, it occurred to me that I needed to find a way to convey that we are not talking about actual wine …or tea or honey or any other physical drink. At the same time, this subtle drink is not merely a metaphor. It is real, and available to everyone.

As long as the discussion remains safely in the intellect, the taste of wine never touches our lips — and who wants somber sobriety when the wine pours so freely?

/ Photo by Jsome1 /

Academics and literary critics are better equipped than I to give you a standard history of how wine and drink images are used in the great writings of the world. Instead, let’s you and I speak in shared whispers, as mystics, passing the cup quietly between us. Let us share the true taste and not simply the description…

Omar Khayyam, Omar Khayyam poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Omar Khayyam

Iran/Per (11th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

You know, my Friends, how long since in my House
For a new Marriage I did make Carouse:
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.

For “Is” and “Is-not” though with Rule and Line,
And “Up-and-down” without, I could define,
I yet in all I only cared to know,
Was never deep in anything but — Wine.

And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came stealing through the Dusk an Angel Shape
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and ’twas — the Grape!

The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice
Life’s leaden Metal into Gold transmute.

– Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1131)

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Illustrated Edition)
by Omar Khayyam / Translated by Edward FitzGerald

The language of a sacred drink, a secret drink that imparts wisdom and bliss appears in the writings and songs of initiates throughout the world — wine, amrita, ambrosia, dew, tea, elixir, virgin’s milk. But what are these really? Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Dec 18 2009

Yamei – In one shrill cry

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

In one shrill cry
by Yamei

English version by R. H. Blyth

In one shrill cry
the pheasant has swallowed
the broad field.

— from Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, by R. H. Blyth

/ Photo by TheLizardQueen /

I’ll say it now, this poem by Yamei is one of my favorite examples of haiku. Now I suppose you want me to explain why. Well, uh, hmm…

I lived for several years in Hawaii, on the island of Maui. It’s a largely rural island, and I lived “upcountry” where you’ll find lots of hilly fields and cow pastures. I’d drive my car through the winding country roads of Maui, and every once in a while I’d catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a burst of color — a pheasant startled from its hiding place. It’s ascent was always full of effort, churning earthen wings pushing its sunburst bright head aloft. But then, landing a few yards away, its dignity restored, breast out, watchful eye upon the yellowing sea of grass, the pheasant left no doubt as to who ruled that quiet field. One shrill cry confirmed it.

This haiku reminds me of those island moments.

And something about the way Yamei describes the cry as “swallowing” the broad field. You can almost hear the sharp sound hanging over the field’s dewy silence, defining the space. It is a wild cry, an assertion of self, an assertion of being and improbable lordship, Whitman’s “barbaric yawp.” It’s as if the pheasant’s cry casts out a net that draws in its whole world, making it his, making it a part of himself. That call creates union.

That “one shrill cry,” it wants to burst from your breast too. Let it loose. See what it draws into you.


Japan (17th Century) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Yamei

4 responses so far

Dec 14 2009

Holiday Greetings – and Thank You

Published by under Ivan's Story

As many of you know, this has been a challenging year for me. My father died late last year. Then my mother died this past October. And just recently my wife badly broke her wrist, requiring surgery.

But I want to say that you, the entire Poetry Chaikhana community, have meant so much to me through it all. Your warm-hearted notes, your prayers and supportive thoughts, have touched me deeply. So I want to sincerely thank you, and wish you all a new year filled with joy, unexpected blessings, growth-producing challenges, renewed life, and new possibilities!

Please check out this beautiful ecard I am sending to you. I hope it inspires and brings a sense of peace…

16 responses so far

Dec 06 2009

Book Recommendation: For Lovers of God Everywhere

Published by under Books,Ivan's Story

I’ve been eager to mention this book on the Poetry Chaikhana since it was published at the beginning of November, but life has felt so full in recent months that I just haven’t gotten to it… until now.

For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics
by Roger Housden

For Lovers of God Everywhere has quickly become one of my favorite collections of sacred poetry within the many Christian traditions.

Surprisingly, I haven’t found many good collections of the poetry of Christian mystics, until this book. Certainly, there are many books focusing on the writings of individual poets and saints, but not much is available covering the many voices throughout the history of inspired Christian seeking. While this book is short, inviting one to open to any page at random, it still gives a nice flavor of many of the important Christian sacred poets: John of the Cross, Thomas Merton, Hildegard von Bingen, Kahlil Gibran, Dante, Angelus Silesius, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Meister Eckhart, William Blake… and Roger Housden’s brief, thoughtful insights. Another excellent book by the editor of Ten Poems to Change Your Life, Ten Poems to Open Your Heart, and Ten Poems to Set You Free.

And I’m pleased to be able to point to some of my own work in this book, my translation of “The Sum of Perfection” by John of the Cross.

Excerpt from the book:

The Sum of Perfection

Creation forgotten,
Creator only known,
Attention turned inward,
In love with the Beloved alone.

— Saint John of the Cross
(translation by Ivan M. Granger)

Love for John of the Cross is an interior condition of union, with no external object of reference in either the world or in the mind. All attachment to the things and thoughts of this world has fallen away. Imageless, wordless, there is nothing to say, nowhere to go and nothing to do when such a blessedness descends. This poem has all the brevity, clarity, and completeness of a Japanese haiku (though not the exact form of seventeen syllables in three lines) used by Zen practitioner-poets on the other side of the world to deliver their own pity wisdom. It’s chant-like quality is more apparent in the original Spanish:

Olvido de lo criado,
memoria del Criador,
atencion a lo interior
y estarse amando al Amado.

One response so far

Dec 02 2009

My wife is healing…

Published by under Ivan's Story

Thank you for the emails wishing my wife well. Her surgery yesterday went well, and she is recovering. She now has a small metal plate in her wrist to make sure the bones reform and heal properly. She now claims that she is the bionic woman… but I already knew she had super powers!

2 responses so far

Nov 29 2009

Wheelchairs, Wrist Injuries, and New Awareness

Published by under Ivan's Story

When I was in my first year of college, I spent a day in a wheelchair. I wasn’t injured. I just wanted to do it, as an awareness exercise. Not for some class assignment. I wanted to get a better sense of how people in wheelchairs relate to their environment. Making my way across the University of Southern California campus was no easy feat. Trying to find ramps hidden around the back of buildings. Elevators that existed only at the other end of a hallway Asking strangers to open doors I couldn’t quite tug open. The simplest things became difficult puzzles. And my arms were exhausted by the end of the day. But I highly recommend it. It will change your relationship to the world around you.

Well, unfortunately, my wife is going through her own version of an awareness exercise, but not by choice, and with significant discomfort. Early last week, my wife fell and broke her wrist. (That’s why the poetry emails stopped without notice.) When we haven’t been sitting in doctors’ offices, I’ve been helping her with all the little things two-handed people take for granted: carrying things from room to room, fastening buttons, opening food containers… She goes through surgery Tuesday, more time in a cast, but over a few weeks she’ll get normal use of her hand back.

I better check on her again, see if she needs another ice pack…

Wishing you all lots of love, and safe footing!

No responses yet

Nov 11 2009

EATP Interview with Ivan M. Granger

Poetry Chaikhana readers often ask me about myself. Who is the guy behind all those poetry emails? What drew you to sacred poetry? And just what does “Poetry Chaikhana” mean?

Ivan M. Granger, Ivan Granger

As a way to answer some of those questions, I thought I’d post an audio interview I did a couple of years ago with the Ecstatic Art and Theater Project ( I talk a little about myself, and a lot about poetry — the transformational power of poetry, the ways poetry naturally expresses the sacred experience, the non-dogmatic nature of poetry. And I read a few poems.

I hope you find it inspiring and thought-provoking…

Click to listen: EATP Interview with Ivan M. Granger

2 responses so far

Oct 26 2009

A story about my mother’s passing

I am back, but shaking off a tenacious case of the flu.

I’ve received so many kind-hearted, compassionate emails, blog comments, and posts on my Facebook page about my mother. I want to thank you all. I’ve been deeply touched.

…My mother died recently. I was able to spend some good time with her at her bedside. Her final week was difficult, and it was clear that, at that point, her passing was the right thing, a release from her discomfort. The complexities of American medical bureaucracy, added to some strange family politics didn’t give me much chance to grieve initially, but now that I’m settling into my normal life rhythms again the natural feelings of loss are coming forth. Even though most of my adult life I’ve lived at some distance from my mother, she has always been a close friend and source of inspiration. We shared the bond of a solitary child raised by a single mother, so her passing is certainly affecting me.

One thing that people often assume is that when a loved one dies, that the relationship is somehow over. Even people who have a belief in an afterlife tend to react this way, at least on an emotional level. My personal perspective is that the relationship continues; it just changes.

I’ll tell you a story about my mother’s death.

My mother died just past midnight, on Saturday, October 10. Much later that afternoon, my wife, Michele, and I went for a walk in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach, California, where my mother grew up. We were naturally exhausted, a little stunned, not talking much, just quietly walking side-by-side. It was not quite dusk.

Suddenly I stopped and grabbed Michele’s arm. She looked at me and I pointed to the sidewalk in front of us. There, slowly crossing the sidewalk just in front of us, was a huge, green scarab beetle! It was a shimmering, iridescent green, like a walking jewel, a truly beautiful creature. Now I grew up in southern California myself, and I’d never seen a scarab beetle before. I didn’t even know they lived in the region. But here one was, patiently walking across the sidewalk in front of us.

My mother had a deep love for the culture and spiritual traditions of ancient Egypt. Her trip to Egypt, to stand before the pyramids and stone temples, was one of the great moments of her life. Books of Egypt filled her shelves, Egyptian papyrus paintings hung upon her bedroom wall. And a crucial detail: Scarabs are an important symbol of ancient Egypt… often associated with eternal life and rebirth.

My wife and I glanced at each other wide eyed, and knelt to watch the scarab finish her trek across the sidewalk and finally disappear into the grass at the sidewalk’s edge.

You can choose to read that event how you wish, but it felt like a loving affirmation at a powerful moment.


Because I’m still shaking off this flu, I won’t be resuming work on the Poetry Chaikhana for another week. Check back next Monday.

Lots of love to you all!


54 responses so far

Oct 05 2009

Poetry Chaikhana on hold so I can be with my mother

Earlier today I received word that my mother has slipped into a coma and she is expected to pass within a few days. I’m traveling to Los Angeles to be with her right now.

So, naturally, the Poetry Chaikhana will be on hold for a couple weeks or so.

Blessings and love to you all.

A note posted to my Facebook page–

Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the light because the dawn has come. – Rabindranath Tagore

6 responses so far

Aug 26 2009

Lalla – Intense cold makes water ice

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Intense cold makes water ice
by Lalla (Lal Ded)

English version by Coleman Barks

Intense cold makes water ice.
Then the hard ice turns to slush
and back to water, so there are three
forms of consciousness: the individual,
the world, and God, which in the sun
of True Awareness melt to one flowing:

Lalla is that.

In meditation, I entered the love furnace,
burned impurities away, and as the sun
of a new knowing rose, I realized
that the words “Lalla” and “God”
point to this peacefulness.

— from Naked Song, by Lalla / Translated by Coleman Barks

/ Photo by net_efekt /

I spent most of my growing up years in Los Angeles — endless city, and no winters. I remember the one time as a child when the temperature dropped down to 30 degrees, and I implored the weather gods for snow. But it was not to be. It was Southern California, after all. A little more bundled than usual, I still had to go to school.

So when I moved to Colorado as an adult, you can imagine my sense of wonder at the snow each winter. In fact, I lived in some places up in the mountains where the snow would build up until it literally covered part of the ground floor windows. One more reminder for me that, no matter how much we humans construct our own environments, we are still residents within the world of nature, and that natural world is immense, stunningly beautiful, and ignored at our own peril…

Intense cold makes water ice.
Then the hard ice turns to slush
and back to water…

Lalla is giving us a simple spiritual metaphor, but although the intellect can quickly comprehend what she is saying, it’s important not to rush past it. Sit with the metaphor for a bit, let the imagery and meaning ferment quietly in your mind.

Water becomes solid ice when it is cold enough. It becomes almost rock-like: impenetrable, graspable, tangible… an unavoidable ‘thing.’ With a little bit of warmth, it starts to melt and becomes a slushy mixture of states, in some ways still seemingly solid, yet a hand can pass through it. When it has fully yielded to the warmth, it is liquid again, fluid, ungraspable, less a ‘thing’ and more of a filling of space.

Even so, all are the same substance: water. There has been no essential change other than the form perceived by the witness; it is a continuum that only appears different.

…so there are three
forms of consciousness: the individual,
the world, and God, which in the sun
of True Awareness melt to one flowing

And Lalla is reminding us that the individual and God are the same, separate only in apparent form, but in essence it is all one continuum of consciousness. The individual, the world, and God, when seen clearly in the warming sunlight of True Awareness are seen to “melt to one flowing.”

Lalla is that.

Her insight: In that instant of true seeing, we cease to identify ourselves as the individual or ego, and instead recognize ourselves as “that” — the flowing that moves through the entire spectrum of existence.

I realized
that the words “Lalla” and “God”
point to this peacefulness.

Reread those last lines, but insert your own name for Lalla’s.

Have a beautiful day!

Lalla (Lal Ded), Lalla (Lal Ded) poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Lalla (Lal Ded)

India (14th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Aug 07 2009

Two Week Hiatus

Published by under Ivan's Story

Today’s poem will be the last one I post for a couple of weeks. I will be taking this time off to spend with my ailing mother.

Lots of love to everyone !

2 responses so far

Aug 05 2009

Pima – The Creation of the Earth

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The Creation of the Earth
by Pima (Anonymous)

English version by Frank Russell

Earth Magician shapes the world.
      Behold what he can do!
Round and smooth he molds it.
      Behold what he can do!
Earth Magician makes the mountains.
      Heed what he has to say!
He it is that makes the mesas.
      Heed what he has to say.
Earth Magician shapes the world;
      Earth Magician makes its mountains;
Makes all larger, larger, larger.
      Into the earth the Magician glances,
Into its mountains he may see.

— from The Sky Clears: Poetry of the American Indians, Edited by A. Grove Day

/ Photo by LifeHouseDesign /

My college years in the late 1980s were a time of searching and confusion for me. I attended three different universities in three years, with as many majors, before I dropped out of school and bumped through jobs and life until somehow I stumbled my way into adulthood.

I mention this because one of the schools I attended briefly was the University of Arizona. And while there I first became aware of the Pima people of Arizona…

Something about this shamanic chant is really striking to me.

Earth Magician shapes the world.
Behold what he can do!

“Earth Magician” sounds so tangible, like the name of a person. Yet this “person” is the shaper of the world, the maker of mountains and mesas. The formation of the world, it is an act of magic! It is an act of power and wonderment!

This song is really an invitation to truly see the majesty of creation, the vast natural world that is our home. Seeing the beauty and immensity of the earth, we can’t help but be reminded of that which shaped it, the formless “magician” that gave form. The natural world is always telling us — Behold!

And my favorite lines —

Into the earth the Magician glances,
Into its mountains he may see.

Notice that this great Magician isn’t looking at the creation; no, he is looking “into” it. He sees into the earth and into the mountains. For this Magician, the apparently tangible world is not a realm of solidity and impenetrable surfaces. That doesn’t seem to be what interests him. His sight seems to flow effortlessly into the heart of all things, and that seems to be the only reality that draws his glance.

Pima (Anonymous)

US (18th Century) Timeline
Primal/Tribal/Shamanic : American Indian

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Jul 08 2009

John of the Cross – The Sum of Perfection

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The Sum of Perfection
by John of the Cross

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Creation forgotten,
Creator only known,
Attention turned inward
In love with the Beloved alone.

— from For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, by Roger Housden

/ Photo by bran.deann. /

Where else is the mystic path stated so succinctly yet so blissfully? These four lines by St. John of the Cross contain all the instructions necessary.

“Creation forgotten… Attention turned inward” To forget creation is the heart of self-restraint and concentration. Instead, the awareness turns inward, the senses are withdrawn. St. John of the Cross is reminding us to drop all attachment to the constant activity and sensory input of phenomenal reality, of manifest creation.

Doing this, creation is seen as having no fundamental reality of its own; it is only an expression or emanation of God. It is like watching a movie. The movie may seem real while we are caught up in the story, but if we pause, look around the auditorium, we can see that the movie is actually streaming through the darkness in a funnel of light. It’s source is really the projector.

“Creator only known.” Remembering this on every level, one is only aware of the Creator. Creation itself then becomes simply a reflection of the Divine. Knowing only the Creator, the Divine fills all of perception — that is true meditation.

Seeing through the insubstantial nature of mundane reality, one is filled with ecstatic, uncontainable love and bliss. This is not a surface happiness directed at exterior objects or people, but for all of creation and, more fundamentally, for the life that brings that creation into existence. “In love with the Beloved alone.”

The original Spanish verse has a fluid, chant-like rhythm that’s difficult to reproduce in English translation:

Olvido de lo criado,
memoria del Criador,
atencion a lo interior
y estarse amando al Amado.

PS – Check for my translation of this poem in For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, edited by Roger Housden (due out in November 2009). Roger Housden’s contemplative collections of poetry are always worth reading.

John of the Cross, John of the Cross poetry, Christian poetry John of the Cross

Spain (1542 – 1591) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

More poetry by John of the Cross

2 responses so far

Jul 01 2009

Pablo Neruda – Too Many Names

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Too Many Names
by Pablo Neruda

English version by Anthony Kerrigan

Mondays are meshed with Tuesdays
and the week with the whole year.
Time cannot be cut
with your weary scissors,
and all the names of the day
are washed out by the waters of night.

No one can claim the name of Pedro,
nobody is Rosa or Maria,
all of us are dust or sand,
all of us are rain under rain.
They have spoken to me of Venezuelas,
of Chiles and of Paraguays;
I have no idea what they are saying.
I know only the skin of the earth
and I know it is without a name.

When I lived amongst the roots
they pleased me more than flowers did,
and when I spoke to a stone
it rang like a bell.

It is so long, the spring
which goes on all winter.
Time lost its shoes.
A year is four centuries.

When I sleep every night,
what am I called or not called?
And when I wake, who am I
if I was not while I slept?

This means to say that scarcely
have we landed into life
than we come as if new-born;
let us not fill our mouths
with so many faltering names,
with so many sad formalities,
with so many pompous letters,
with so much of yours and mine,
with so much of signing of papers.

I have a mind to confuse things,
unite them, bring them to birth,
mix them up, undress them,
until the light of the world
has the oneness of the ocean,
a generous, vast wholeness,
a crepitant fragrance.

— from Neruda: Selected Poems, by Pablo Neruda / Translated by Anthony Kerrigan

/ Photo by Swami Stream /

I just received word that my mother is in the hospital with brain cancer. Still a lot of questions about how she’s doing and what the next step is for her in her treatment.

Today I dedicate this poem to my mother, Jan.

…until the light of the world
has the oneness of the ocean,
a generous, vast wholeness…

Pablo Neruda, Pablo Neruda poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Pablo Neruda

Chile (1904 – 1973) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Pablo Neruda

10 responses so far

Jun 17 2009

Constantine P. Cavafy – Ithaca

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

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

Egypt (1863 – 1933) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Constantine P. Cavafy

2 responses so far

Jun 08 2009

Under Suspicion

Published by under Ivan's Story

/ Photo by Jason Clapp (CLAPP Photography) /

When I was 21 I was briefly under suspicion in a murder investigation.

At the time I managed a sandwich stand on the downtown mall in Eugene, Oregon. Business was slow that afternoon, as it often was, and I was sitting in the portable booth writing. I looked up and saw a man in a gray suit standing at the order window, so I set my pen and paper aside and asked if I could help him. He flipped open his wallet and flashed a badge, saying he was an investigator with the Eugene Police Department. That got a stunned silence from me. I heard a noise behind me, so I turned around. A second plain clothes policeman was standing at the back of my little sandwich stand blocking the back door, presumably in case I decided to bolt.

I think I just repeated my question, “Uh, what can I do for you?”

The first police officer asked me if I had been in Ohio in the last year. No, never.

He asked several other questions about my activities in the past year, where I had lived, how long I had been in Oregon. Not knowing what was going on, I was doing my best to answer his questions.

Just then a customer walked up. Glad for any interruption, I asked the policeman if I could serve the customer. He studied me for a moment, then nodded. I took the customer’s order, made his sandwich, occasionally glancing back at the second police officer who was watching me carefully from the back of the booth.

When the customer paid and left, the first police officer handed me an enlarged copy of an Ohio drivers license and he asked me point blank if that was me.

I again said, no, I’d never been to Ohio.

He tapped on the person’s photo and said, “You have to admit, he does look a lot like you.” Continue Reading »

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