I is for Ithaka

Killarney National Park on Bike The first time I heard C.P. Cavafy’s Ithaka was at my father’s memorial service. My mom chose it, as I recall, because it was a poem my father admired. It was fitting for the man he was, a man who viewed life as a journey, whose reward was the journey itself. That is one lesson he passed on to me (and one I’m still trying to learn).

I come back to this poem often. It reminds me of the kind person I want to be, the kind of journey I wish to take and how at this very moment I am already on the road.

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.

(Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard – Cavafy Archive)

Road to the Shore

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