Tag Archives: life’s about the journey not the destination

Inspirational Poetry 101: Ithaca by Constantine Cavafy

I was talking to a friend and brought up an allusion to a poem they were unfamiliar with: Ithaca, by Constantine Cavafy.

I’ve had a printout of this poem on my door at my parents’ house, probably since I was about thirteen years old. Every time I went into my room I saw it, every time I came out I saw it. I didn’t always read the whole thing. Sometimes my eye would just catch a line as I walked by. Other times I’d miss the oval-shaped paper cutout entirely, focusing on one of the other bits of paper I’d stuck up with blu-tack to give my door some personality.

When I was living in London, I remember my mom saying, as we talked about homesickness and missing each other, she’d read the poem on my door for the first time. I think she was suprised to see it there.

In this line of work called writing, payoffs are hard-won and oft-delayed. As I said to my friend, the best we, as authors, can hope for is that a) we’ve picked the right language to be born into or learn and b) X-thousand years after we die, somebody might read and be affected by our words.

At any rate, Ithaca is one of those poems that’s worked its way into the canon of my historic and literary references, so I wanted to share it with all of you. Below is the text of the translation of Ithaca from the Wikipedia page above. You can also check out this link for a reading in the original Greek (link also gakked from Wikipedia.) Written over 100 years ago.

ITHACA
By Constantine Cavafy

When you set sail for Ithaca,
wish for the road to be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
an angry Poseidon — do not fear.
You will never find such on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, and your spirit
and body are touched by a fine emotion.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
a savage Poseidon you will not encounter,
if you do not carry them within your spirit,
if your spirit does not place them before you.
Wish for the road to be long.
Many the summer mornings to be when
with what pleasure, what joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time.
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase the fine goods,
nacre and coral, amber and ebony,
and exquisite perfumes of all sorts,
the most delicate fragrances you can find.
To many Egyptian cities you must go,
to learn and learn from the cultivated.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better for it to last many years,
and when old to rest in the island,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to offer you wealth.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful journey.
Without her you would not have set out on the road.
Nothing more does she have 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 Ithacas mean.
Edit:
This has become one of the blog’s more popular posts: so much so that I decided to look for a photo to add to it. In addition to that, I came up with this video, which is a lovely reading and I encourage you to take a moment and watch it. This and many more of his poems are available to listen to here.

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