Reading Ithaca on the closing day of 2012

Sometimes a poem will take a lifetime to arrive.
And when it finally comes, you may wonder why it took so long, for you might have done better, in your journey through life, having had it with you sooner.
Carmel Rickard recently brought me ‘Ithaca’. In a candlelit room, with red wine and a meal ready to be blessed and eaten, the conversation quietly turned to this poem.

I recite it aloud now, on this closing day of 2012, sensing the words fill the thermals and spiral down upon the city.




Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933)
Translated from the Greek 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 in 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 Ithacas mean.



Photograph by Don Pinnock

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