Daily Archives: January 7th, 2015

Ithaka

January 7th, 2015 Posted by Lexicon, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Ithaka”

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When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher presented us with a poem titled Ithaka. We read it at the beginning of the year, during the dreaded “Poetry Unit.” At least, I dreaded the poetry unit. I wished I was into poetry. But mostly, I’m not. Oh, I love myself some Emerson as much as the next. But some of the poems my teacher would pick made me want to stab my eyes out with my BIC mechanical pencil.

So when he handed out this poem Ithaka, I was less than enthused. Great, I thought, another poem filled with weird language from a guy I’ve never heard of.

But then I read it.

And this poem has stuck with me ever since.

I think about it from time to time. I even kept that Xeroxed copy of it in my file drawer.

I thought about this poem again recently. And what Ithaka is to me, right now. When I was in high school, Ithaka was college, specifically U.Va. I did not hope the journey was long. I wanted a short journey out of my high school and into college, into what I thought would be a magical experience (spoiler: it wasn’t.).

Now? Now I see what Cavafy is saying. And I pray the journey is long. Really long.

For your reading pleasure, Ithaka by C.P. Cavafy

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.

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