I meant to post this on National Poetry Day

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November 23, 2009 by Tracey S. Rosenberg

However, I was distracted by those pygmy goats.

This is one of my favorite poems ever ever in the whole world. I can’t remember when I first read it, but I wasn’t any older than seventeen, so of course it embedded itself in my feverish teenaged brain. And given how peripatetic I’ve been as an adult, it’s not surprising that I’ve been using it as a mental touchstone ever since. (Though it took me a long time to track down this particular translation, and unfortunately I still don’t know who translated it.)


Ithaka

When you set out for Ithaka
Ask that your way be long,
Full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
Angry Poseidon — do not fear them;
Such as these you will never find
As long as your thought is lofty,
As long as a rare emotion
Touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
Angry Poseidon — you will not meet them
Unless you carry them in your soul,
Unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long,
At many a summer dawn to enter —
With what gratitude, what joy!
Ports seen for the first time;
To stop at Phoenician trading centers,
And to buy good merchandise.
Mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
And sensuous perfumes of every kind.
Buy as many sensuous perfumes as you can,
Visit many Egyptian cities
To learn and learn from those who have knowledge.

Always keep Ithaka fixed in your mind;
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But do not in the least hurry the journey.
Better that it last for years
So that when you reach the island you are old,
Rich with all that you have gained on the way,
Not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka has given you the splendid voyage.
Without her you would never have set out,
But she has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka has not deceived you.
So wise have you become, of such experience,
That already you will have understood
What these Ithakas mean.

– C. P. Cavafy (1868-1933)

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Photo credit: Rahima Subhan

Tiny bio

I live, work, and write in Edinburgh. I travel to other places as much as I can. To contact me, email writingmostly at gmail dot com.

Books

CURRENTLY READING: The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo.

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