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Featured Poem: Ithaka by Constantine P. Cavafy

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 16th September 2013

This week's Featured Poem is an inspiring choice from poet Constantine P. Cavafy. Though born in Greece (in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople), Cavafy lived amongst a cosmopolitan family and even ended up in Liverpool for a period of time when his family's fortunes declined. As someone who had clearly known hard times in his life, it's heartening to read a poem that specifically asks that 'your way be long', celebrating the journey with all of its pitfalls and roadblocks rather than just celebrating arriving at a much heralded destination. Lots to consider this Monday morning.


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 centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean.

Constantine P. Cavafy

1 thought on “Featured Poem: Ithaka by Constantine P. Cavafy

R P Dutt says:

Whose translation, though?

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