April is (US) National Poetry Month and we head to Ithaka

April is nearly half gone but better a bit late than never.  Poetry is celebrated every April in the United States and I’ve joined in the fun every year since starting this blog.  Last year, I celebrated poetry month with 21 Days/21 Poems.  My celebration in 2010 was less structured; I just posted a poem whenever I fancied.  I shall do the same this year.  So there will several posts on poetry from today through to the end of April.  National (US) Poetry Month was established by the Academy of American Poets to  increase awareness and appreciation of poetry.

Last week, while at a meeting or on the road (I cannot remember where I was exactly), my mother called to inform me that she was watching a documentary on Al Jazeera about the history of the Greek community in Egypt.  Alexandria was mentioned.  The documentary quoted extensively from the poetry of C.P. Cavafy, who is one of my favorite poets.  Cavafy was born in Alexandria to Greek immigrant parents.  I’ve featured his poems, The City and God Abandons Antony, previously on this blog.  I’ve had Cavafy on my mind since my mother called.  Actually, I return to his poems a lot.

I often refer to Cavafy’s poetry as adorably harsh. His poems can be quite reassuring and comforting especially when living appears challenging or when life suddenly takes a nose dive.

Today’s poem, Ithaka, is one of his nine Homeric poems. Enjoy!

Ithaka

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.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

Source: The Official Website of the Cavafy Archive

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11 comments

  1. I love how Ithaka becomes plural in the last line. I didn’t know it was National Poetry Month in the US, but funnily enough have just started reading a book of poetry, which is unusual for me. It’s Edward Brathwaite’s The Arrivants. Liking it so far. Thanks for sharing the Cavafy poem, Kinna. Hope you’re doing well and not too too busy.

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  2. I do think ‘Ithaca’ is about life’s long journeys and the experiences we gain along the way, either making or marring us. Poseidon and Cyclops were/are all terrible to behold in their strength and anger and with such gods on the way, the journey would not be light. But with preseverance, we would get to the end of the journey the better and richer in wisdom and wealth, not cessarily physical.

    Great poem, Kinna. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Cavafy was the poet that most influenced the writing of Lawrence Durrell & through Durrell was how I discovered this wonderful poet.

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  4. On Ithaca Standing (Lawrence Durrell)

    Tread softly, for here you stand
    On miracle ground, boy.
    A breath would cloud this water of glass,
    Honey, bush, berry and swallow.
    This rock, then, is more pastoral than
    Arcadia is, Illyria was.

    Here the cold spring lilts on sand.
    The temperature of the toad
    Swallowing under a stone whispers: ‘Diamonds,
    Boy, diamonds, and juice of minerals!’
    Be a saint here, dig for foxes and water,
    Mere water springs in the bones of the hands.

    Turn from the hearth of the hero. Think:
    Other men have their emplems, I this:
    The heart’s dark anvil and the crucifix
    Are one, have hammered and shall hammer
    A nail of flesh, me to an island cross,
    Where the kestrel’s arrow falls only,
    The green sea licks.

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