This morning I read a beautiful poem called ‘Ithaca’ by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy. Hereunder is the poem. I’ll let you form your own opinions of it first. At the end you will find my interpretation of the poem.
ITHACA – (The English Translation)
As you set out for Ithaca
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
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.
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 your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you’re seeing 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 learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
and this is the meaning of Ithaca.
Poet : Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis
The poem is reminiscent of Odysseus’ return home after the Trojan War. The real journey of his life I believe began after the Trojan War. Learning in the true sense of the term began only on his return after the war – when he tries to reassert himself as the king of Ithaca. However, we cannot disregard the effect his experiences during the war had on him. The ten years of war are probably what shaped him as a person and that is what Cavafy is celebrating in this poem –the significance of those experiences in each of our lives, those many experiences that make us who we really are.
Though this poem seems like a simple outpouring, I think Cavafy has carefully encapsulated a beautiful and profound message in its lines.
Ithaca is about facing fears and enjoying life for the things that are most important in shaping us as human beings. Experiences and the wisdom that is gained from them is what he propagates here.
Ithaca is an inspirational poem and I will use it as a reminder when I find myself in a comfort zones and I have doubts or fears about setting upon new ventures in life. The poem concentrates more on the journey – it is about our individual and personal journeys. About life itself. Our Lives. My life.
Ithaca is an emphasis on the journey rather than the moral issues about life that seem so often to weigh down on us. So enjoy every moment, treasure every experience and savor every memory– after all life is not just about the milestones. Life is also about those little defining moments that are as valuable and as important.