Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ithaca Has Given Me the Beautiful Voyage

I met a Columbian in Cambodia.

A jovial man, the type of man who ends up in the middle of everything, he was convincing people on the street to eat at the restaurant where he sat.  Why?  Why not.  There was free popcorn, and this was amusing.

He found out that I was from Ithaca, not the Greek Ithaca.  He asked if I knew the famous poem about the place--the Greek Ithaca, that is.  I did not.

He sent it to me later that week.  Now I carry a copy with me always, in my mind.

I'm going back to Ithaca, my adopted hometown, though just for a visit.  I loved Ithaca--still do--but this isn't the time to drop my anchor in her port for very long.  I wonder what has changed since I left.  I know I have.  I'll go back someday, but that's not the point:  by the time I finally settle down, I don't think where I settle down will matter much.

Read this poem.  Read it slowly.  Enjoy it.  Remember it.  May your journey, not your destination, provide your riches.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not already carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise, mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds, as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithaca means.

No comments:

Post a Comment