mitchellirons

rough notes

Cavafy, Ithaka

with one comment

I’ve been sorting, weeding, and disposing of old files, essays, records and paperwork this December.

Every now and again, I encounter something that left a mark at a certain time. This here is a scanned image of Constantine Cavafy’s poem, “Ithaka” (Keeley and Wheeler, trans., 1960). I read it in a cross-listed English/Classics class simply called “The Epic”. It was a 24-week journey through Homer, Virgil, with a smattering of Dante and Milton. Toward the end of the term, our prof, a kindly old Greek scholar, handed out this piece of paper and read it aloud to us. I don’t know if Nikki Hare would write poetry, but certainly no one could read it as well as she. Hare understood not only the power of rthym and cadence, but also of volume and voice. If you do bother to read this, then please read it aloud. Not under your breath. Read it as if you were presenting it to someone. That’s how all poetry should work.

(And yes, I’m sure I’m going against certain ethical principles by posting this. But I do it of the sake of art. And the children. Think of the children.)
Ithaka, by C.P. Cavafy (1911)

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,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learnéd.
Have Ithaka always 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 you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.

Ithaka gave you the 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 has not deceived you.
So wise have you become, of such experience,
that already you will have understood what these Ithakas mean.

ithaka

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Written by mitchellirons

January 2, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Posted in blog

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One Response

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  1. I’m going to save this for Petey.

    JWG

    January 3, 2009 at 5:52 pm


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