Alexandros had been a brooding adolescent when the schoolmaster gave the older students that book of poems as a gift. There were only four of them in his grade--all boys, but he was the one Mr. Thaskalos chided to stop waiting for life to happen. "Look around you Alexandros! This is life. Live it." But at fifteen, Alexandros had thought he knew more. He needed to go somewhere, do something. But what? His restlessness had blinded him. With the other boys, he'd made fun of the poetry book. What were they to do with it? It was no use to them when hunting or herding.
But the village boredom that inevitably creeps into the young inhabitants of the mountain led him to the book one snowy afternoon and as Alexandros read it, he was surprised to be moved by mere words. He memorized certain poems--Ithaka was the first--appealing to a young boy because it spoke of Odysseus, hero of the Trojan War. He traced over those same words over and over again until he found himself reciting them inside his head while herding the goats or cutting wood. But it was in this place with this American girl, where the message of the poet became as clear as mountain spring water.
There he was on an island in America, a jetty of sand sticking into the Atlantic Ocean, six thousand miles from home, and he'd found it--the spirit that stirred him--Sarah. The wall between them, the letter from home, his Laistrygonians, his Cyclops, his Poseidon--it was he who set the monster between them. Suddenly the letter lost it's power.
Below is the poem in video form or written form. Enjoy!
|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)|
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