Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ithaka: It's all about the Journey

Life is about the journey, not the destination. Correct? The poem, Ithaka written by Constantine Petrou Cavafy in 1904, speaks to that idea. But it also was a theme in the novel Your Own Kind.

It is 1974. Alexandros is a young man who has left his rural Greek village to come to New York to work in his cousin’s restaurant. The restaurant is in East End, a small seaside village fifty miles from New York City—not exactly what Alexandros had expected when he heard he’d be going to New York. Sarah is from a small town in the mountains of New York State. She has moved to East End to escape the sins of her past. Of course, they fall in love—no surprise to the readers. But a difference in culture and tradition stands in their way, as Alexandros is betrothed to a girl back home and Sarah has a secret that would deter Alexandros regardless of the situation. Add to that, one son of Turkish immigrants—a love-sick adolescent, whose jealousy, thirst for revenge and misinterpretation of events set in motion a series of actions that lead to violence and heartbreak.  Maybe life would be easier if people would just stick with their own kind. But what does that actually mean? This book explores that theory. (From an interview with Janet Emson)

        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)

No comments:

Post a Comment