At the library tonight, I noticed on the new book shelf a new translation of C. P. Cavafy’s poetry (by Aliki Barnstone). The only Cavafy poem I’ve read is Ithaka, so I brought the volume home.
I read Ithaka when I was 15 or 16. The trip leader for my summer program gave it to me at the end of the trip, and I was incredibly flattered. (I don’t remember her name. The only person whose name I can remember from the trip is the really annoying girl who always wanted to be my buddy, probably because I was one of the only people in the group who wasn’t overtly mean to her.) So the poem is inextricably linked for me to that summer.
As you set out on the journey to Ithaka,
wish that the way be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
Don’t be afraid of Laistrygonians, the Cyclops.
angry Poseidon, you’ll never find them on your way
if your thought stays exalted, if a rare
emotion touches your spirit and body.
You won’t meet the Laistrygonians
and the Cyclops and wild Poseidon
if you don’t bear them along in your soul,
if your soul doesn’t raise them before you.
Wish that the way be long.
May there be many summer mornings
when with such pleasure, such joy
you enter ports seen for the first time;
may you stop in Phoenician emporia
to buy fine merchandise,
mother-of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and every kind of sensual perfume,
buy abundand sensual perfumes, as many as you can.
Travel to many Egyptian cities
to learn and learn from their scholars.
Always keep Ithaka in your mind.
Arriving there is your destination.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts many years,
andy you moor on the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained along the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the beautiful journey.
Without her you would not have set out on your way.
She has no more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka did not betray you.
With all your wisdom, all your experience,
you understand by now what Ithakas mean.
–C.P. Cavafy, translated by Aliki Barnstone
(No book review this week — I’m in the middle of several different things.)