The Odyssey

2 posts

Funeral for a Poem

Sometimes you meet poems in the strangest ways. I still remember how I met C. P. Cavafy’s poem, “Ithaka.” It was in reading about Jaqueline Kennedy-Onasiss’s funeral. The poem was read at the service by her longtime companion, Maurice Tempelsman.

Some don’t know that Mrs. Kennedy was a great champion of poetry and even wrote her own (read “Sea Joy” in the photo above). Her daughter, Caroline, would grow up to be an admirer of the genre as well, helping to put together a collection that is now out of print but garners high marks on book review sites.

I’ve since explored a lot of Cavafy’s work, but nothing seems to strike me the way this poem does. Using Homer’s Odyssey, the extended metaphor works perfectly. We are all headed toward our own separate Ithakas, and none of us is terribly intent on arriving at our home port. This poem captures the essence of that thought. “If not the journey, what?” it seems to say.

Here it is, to cheer up your Wednesday. The translation is by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard from C. P. Cavafy/Collected Poems,(Princeton University Press, 1992):


ITHAKA by C.P. Cavafy

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.



Of Groundhogs, Super Bowls, and Sappho

Thank-God-It’s-Friday Musings…

  • It’s Groundhog Day! Only I wonder, is Groundhog Day only an American event? I suspect yes, though anyone in any nation can enjoy the movie, which is Buddhist in nature, though there’s not a monk or mantra in sight. If you haven’t seen it, do. If you have, see it again. And again. And again.
  • Issue Two of The Well Review (just rhymin’, folks), out of Ireland, just released this week and is available for purchase. Check this line-up of poets out! That’s right–that’s me in the alphabetical C’s, keeping company with Sappho (in the alphabetical S’s), Dorianne Laux, Gregory Orr, and Anne Carson. I always wanted to appear somewhere with Sappho, so I guess I can pluck that from my bucket list. As for you, I hope you click “Add to Cart” and enjoy the art (of poetry).
  • Let’s see. Sappho. Fragmentary poems. Themes of love. Isle of Lesbos. Yep. That’s all I’d be good for on  Jeopardy!
  • Just finished Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic. In it, Professor Daniel regales us with the story of his 80-something-old dad sitting in on one of  his Bard College classes on The Odyssey. It’s a memoir and an analysis of The Odyssey combined, but what strikes me is how different Homer’s epics are (read on).
  • How many witty sayings start with this line: “There are two kinds of people in the world…”? I’ll add one: “There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who love The Iliad and those who prefer The Odyssey. Which are you? Me, I’m an Odyssey guy. Unlike The Iliad, it moves. And unlike the The Iliad, it’s less violent. Uh. Until the massacre of the suitors, anyway, at which point a mini-Iliad breaks out in Ithaca.
  • There are two kinds of poetry lovers in the world: Those who love rhyming poems and those who don’t.
  • Foxes and hedgehogs.
  • Chocolate lovers and vanilla sorts.
  • Ginger and Mary Ann (Gilligan’s Island), Betty and Veronica (Archie comics).
  • Those who like “There are two kinds of…” statements, those who tire of them.
  • Ever have trouble when someone asks who your favorite poet is? Why is that such a task? Robert Frost is a safe bet, but many of the poetically-inclined abhor “safe.” It’s just not cool to like what a lot of other people like. Ask any hipster.
  • Super Bowl weekend! Another drinking holiday! (Oh, yeah. And some football.)
  • Which, as was true with Groundhog Day, leads one to wonder: Do any other countries really care?
  • Extension of favorite poet exercise: Who is the greatest poet of each country in the world? Making the list should take you until Valentine’s Day at least.
  • Ugh. Valentine’s Day. Why prove your love one day a year when you’re proving it the other 364 days a year? (By the way, that line does not work with my wife.)
  • Chocolates and flowers = overrated. I would add diamonds, but the ladies in the audience would laugh.
  • Have any Twitter people ever wanted to use the hashtag “Who Cares?” to about a million tweets they read? How about Facebook posts?  Thank God this blog isn’t on Twitter (#whocares) or Facebook (#whocares).
  • My pick for the Super Bowl? Being a Green Bay fan living in New England, I have no horse in the race. I’m also not the biggest fan of Tom Brady the Self-Marketer, though he’s earned his keep as Tom Brady the Quarterback. My pick is whoever wins. The over-under is a number. Take it to the bank and…
  • Happy Friday, friends.