Gazpachodragon Choice – Itaca by Constantine P Cavafy

Poetry Challenge 2013

Here at Leeds Book Club, we’re always looking for new poems and poets…well I say we…me mostly. 

This year, we’ve invited our friends from the blog and tweet sphere to share their favourite poems. 

Hope that you enjoy these!

* * * * *

@Gazpachodragon has chosen the following poem. Here’s why.
My poem is Ithaca by CP Cavafy (sometimes spelled Ithaka)
During my formative years, post break-up with my first serious boyfriend and when I was finding my feet in the world, I stumbled across Homer’s The Odyssey. Odysseus’ journey back to his family on Ithaca seemed insatiably romantic; more the stuff of pink-coloured paperbacks with swooning heroines on the cover than the ancient philosophical battle tomes I expected from the Classics. I saw a stage version of it (with a particularly dashing Odysseus, which may have helped), and I swooned as he battled monsters, spurned potential lovers and bargained with the Gods, all to get home to his wife, and his island home. Of course reading it now I see it’s not a Mills and Boon tale, and Odysseus is actually a bit of a cock who on his return back to his home that he loves so much promptly goes on a mass-murdering spree, but still the idea of someone battling *everything* to get back to what they love stayed with me.
Fast-forward a few years, and heartbroken once again (oh, how tragic our teenage years are), I was given a book of poetry that contained this poem. All of a sudden I saw the whole tale from the other side. Odysseus is off having lots of adventures and living it up with the immortals, whilst Ithaca, quiet, devoted Ithaca, sits in the ocean, glimpsing him as he gets *so* close before sweeping off again. An unrequited love that is reciprocated (what an idea), remaining firm whilst withstanding the seasons, remaining the same but everchanging. Expectations high, destiny set. Ithaka waits for you, and in turn, waits for nobody. It’s a beautiful and melancholy idea. I’ve since studied the poem with actual scholars, dissected every word, learned the original Greek for it; but still, each time I read it, my heart feels that pull of always being what you never wanted. Ithaca has given me a wonderful journey, and yet I still do not fully understand what these Ithacas mean.
Artemis Schwebel
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 centres,
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 learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better 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 a 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 hasn’t deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you’ll have understood what these Ithakas mean. 



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