My Journey to Ithaka

I nearly gave up blogging today, not for the first time these last few weeks. After writing a comment on someone else’s blog, I made a coffee and was led to this poem in a book of Greek poetry my best friend Kostas gave me, a few days after we first met. Neither of us knew then that the thoughts and wishes in this poem would be the message he would leave me as a legacy when he died a decade later. Kostas never let me  – never lets me – give up on anything without exploring it fully; this is his way of telling me I’m on track. I’m just having one of those days when I wish I could be having this conversation with him in our favourite seafront café.

Ithaka

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.

(From C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems: Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992. As a professional translator from Greek into English, this is one of the best translations I’ve come across. If you want to see the original Greek too, I’d recommend The Collected Poems: with parallel Greek text (Oxford World’s Classics))

17 thoughts on “My Journey to Ithaka

  1. This touched my soul. Why do I feel that I have read this before?
    Thank you.

    “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.”

    Chania Girl´s last blog post..The Beginning of Happiness

  2. You’re welcome.

    It’s been used my many folk over the years and appeared in lots of books. Sarah Ban Breathnach used her own version of it in one of hers – can’t remember offhand if it was Simple Abundance or Romancing the Ordinary. I think Jackie Kennedy used it in a speech, too.

  3. As I was saying to Chania Girl, I’ve known this poem for years, seen it in dozens of places, but today was the first time I’d read it in this blogging/writing phase of my journey through life. It took my breath away too, moved me in a different way today. Like the Desiderata I mentioned in a previous post, it’s one of those pieces that guides me differently every time I read it. I spent the rest of the day seeing other people’s blogs as visiting “Egyptian cities” gathering “stores of knowledge from their scholars”. I also felt like Kostas was urging me to stick my head back in the hyacinths again and go out and smell the jasmine at my back door.

    “sensual perfume of every kind-
    as many sensual perfumes as you can”

    He knew I was addicted to fragrance and used to laugh at me as we walked along because I was always stopping to sniff honeysuckle and jasmine and a bush/tree called angeliki.

  4. Hi Janice,

    What a beautiful poem and so powerful in its message. Life is definitely an interesting journey. That is the feeling I had from reading it and the imagery was so beautiful.

    People come in and out of our lives but yet they each have a purpose. Seems like your best friend Kostas has a special purpose and that is a great for he is always with you. 🙂

    Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog post..The Thing About Passion

  5. “…wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
    not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.”

    Wow, how did I miss this one somehow. Wonderful, inspirational, TRUE, and so very wise. Thank you Janice. I have some reading to catch up on now.

    Diana Maus´s last blog post..One enchanted evening

  6. Strange…this poem made me homesick for a place I’ve never been. It left me with feelings of nostalgia and yearning. I had never heard the poem before and was struck by its meandering as it went faster, then slowed, faster, then slowed again.

    And what’s this about almost giving up blogging? You add too much to blogopolis to leave it hanging like that, Missy. You’re not going anywhere. (I’m using my forceful tactic here, hoping it will scare you into never thinking about quitting blogging again. ) 🙂

    Randi´s last blog post..Sign My Guestbook!

  7. @Diana,
    You’re very welcome. Knowing it’s reached some people for the first time has made me happy.

    @Randi,
    I know that feeling you’re describing. I sometimes used to get it at the end of working trips in Greece or holidays there, knowing I’d be leaving soon and never going back; even if I’d physically go back, I knew the places and people would never be the same. The Greeks call it kaimós (rhyming with sky – moss). Its like a hunger and a pain of the soul, a longing and a yearning. The Portuguese call it ‘saudades’.

    @Marc & Randi,
    That poem kept me on track yesterday. I have blogging dips, wondering if I’m achieving anything through my blog that I couldn’t do just as well by visiting other blogs and commenting, emailing folk and writing my monthly articles. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to re-invent the wheel; other times like I’m being totally narcissistic by sharing so much of myself here and in folks’ comment boxes, no matter how altruistic my motives are.

    Most of the dips are caused by tiredness or disappointment in others – which is my own fault because I have ridiculous expectations; I sometimes blur the lines between cyber-buddies and friends. I guess it all comes from being new to blogging.

    Twitter often leaves me feeling left out too. I haven’t joined because I really don’t have time to get totally involved in it like you need to to enjoy the benefits, but when other people have widgets that show all the twitter conversations they’ve been having, or their blog comments refer to twitter in-jokes, it can feel like all the popular kids are hanging out in another part of the playground. That’s why I love these comments boxes. I feel at home here and try to make other people feel that way too. I’ve accepted it’s a quality not quantity place, and that’s fine.

    And yes, I know. I need to grow up, get over myself and take things less personally. 😉 Blogging takes time and hard work but writing never feels like hard work for me – even if I put in the hard graft and hours – and I’ve been missing it. I’ve missed reading books, too.

  8. Janice-
    I personally think it’s great that you share yourself here and on other blogs. I don’t think it’s narcissistic at all; it’s inherent in the very nature of being a writer. A writer writes what’s in her head and her heart, the same as an artist or a dancer.

    When we have a friend that we see in the flesh every day we get to know her by her words, by the tilt in her head, by the crinkle in her nose, by the way she throws her arms around when she is talking, by the roll of fat around her stomach, by the perfume she wears, by the way she shuffles her feet, by her new haircut, or by the way she butchers the word “poignant” when she speaks.

    When we have a cyber friend, we have words only, and the intent of the heart that we discern through her words. Does that make her any less of a true friend? I don’t think so. I feel like we are friends, even though I have no clue what you look like or what little eccentricities you have. If anyone would ever pick on you in a comment box, I’d jump right in there to defend my friend. I have the luxury of judging who you are by what I deem to be the intent of your heart, and I glean that through your words, and the way you open up on your blog and in others’ comment boxes.

    I look at cyber friendships as being of four types:
    1. Those who never get to meet, yet are friends nonetheless, providing support, love and friendship across the miles. It may be long-term or it may be only for a moment (based on need) but it is real anyway.
    2. Those who are fortunate enough to actually meet, and their meeting only enhances the bond they already had.
    3. Those who meet and decide, either together or unilaterally, that “this isn’t what I thought it was.” And the “friendship” fades because it was based on incorrect images of the other person.
    4. Those who never want to meet because they prefer their own online persona over their real-life persona. There is something about themselves that they prefer to keep hidden and enjoy the “distance” of the internet.

    So when trying to judge if you are having ridiculous expectations, maybe it might help to see which of those categories you feel most comfortable with.

    When I was pregnant with my son, Jeremiah, I was active on an online forum. I had never met any of those people. Yet unbeknownst to me, they had a cyber baby shower for me. About fifty different people sent presents to the person who lived closest to me and she drove the presents to my house. It was amazing. I sat for about two hours opening presents from people all over the U.S. and Canada. I felt like all those people were my true friends.

    As far as Twitter, you’re not alone! I have never Twittered, nor do I think I will, nor do I even “get it.” Here we stand, Randi and Janice, arm in arm, Twitterless. AND WE LIKE IT THAT WAY! 🙂

    Anyway, I hope my endless ramblings have convinced you to not give up blogging. I, for one, would feel a great loss.

    Randi´s last blog post..Living a Scentered Life

  9. Wow Randi. So very well put. I don’t think I could add any value to your words other than to say that I wholeheartedly agree.

    Don’t worry about Twitter Janice it’s not going anywhere. Stick with what you are comfortable with and the rest will naturally fall into place.

    Marc´s last blog post..The Power of Positive Thinking

  10. Randi and Marc,
    Thank you. It was a big blogging wobble yesterday but the responses here and some caring emails from other blogging friends have really helped. I didn’t realise that daily blogging had so many facets or could be so tiring but what I’ve learned here is that I’m not alone in wanting the blogosphere to have a heart and soul. You two and some other regulars in our wee community would definitely be in Randi’s 1) group. That’s one of the reasons I’ve not lost sight of my vision of creating a place where regulars and new visitors alike can make the boxes here their own and make new friends. Your shower story was so uplifting, Randi, and says a lot about the kind of person you are.

    Some of my closest friends are people I’ve met online or on the phone but have never met. There’s something about the essence of people that comes across in heart-writing, voices too. I know I say this a lot, but some very spiritual, talented, kind and creative people visit this blog and I’m very grateful.

  11. Hi Janice
    I watched Danny Goeke sing “You Are So Beautiful” on American Idol tonight and then I read your post and the poem “Ithaka” and now I am sitting here having one of those moments where I am so touched by the beauty in a song and a poem that my throat has tightened — you know what I mean? Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem that Kostas gave you. Please keep posting whenever you can. You have one of those rare and vital voices.

  12. @Brenda,
    Bless you. The singer in me responded to “rare and vital voices” with that same throat tightening you mentioned above. Your email came at the right time. I woke determined and positive, with my “thoughts raised high”. I’d just been thinking that if I want us all to share our journeys, each of us towards our own Ithakas, it’s our voices we do it with online. I really believe we all need to have a place where our voices can be troubled or sad, despondent or down as well as positive and happy so that we can be authentic without fear. It also gives others the chance to share their strengths and help us. Sometimes we share our voices in long pieces, sometimes a cheery word or a friendly “Hi!”, a bit of advice or a heart-felt recommendation. It doesn’t seem to matter to me if it’s in a comments box or a content box. We connect with our voices. Thanks, Brenda. You always write so eloquently, here and in the other blogs I’ve ‘met’ you in..

  13. Janice,
    This is so great! I needed a little inspiration today. What a gift he gave you and we are blessed to have you share it.

    My favorite part?
    as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
    as long as a rare excitement
    stirs your spirit and your body

    My husband lost his job a couple of weeks ago. This is a great reminder for me!
    Don’t ever quit blogging. Just lower your expectations on your worst days. We never know who we are touching or why when we write. We just need to keep going!

    Tess The Bold Life´s last blog post..Somebody’s Daughter

  14. Thank you, Tess. I’m pleased this poem has reached some folk for the first time. I worry that everyone’s probably already read all the same stuff as me, that everyone’s already written the same as me, which is daft really, as I go to other people’s blogs to enjoy their voices and I always discover new things when I do.

    I’m glad those lines spoke to you. As I was saying to Brenda, they were the ones I woke thinking about today, too. My husband has faced redundancy at his job once a year for four Christmases in a row now, and last month they made extra ones and we escaped again. So soul food’s more important than ever. Your husband’s lucky to have such a loving family and a brave, spiritually savvy coach for a wife. I hope things work out well. In the meantime, sniff that new baby’s head a lot!

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