Fila Sophia

applied philosophy, deep democracy, sustainability / by A.R.Teleb

The Journey: Cavafy’s Ithaka

What does this poem mean? The question is rhetorical. Journey, Odyssey: The journey as destination is a cliche that says nothing. The question is rhetorical, because an answer is death. What is meaning but an audience of the music played by a critic’s brainwaves. And the orchestra is mostly instrumental. Forgive the pun. The journey is the destination, but there must first be a destination. Let it be Ithaka then. The cozy-but-dangerous Mediterranean, a minefield of knowledge and conflict–they’re both equally deadly–literally in the middle of the world. Or, the one we know.

This poem could have been written by Gibran; this poem could have been copied by Gibran in the Prophet, each chapter of which retells it in different words. Neither Gibran’s prophet nor God’s Prophet would deliver petty formulas to the Faithful. There are, however, occasional, spontaneous lyrics to the Orchestra, like Joy or Hamd–that is, whatever can express bewildered gratitude. The journey is not the destination. The journey is more than mere destination, and the map is invisible in its presence.

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.

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

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This entry was posted on 2015-01-22 by in Philosophy, Poetry and tagged , .
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