Friday, November 20, 2015

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

By C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933)

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, 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 summer mornings 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’re destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve 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’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

C. P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. ed. G.P. Savidis. Rev. ed. Princeton University Press 1992.

This poem has been variously translated, but the variations are often slight and subtle. It's the same source material after all. Obviously this is the translation I like best, but I can't comment as to linguistic accuracy. My choice is a subjective matter of my own poetic sensibilities. It's worth listening to the poem on YouTube to experience it that way. Tom O'Bedlam does a nice job of it with the above wording, but I think it pales beside Sean Connery's great voice and delivery (with background music by Vangelis and images of Greek artefacts and scenery) albeit in a version not exactly the same as the above.

The Wikipedia article about Cavafy (see link on his name, above) gives us a handy prĂ©cis of this poem:

In 1911, Cavafy wrote Ithaca, inspired by the Homeric return journey of Odysseus to his home island, as depicted in the Odyssey. The poem's theme is that enjoyment of the journey of life, and the increasing maturity of the soul as that journey continues, are all the traveler can ask for. To Homer, and to the Greeks in general, not the island, but the idea of Ithaca is important. Life is also a journey, and everyone has to face difficulties like Odysseus, when he returned from Troy. When you reach Ithaca, you have gained so much experience from the voyage, that it is not very important if you reached your goals (e.g. Odysseus returned all alone). Ithaca cannot give you riches, but she gave you the beautiful journey.

I have been having internet access problems, so will leave you to find out more about this poet yourself if you wish, at the link on his name above. But can't resist commenting that the following is interesting (he was a cousin to us bloggers and chapbookers!):

During his life, he consistently refused to formally publish his work and preferred to share them (sic) through local newspapers and magazines, or even print them out himself and give them away to anyone interested.

He is well and truly published posthumously! Books by and about him 
at Amazon run into many pages.

A very full collection of his writings appears at the official website of 
the Cavafy Archive.

Poems and photos posted to 'The Living Dead' for purposes of study and review remain the property of the copyright holders.


  1. LOVE! How have I never seen this poem before on all my journeys with classical Greek myth and Homer? Wiki explains too much. It is all there. It is all there. Love the reading, too. Thank you once again, Rosemary, for feeding the holes in my knowing.

  2. I especially like this poem, Rosemary, the trip to Ithaca, like the journey of life, being much more about what we gather on the way than where we end up. Interesting, too, that the journey "home" is a circular one, as is the journey of the Self. A lovely share and thanks for managing it, in the midst of internet problems (so frustrating!).

  3. Oh, I really enjoyed this one, Rosemary! I had never heard of this poet OR poem.

  4. what a lovely reading of Ithaca by Sean Connery; its delighful encountering him outside the realm of 007

    much love...

  5. Rosemary, it's amazing what treats you can served us week after week.
    Cavafy. No, I have not heard of this poet or his poem before. now I have. thank you for that.
    Ithaka, on first reading, doesn't seem to hold your attention, but on the next reading, you begin to look for deeper meanings in the words, like an archaeologist stumbling on a find. this is a poem you will come back to again and again.
    to listen to Sean Connery reciting the poem is another treat :)

  6. Thank you for awakening my morning to such a lovely poem hoping the voyage is a long filled with beautiful moments, experience all that you can.

  7. Fascinating to me that so many had not heard of him before. But perhaps I would have been unaware of him too, if not for reading Lawrence Durrell's 'The Alexandria Quartet' series of novels in my youth, in which Cavafy, as a son of Alexandria, is a haunting presence through his poetry.

  8. What a great poem. Thank you Rosemary for bringing it back to life. I had never heard of him. How nice that he shared his poetry, like we do.


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