Cavafy: “Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey”

Comments   0   Date Arrow  June 10, 2023 at 6:00am   User  by Mark Willis

Daniel Mendelsohn has published new translations of the C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. He tells a story on NPR about how he came to Cavafy as a classics student who was bored with touring Greek archaeological sites one summer. When he went looking for a diversion in a small grocery, a battered paperback of Cavafy poems was the only book he could find. You can hear Mendelsohn read his translation of “Ithaca”:

Ithaca | C.P. Cavafy

As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.

Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbors new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire fine goods:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind;
to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.
But she has nothing left to give you any more.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean.

Translated by Daniel Mendelsohn | The Cavafy Archive

Read the NYT book review (041709). And if you need strings with your poetry, check out Sean Connery reading “Ithaca.”

Tagged   poetry


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