Friday, September 5, 2014


Some poems are best read — or reread — later in life.  A recent example for me is Cavafy's "Ithaka." Perhaps like me, others will find something in this poem that resonates with their own individual journeys.  


by C.P. Cavafy

                              As you set out for Ithaka
                              hope your road is a long one,
                              full of adventure, full of discovery.
                              Laistrygonians, 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 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 your road is a long one.
                              May there be many summer mornings when,
                              with what pleasure, what joy,
                              you enter harbors you're seeing 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 learn and go on learning from their scholars.

                              Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
                              Arriving there is what you're destined for.
                              But don't 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 along the way,
                              not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
                              Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
                              Without her you wouldn't 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.

For those wondering about the relevance of the header photo of a Painted Lady butterfly to Cavafy's "Ithaka," I can only say that both cause me to reflect deeply on the riches of our fleeting journeys through life.  The Painted Lady has a lifespan of only two to four weeks, and I, of course, have been given many years.  May we both make it to Ithaka eventually, learning and leaving something worthwhile along the way.

P.S.  My friend, Teresa, has called my attention to a video on Youtube of Sean Connery reading Cavafy's "Ithaka," accompanied by music and images.  I highly recommend it.  For some reason, I have difficulty uploading workable links to Youtube.  I found it, however, by just going to the Youtube site and searching "Sean Connery Ithaka."  Enjoy.

Cavafy's poem, "Ithaka," translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherrard


  1. George, This has long been a favorite of mine. Thank you for this beautiful reminder with the image of the butterfly. Life, from this standpoint, can seem awfully fleeting. Have you heard Sean Connery read this? There is a youtube video I think is outstanding.

    1. Thanks, Teresa, especially for the mention of the Sean Connery reading of "Ithaka." I haven't seen the video, but I'm looking forward to it a little later today.

  2. What a marvellous shot of the Painted Lady butterfly. Such a short life for something so beautiful. I read for the first time the poem about life's journey and the arrival on the Greek island of Ithaka.
    I see by your recent blog comment on the latest entry, that you have been to very beautiful parts of Switzerland!

    1. Many thanks, Sandra. Delighted that you like the shot of the Painted Lady — and, yes, I've been to Switzerland many times during the past fifty years. Few places in the world can compare to its natural beauty.

  3. As always, your pictures bedazzle me, George — and the Ithaka poem I loved since first reading it. Ithaka — that idea in the mind which gives you such a marvellous journey: the journey being the all-important thing. Just had the most wonderful trip myself!

    1. Welcome home, Robert! Just went over to your site and discovered that you walked all the way to Italy. Fabulous! Can't wait to read more about your journey. You've been missed, but I knew you were on the road to something wonderful this time.

      If you get a chance, go to Youtube and search for "Sean Connery Ithaka." Connery reads the poem, accompanied by music and images, and it's quite wonderful.

      Really looking forward to learning more about your great journey!

  4. In my part of England at least, Painted Ladies are a migratory species that only make it this far north in good years so the poem and the butterfly sit together very nicely.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, John. Glad to know you find that the image of the Painted Lady and the poem go well together. They certainly seemed to connect for me.

  5. I think you have to be getting on in years to really appreciate the poem George - it is possibly my favourite poem now, almost a 'mantra' and so absolutely true. Thank you for that - I shall now try to find Sean Connery.

    1. I agree, Pat, and I'm delighted to know that I featured your favorite poem. It's a very rich poem that draws my focus to different words and lines when I reread it. Hope you found the Sean Connery piece. Very well done, I think.

  6. It's a wonderful poem. I take it to heart, along with your thoughts at this stage of life, as the colors of the verbena and painted lady shoot straight in as well. I have finally given in to the call of an artist, maybe something I was afraid of in some way. I think Cafavy's poem urges me to that pleasure, found late in life. Thank you.

    1. Yes, Ruth, I think this poem is one we need to be mindful of at every stage in life. Wonderful that you have given in to the call of an artist. I know that struggle well, and it's liberating to proclaim that art, in whatever form, is one's true calling. Onward with all of the pleasures and satisfaction that creativity brings to life!