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Pangs

Now and then, despite your best intentions and efforts to be Present, Here and Now, you’re struck by a sudden longing to be somewhere else, such as here on a wild Ahuriri River tributary where the air smells of wet rock, beech litter and snow.

Or in some other homeland, heartland of your own. And if you want to enough, you can go there.

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, translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard. As found on

the Cavafy archive website.


4 Responses to “Pangs”

  • Pen Says:

    I exercised myself pondering this last night, John. I don’t mind missing out on a case of Laistrygonians, and I wonder if the usual thrills or dangers (and more than usual if you’re on a boat) that fall alike on just and unjust aren’t enough to keep that ‘rare excitement’ stirring the spirit. It’s probably the melo/dramas of the psyche, self-induced, that we do well to leave behind — and with them head-chomping Cyclops etc. Bon voyage to you, too.

  • John B Says:

    It’s along way to Ithaka but it’s an exciting voyage. Why is he so sure though that you won’t encounter the baddies unless you produce them out of your own head? Surely there are dangers on the voyage- otherwise where’s the adventure? Otherwise it’s just a shopping expedition…
    Thanks for the poem, Penelope, and all the best for your own voyage to your own
    Ithaka

  • Pen Says:

    You are a gadabout, Kay! Do smell the mountains for me; we’re off to Chch, for quieter thrills.

  • Kay Says:

    We’re setting off for a weekend aaway (in Queenstown) so this is the perfect ‘send off’ poem Pen! Thank you … and your description of the smell of the West Coast -‘wet rock, beech litter and snow’ is perfect.

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