Ithaka or Travelling Through Life

During my travels to Greece – on a bumpy bus ride headed for the ancient ruins of Poseidon in the late afternoon –  I discovered the poem below, which later became one of my favorite poems of all time because I believe it captures that beautiful, mysterious and reviving spirit of travel; how travelling is one of the few things you buy that truly makes you richer, especially in wisdom and spirit; and how, ultimately, we are travelling through life, Ithaka – the experience of a life fully lived – to be found at the end when life becomes nothing more than a dream.

“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 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 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 on 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 will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.”

C. P. Cavafy, “The City” from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press.

Source: C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems(Princeton University Press, 1975)

What’s your interpretation of the poem?

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Cape Sounion, Greece

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Ancient Ruins of the mythological Greek God Poseidon

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Athens, Greece

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